On the 7th of April Elizabeth Farrelly (2016), writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, launched a stinging attack on the right-wing think tank the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA). Judging from the response on social media her column has been well-received by much of the Left: from left-liberals and social democrats to anti-capitalists. However whilst I have no sympathy for the IPA the argument that Farrelly makes is both deeply wrong and also a fine example of the common-sense of the Australian Left: that the state we are in is due to the nefarious influence of bad people and bad ideas.
In this episode of Living the Dream Jon (@JonPiccini) and Dave (@withsobersenses) talk about the meltdown of politics in Queensland and the failure of the ALP government to carry out a coherent plan to address the decline in capital accumulation and facilitate social reproduction. Rob Pyne resigning from Labor(#corbynofcairns ?), candidates sending dicks pics and the shared anti-political language of both sides of the referendum campaign show a political class in freefall and deeply out of touch with the concerns of everyday people.
Should we care? Or just point and laugh? What is the relationship of the political to capitalism on a whole and to our struggle against it? How much of this is this a broader and global phenomenon and what can it tell us about life in Queensland?
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Articles we refer to include:
Humphrey McQueen – Queensland: a state of mind
Andy Paine – Rewriting the political script
Mario Tronti – The Political (1979)
Mike Beggs – The Void Stares Back
Predicting the future is often a mug’s game but we can be fairly confident that 2016 we see the conditions for capitalism, both in Australia and globally, worsen. At the very least the mining boom is grinding to an end and perhaps there will be another global meltdown. What will this mean? Depending on the size of the malfunction it will (probably) mean rising poverty, homelessness, unemployment (though currently employment in Australia is surprisingly high) and general misery and declining wages, government spending (as revenues drop), wealth levels and good vibes. This will (probably) all manifest in impacts on life expectancy, mental health, identity based-conflicts, state repression, social cohesion… all this in a world already marked by war, violence, inequality, alienation and ecological disaster. A grim prospect unless we can collectively change our destiny.
On The Suicide Of The Refugee W.B.
(for Walter Benjamin)
I am told that you raised your hand against yourself
Anticipating the butcher.
After eight years of exile, observing the rise of the enemy
Then at last, brought up against an impassable frontier
You passed, they say, a passable one.
Empires collapse. Gang leaders
are strutting about like statesmen. The peoples
Can no longer be seen under all those armaments.
So the future lies in darkness and the forces of right
Are weak. All this was plain to you
When you destroyed a torturable body.
– Bertolt Brecht
In the wake of the Paris attacks Slavoj Žižek published, a now widely derided, article in In These Times. My purpose here is not to engage in the evaluation of this piece and its critiques so much; rather to expose how one of the deep errors Žižek makes is an expression of a wider subjectivity that even those of us who disagree with his perspective remain caught in. Facing the horror of our situation we experience a noticeable powerlessness to do anything about it.
What is so striking about Žižek’s argument is how it expresses a double-barrelled fantasy: a fantasy of the state’s capacity to shape social reality and a fantasy of the Left’s ability to wield the state as a tool. This expresses another argumentative coupling: that the way out of the deadlock of liberal states vs Salafist para-states and organisations is class struggle and this takes the form of taking control of the crises that confront us.
It is here where I want to break beyond Žižek. He is entirely right when he argues that in a world that is segmented and divided in a hierarchy of identities the way out is to recognise the possibility of solidarity that exists due to the antagonisms that cut through these identities themselves. ‘The real task is to build bridges between “our” and “their” working classes. Without this unity (which includes the critique and self-critique of both sides) class struggle proper regresses into a clash of civilizations’. This is the keystone of the possibility of hope: that within this dark situation a shared struggle offers a way beyond of all the old shit that is dragging us down.
After months of silence Living the Dream podcasts are back.
Here we look at the prominence of conspiracy theories, what it is about contemporary capitalism that gives rise to them and what this means for anti-capitalist politics.
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It is impossible to define a new politics without an analysis of capital, on the one hand, and, on the other, without a practice of struggle and a practice for utilizing counterpower (Lazzarato 2015, 25).
