Today Jon (@JonPiccini) and Dave (@withsobersenses) chat about two recent articles by Jon that trace some changes in key concepts in the languages of activism and the Left (for lack of better terms) and the reasons for and the potential costs of these changes.
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.
John Lomax, a CFMEU official, has been charged with blackmail. The CFMEU reports that ‘Mr Lomax was told by police that he was accused of forcing an employer to enter into an EBA and that as a result the employer suffered financial loss due to paying workers higher wages’ (CFMEU 2015a). Lomax has not yet appeared before the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption however ‘ACT police said his arrest was “in relation to the Canberra hearings” of the royal commission’(2015). Whilst there is an attempt by some to associate Lomax with Halafihi Kivalu an ex-CFMEU official who is accused of acting corruptly for personal benefit and has subsequently been expelled from the CFMEU this seems to be nothing more than a simple smear (CFMEU 2015b). It is necessary to be one hundred per cent clear. The charges facing John Lomax accuse him of simply being an effective union organiser. Whatever the facts of the case it is almost impossible for any union to effectively contest capital and stay within the law. All this in the space of a few weeks where it has been revealed that Grill’d and EB Games are, apparently legally, either underpaying staff or have a culture of compelling staff to work for free and that the Speaker of the House of Representatives spent just under $90,000 for a two week junket in Europe.
The law is stacked against us. As such the arrest of John Lomax and the Royal Commission in total should be viewed as an attempt to use state-power dressed in the most absurd moral pretence to attack the capacity for all workers, union or non-union, to collective assert their own interests and live lives of dignity.
Debt. Debt is constantly looming at us. It is now a key element of the political-ideological constellation of our time. Debt expresses both the current crisis of capitalism in its economic guise and also the ‘representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence’(Althusser, 2008, p. 36). Debt is pervasive, all encompassing and seemingly inescapable. The debt of Australian households is steady at 150% of income(Reserve Bank of Australia, 2013). If Australians only spent at the levels of their income it is more than probably that great sections of capital – especially retail – would no longer be viable. The majority of debt is tied up in mortgages: the major asset of most households is not only purchased by going into serious debt but only can maintain its value because the society as a whole is steeped in debt.
It was the US Sub-Prime Mortgage crisis that triggered this current, seemingly permanent, economic malaise – and it is now sovereign debt, that is the debt of states, that is the part of its current manifestation. (Neither are the source of the crisis itself – for that you need to look deeper into the structure and history of capitalism.) The sharpest expression of this is the looming possibility that the US will not raise its debt ceiling and thus be compelled to either drastically cut state expenditure or default on its debt. Since US debt, in the form of Treasury Bills, make up a core component of the global economy, such a default would, in the words of IMF Christine Lagarde ‘…cause serious damage to the US economy, but also to the global economy as a result of the spillover effects.’