DON’T MENTION THE EMERGENCY

This article first appeared in the Anvil 8/3, published 11th May 2019.

On 18 May, enrolled voters in Australia will decide which members of the capitalist class will represent us in Parliament and crush us in government for the next three years. This election occurs at a time when the world has been informed that it has, at most, until 2030 to take effective action to stop and begin reversing climate change, or risk crossing tipping points into runaway temperature rises that would kill billions and endanger industrial civilisation. So you’d think the major players would be presenting plans to fix it. But no, this is Australian capitalist democracy and we get something different.

The incumbent government is a coalition of the Liberal Party, the open representatives of Big Business, and the National Party, which pretends to represent farmers but actually represents mining companies. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, two years ago infamously thought it would be a jolly jape to bring a lump of coal into Parliament and taunt his political opponents with it. He is only PM because climate change deniers in his own party nobbled some ineffective attempts to do something about the issue and eventually brought down Malcolm Turnbull, the Liberal Prime Minister they detested for being too liberal.

What are they offering? Firstly, they have promised a vast number of mostly small infrastructure and spending projects in seats they need to hold and a handful they hope to take. It is a grab bag with no coherent vision. Second, they promise a substantial tax cut in five years for people on upper middle incomes. Apart from that, they offer nothing. Nothing but a relentless scare campaign against the Labor Party and its leader, Bill Shorten.

And what of the Labor Party? This party fundamentally represents the desire of the union bureaucracy to reach a compromise with capital about permissible reforms that might better the lot of working people while preserving existing capitalist relations. Its leader, Bill Shorten, comes from the Australian Workers Union, which has a deserved reputation of decades of undemocratic sellouts of its members. Naturally, the capitalists don’t criticise him for that, since it’s the one thing they are in favour of union officials doing.

Surprisingly, Labor is presenting its strongest contrast with the Liberals for a generation. This is because Shorten and other senior Labor figures have seen the death spiral into which most European social democratic parties have entered and declined to join them. They’re not departing from neo-liberalism, but they’re having a serious go at a range of costly tax loopholes used by the richest 10%. They’re also promising to do something effective about climate change, though their concrete proposals are only about half of what is needed.

Who else is running? Firstly, we’ll take the Right. There’s One Nation, as nasty a bunch of racists and bigots as you’re ever likely to find, and then there’s a collection of Right wing nut jobs (mostly running only for the Senate) who for reasons known only to themselves aren’t in One Nation. Clive Palmer, a mining magnate, is trying to buy his way into Parliament with a Trump-esque slogan and a policy free zone onto which people can project their wishes. And a dishonourable mention has to go to Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party, who are actual capital-F Fascists, but have an accidental Senator to give them publicity.

On the Left, we have the Greens. As a capitalist party, they shame Labor by campaigning to their Left, proposing a range of supportable reforms and some climate change policies that start to approach what is necessary. They are fundamentally handicapped, though, by their delusion that a just and sustainable capitalism is possible. Whatever the virtues of their individual policies, the working class would end up bearing the cost.

The final party worth mentioning are the Victorian Socialists, who are running in three lower house seats in Victoria. The MACG oppose running for elections because, although it’s possible to enter a capitalist Parliament on a principled basis, we think it’s a waste of time and effort to do so. The energy required for the election campaign can be far more usefully directed towards building grassroots struggles. Nevertheless, the question arises of how to respond if a State Socialist group decides to waste its resources that way.

Because the Victorian Socialists have no chance of being elected, they only have to pass two very simple tests. They have to be standing clearly for Socialism and against capitalism. Secondly, the party mustn’t have disgraced itself in front of the whole working class like the British SWP has with its rape apologism (put “Comrade Delta” into your favourite search engine). They pass both these. We make no detailed demands of their policy, because we understand that no Parliamentary program, however “correct”, can get us to Socialism. And the Victorian Socialists’ program is indeed quite weak. For more details, you can consult your friendly local Spartacist, who will be only too happy to brief you on their shortcomings.

On this basis, we believe it is possible for Anarchists to lodge a principled vote for the Victorian Socialists. We must emphasise, though, the very limited meaning of such a vote. It is simply to say “I’m against capitalism and for Socialism” and it is only because the Vic Socialists have no chance of winning. If they stood a chance, no matter how remote, we would have to judge them on a much stricter test. A crucial element would be whether a Victorian Socialists MP would explain to the working class that Socialism is only possible through the revolutionary actions of the workers themselves and not through Parliament. This is a test they would not pass.

Finally, it is necessary to point out that the Victorian Socialists have already demonstrated our thesis that Leftists should put their energies into grassroots struggles rather than election campaigns. On 4 May, the Fascist party Yellow Vests Australia held a small demonstration in Melbourne. Normally, the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism would have mobilised in opposition. Most of its members, however, are in Socialist Alternative, the main force behind the Victorian Socialists, and the SAlties were out busy doorknocking for the Vic Socialists instead. Other groups, being smaller, didn’t want to risk mobilising on their own. So the Fascists went unopposed. Fail.