On a recent trip to Melbourne I attended a meeting billed as an ‘anarcho/autonomo/commie’ met up and discussion. It was all and all a pretty terrible experience. I left the meeting feeling depressed, confused and wretched. Of course this is not remarkable. Life in general, and especially in late-capitalism, can be a pretty dispiriting affair. In a discussion with Mark after the meeting he pointed out that it was also an ‘illuminating’ experience. I think this is true. My hope here is to attempt to express what was illuminating about this meeting, and I believe it may be of interest or use to a wider group of people than those who endured the unpleasantness itself. Here I wish to touch on why some meetings are terrible, the difficulties of communicating in the absence of a shared political language, two important bifurcations in anticapitalist thought (over how the relationship between revolutionaries and the rest of the class is imagined, and over the way that we understand the dynamics of race, class and struggle in Australia) and finally the role of ‘theory’ and the persona of the ‘theorist’ in all this.
…what is our strategy and what are we meant to be supporting? (Southall 2015)
Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self -activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others – even by those allegedly acting on their behalf. (Solidarity)[i]
What can we do? How can we collectively struggle to both improve our lives in the present and open up paths to a radically different society? Whilst there are varying kinds of ‘activism’ that are happening it is not always clear what their relationships to actually achieving anything are – so too the various models of social transformation that make up the ideological foundations of various groups, parties, scenes, sects and milieus are often very far removed from the world we live in now. Just because it seems more imperative than ever to do something doesn’t mean we know what to do. More fool us.
Most often activism (whatever that is!?!) in a town like Brisbane is made up of fairly ineffective cycles of rallies organised at dull meetings under the fluorescent lights of the TLC Building, campaigning for various political parties and NGOs and GetUp! style clicktivism that has taken on an increasingly slick and professionalised appearance. All often carried out by hard working comrades with good and sincere motivations. The historic defeat of the antiwar movement that proved that rallies that stay within the boundaries set by the state have no power and everybody knows it has not provoked a consequent rethinking of strategy or tactics. So too whilst we can take comfort that perhaps strikes, at least in certain industries, have the ability to directly hit the accumulation of capital, it is now almost twenty years since there has been an industrial dispute that has had a national impact. Strikes and unionisation are at historic lows. In the context of ecological meltdown, permanent war, the end of the mining boom and an increasingly authoritarian state and public culture it is not obvious that we have a clear strategy to address our concerns on a large or small scale. Also the strange composition of the Senate where populist outsiders have thwarted much of the government’s agenda means that we have been spared the need, on some issues, to confront this impasse.
It is with this in mind that a debate that is taking place in anticapitalist circles in the UK is of interest. Now we should avoid that habit of Australian radicalism to attempt to simply copy and apply approaches from overseas in a way that fails to be sensitive to the contexts they developed in and their differences from the contexts we live in. Yet there might be something to be gained from looking at On Social Strikes and Directional Demands by Keir Milburn from Plan C and the response to it written by Angry Workers of the World.
At this moment it certainly appears, it certainly feels, that everything hangs on what happens in Greece. But it is almost impossible to tell from this distance what is actually going on. Those of us who have never been to Greece, who can’t speak Greek don’t have a clue. Even those of us who are reading obsessively are seeing some things but we are missing most things. The fractured nature of the Left (for a lack of a better term) means that there is a tendency to try to seek out those in Greece who fit with our already existing ideological proclivities and amplify what they say. There is also the constant problem, one I don’t think I can escape, that our already existing biases means that we see what we want to see and learn lessons that we already know. And nothing is more foolish or full of hubris than those non-Greek Left organisations issuing statements, judgements and handing down the correct line from a distance – especially because these groups often have no to marginal influence in the places they actually exist.
But that all said something is happening and it behoves us to look at the struggle as it unfolds in all its complexity and see if there are lessons to be learnt.
In part four of our three part series on the Qld election we talk about what can we expect after the votes have been counted and what does this mean for emancipatory politics, where can we draw our hope and power from and what do we mean by ‘we’ anyway?
Music by Razar
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