BUILD MOVEMENTS NOT ELECTIONS

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9 Responses to DON’T MENTION THE EMERGENCY

  1. Futilitarian says:

    Ablokeimet, I’ll be lodging a vote for what’s in my own best interest. Given that I’m a petty-bourgeois deadbeat who subsists — precariously but joyfully — on the proceeds of the share-market, I’ll be voting for every reactionary bastard under the sun as long as he/she explicitly espouses the retaining of cash refunds on franking credits. To hell with your principles!! You can’t eat principles! You can’t pay bills with principles! It doesn’t matter how many damn principles you’ve got, you can’t exchange them for a soy latte and an almond croissant! But you can do all these things with refunded franking credits! Principles are just a burden that prevent you from acting freely.

    • ablokeimet says:

      A couple of points:

      * Principles are the generalisation of what is in everybody’s long term interests. And the realities of capitalism mean that members of the working class have enough interests in common that they have a greater interest in solidarity with other working class people than they have with whatever particular relations that might bind them to the capitalists.

      * Labor’s proposed removal of the refund of excess franking credits doesn’t apply to pensioners. And to receive enough dividends to disqualify you from receiving a pension requires a multi-million dollar share portfolio. These people can afford to take the hit.

      * The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group is not advocating a vote for anyone, even the Victorian Socialists. We have merely evaluated the candidates and judged that an Anarchist who decides to vote for the Vic Socialists can do so on a principled basis. Not lodging a formal vote would also be a principled act. What would not be principled would be a vote for any of the existing Parliamentary parties, even the Greens.

      • Futilitarian says:

        Principles are like any other component parts of the psyche. They weigh on our consciousness and determine much of our decision-making and actions without our being aware of it. Like other mental impediments they’re best purged.

        On the franking credits issue, at the level of personal tax, it’s true that pensioners and other social security recipients will be exempted, but not everyone who’s a low income shareholder is on social security, for whatever reason. It’s these people who are going to lose their cash refunds while shareholders on high incomes will continue to utilise the full value of their franking credits to offset their tax bills. The plan is effectively a regressive tax that will see shareholders on personal tax rates of less than 30% — the rate at which dividends are mostly taxed — have their prepaid tax confiscated by the state, while everyone else on a low income who overpays tax, but whose income derives from sources other than shares, will continue to get a refund. It’s profoundly inequitable.

        At the level of superannuation, people in self-managed super funds, whether they’re rich or not rich, will lose their franking credit refunds while people in industry and retail funds will continue to benefit from them. Some SMSF-holders who were pensioners prior to 28 March last year will be exempted, the others won’t be. More inequity.

        If Shorten and Bowen were fair dinkum social democrats they would target high income earners in the SMSFs and leave everyone else alone, but, of course, they’re not fair dinkum social democrats, they’re cynical careerist politicians who are prepared to sacrifice low income shareholders on the altar of their own personal ambition.

        Given that I am broadly of the left, if I were a principled person I would find myself voting against my self-interest. Fortunately for me, I’m not a principled person, so I lodged the following highly unprincipled above-the-line vote in the Senate:

        1. Small Business Party
        2. Liberal Democrats
        3. Australian Conservatives
        4. Liberals/Nationals
        5. United Australia Party
        6. Democratic Labor Party
        7. Socialist Alliance
        8. Socialist Equality Party

        I supported the first five because they claim they will retain the current franking system. The DLP I supported because I have some sympathy for Distributism. The last two I supported because I find them entertaining.

        I was also going to include One Nation but I have little confidence in their ability to carry through on their promise to retain the franking system. Their odious policies and bigoted mindsets did not play a part in my withholding a vote from them. Their capriciousness and high levels of stupidity did.

      • ablokeimet says:

        Thanks for that contribution. I think Futilitarian has told us all we need to know about him/her and how much weight to give to his/her opinions.

  2. Futilitarian says:

    Ablokeimet, what it tells you is that I vote for self-interest, which is what I stated at the outset. Indeed I would say that if a person looks deeply and objectively into their motivations, he or she will see that the primary motivating factor operating within is, in the final instance, nothing other than self-interest, manifested in one form or another.

    Once my franking credits are secured I’ll be going back to my usual pattern of voting, i.e., 1. The Greens and 2. Labor, but only after a period of spitefulness during which I’ll be putting them last, or leaving them off the list completely. I’ll be doing all of this not because of any principles but because I feel like it.

    I would suggest that the MACG considers running in the next election. I know this would go against your deeply-held ultra-left principles but think of the access to the teeming masses that working the campaign-trail would bring you. Of course, you won’t do it, and it’ll be yet another confirmation of my maxim that principles often act to put the kybosh on what might actually be in one’s best interest.

    I think the MACG philosophy needs to be tempered with a bit of Stirner and Nietzsche.

    • ablokeimet says:

      Almost everybody acts in what they consider to be their self-interest. What counts is how they understand their self-interest.

      Capitalist ideology understands us all as monads, impervious individuals separated from and indifferent to each other. There is no “we”.

      In reality, though, humans are social animals. We naturally feel sympathy for our fellow human beings. Our sense of ethics is just as much part of our genetic makeup, and just as much the product of evolution, as our eyesight, our opposable thumbs and our ability to conceptualise. It’s also incomplete & contradictory, since evolution is always unfinished and often proceeds only as far as necessary for the continuation of the species. Thus, though we stand upright, we’re incompletely adapted to that & are susceptible to bad backs.

      Since it pains humans to see others suffer, it is in the self-interest of each of us to look for the general welfare rather than merely to our individual interest. We can even decide that the utility we forgo through donating to charity or paying income tax is less than the pain we would suffer from seeing or knowing about the suffering that would be unalleviated if we didn’t pay. Even Margaret Thatcher shrank from the logical conclusion of her ideology. When she said “There is no such thing as society, there are only individuals”, she didn’t end the sentence there. She added “and families”. And in this addendum is the loose thread with which capitalism’s methodological individualism can be unravelled.

      Secondly, we have the ability to reach a rational understanding of the most efficient way to get results. Collective provision of health care, for example, is far more efficient & effective than privatised provision. We have a long-running case study in this, where Britain has the National Health Service & the US has a system that is almost entirely privatised. Britain gets much better health outcomes than the US & does it for half the cost in per capita GDP. I could go on about the superiority of public transport over the private motor vehicle, too, but you probably get the idea. The point is that this applies, to a greater or lesser degree, across the board.

      Futilitarian has justified his/her act by explaining it as due to self-interest. My argument is that Futilitarian has failed to consider things from the viewpoint of “us”, cutting him/herself off from others & considering things as a pure monad would. In addition, Futilitarian has failed even to make a balanced assessment from the point of view of a monad. He/she has considered only immediate losses & not immediate or long term gains, nor the losses from making the choice he/she made. It is the same irrational calculus that leads a scab to cross a picket line. They see only the wages at stake that day and not the consequences of winning or losing the strike. A scab doesn’t see that they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

      Anarchist communism is the understanding of human nature taken to its logical conclusions. It is in the interests of each of us to have a society in which all are happy and are relieved, as far as humanly possible, of suffering. And it is the working class, which alone has the interest in the day to day struggle to act collectively, that has the ability to create that good society.

      Finally, my advice to Futilitarian (& possibly the only advice I’ll ever give him/her) is to go back to Stirner & read him again. He accepted the capitalist viewpoint of humanity as a mere collection of monads, and from that derived both a devastating critique of the existing order and a proposal to do something about it – the Union of Egoists. He derived a version of Anarchism without even accepting Donne’s message that we are not islands. For any except the very rich, the “self-interest” argument for accepting the current order and supporting those who truly benefit from it doesn’t add up.

      As Faust eventually found out, you don’t sell your soul to the Devil, you give it away.

  3. Pingback: Don’t Mention The Emergency – AWSM

  4. Futilitarian says:

    Ablokeimet, I think you’re stuffing poor old Stirner into an ideological box of your own making. His Union of Egoists, or, as I prefer to call it, his bunch of unique ones, wasn’t a proposal to do something about the “existing order,” it was merely the instrument by which unique ones combine with one another when they judge that a goal or task is best achieved collectively, whatever that goal or task may be. It could well be to try to do something about the “existing order.” It could just as easily be some activity that the MACG would tut-tut about most indignantly.

    Now, Ablokeimet, I’ve never said that there’s no such thing as society, or that there isn’t a very strong sociality built into the human beast, I’ve merely indicated that I don’t care much for it — unless, of course, it suits me to do so. Naturally I opt into contacts with society every day but I do so on terms of my own, as far as this is possible. J. S. Mill thought that society was capable of “enslaving the soul,” and I certainly agree with that, as do many individualist anarchists and unique ones.

    I’m willingly part of a “we” when it’s advantageous to me but I don’t accept that it’s the only option I have. If I choose to absent myself from the “class struggle,” and its associated illusions, then that’s what I’ll do. Most people in fact make this choice, and wisely so, because the simplistic class struggle model, based on the supposed opposition between the “proletariat” and the “bourgeoisie,” whoever they are these days, is essentially a crock of crap. Society is much more variegated and pluralistic. It’s comprised of an innumerable number of different social groups, some overlapping, some quite distinct, some in opposition to one another, some co-operating, and all the while aligning and realigning.

    The class struggle model is not only simplistic nonsense, it’s dangerous nonsense. It demonises and dehumanises the so-called class enemy and necessarily leads to the mass persecution of the demonised class after the seizure of power, and then to the search for contaminated elements within one’s own ranks. Revolutionary class struggle anarchists are not exempt from this inexorable logic, but, fortunately, history provides few opportunities for these nuts to practice their craft.

    Of course, permanent, open-ended struggle, with no imaginary millenarian utopia posited at the end of it, is something quite different.

    But you’ll have to excuse me for now, Ablokeimet, I’m off to the cafe to finish Barry Humphries’ autobiography and start on a re-reading, after many years, of Anarchy and Order by that nice anarchist, Herbert Read.

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