Archive for the 'Marxism' Category

“All I know is that I am not a Marxist.” (Karl Marx)

A few days ago Arthur, David Mc. and I went along to a Socialist Alternative event at Trades Hall.  It had been advertised as a panel discussion on “Australian militarism

The general position  was that WW1, WW11, the Vietnam War, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan were/are all pretty much the same war.  Not much to think about really. It’s all just imperialism and racism, capitalists grabbing resources , expanding markets, seizing territory, seeking strategic superiority.  I was initially surprised about the attitude to WW2, but realised after a while that it was necessary for consistency.  They have a simple theory about how the world works, and everything must fit it. No need to analyse any particular world event, the position is just given.
(For the record though, I should mention that Harry Van Moorst  (who was on the panel) actually gave an interesting talk about his experience in the anti-Vietnam war movement, and although he didn’t mention WW2, I’d say that he’d be unlikely to agree that it was just another imperialist war. His talk was lively and lacked the contrived tone of the other talks. )
I don’t usually pay much attention to the various revolutionary sects which continue to exist on the fringes of the pseudo-left because they are largely politically irrelevant. However it’s worth popping in to one of their “events” once in a while, just to remind oneself of what can happen when “Marxism” is embraced as a religion.  (I hesitated to use the word “Marxism” in that last sentence, but I couldn’t quickly think of a better way to put it. Clearly, calling oneself a Marxist  and peppering everything one says with references to  “class struggle”, “imperialism” , “capitalist crisis” and so on, has very little to do with  Marxism.  It brings to mind what Marx apparently said (to Lafargue) in frustration  about the French “Marxists”:   “All I know is that I am not a Marxist“.

Yes, Clive, “all that is solid melts into air”, you just don’t get it…

People coming here in response to David’s article in the Australian today (Green Wowser is no Leftie), may also be interested in an article about Hamilton that I wrote for Spiked last year : “Liberal Tyranny on the World Wide Web

Also,   few months ago it was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock so the media was full of articles about it.   Hamilton wrote one which he entitled  “From Free Love to Narcicissm”.  I began drafting a response to it, but as is fairly usual for me, I became  distracted by other stuff before I finished it.   However it seems appropriate to publish what I had written up to the time I stopped, rather than leave it languishing on my hard drive.  It’s not really finished, and should really be edited a bit …. but better to just put it here than wait till I  have the time and inclination to do any more work on it .   So here it is:


The recent anniversary of Woodstock has prompted various public intellectuals to whip up  media pieces on the legacy of the ’60’s era. I was particularly irritated by Clive Hamilton’s piece “From Free Love to Narcissism“, published in Crikey. But I’ve since noticed the similarity between his and several other articles. On some levels they could have been woven from the same cloth.

It’s especially irritating that these people are so ready to describe  Woodstock as a (or even the) defining event of the worldwide upsurge of the  1960s. It clearly wasn’t. Throughout this period, young people around the world fought real battles which actually changed things. The counter-culture which emerged alongside these struggles most certainly had its rebellious side, but it was also heavily influenced by  the ‘turn off, tune in, drop out… ‘all you need is love’  mentality. And that aspect of it was struggled against by the leadership of those groups fighting for serious change. The idea that a mass stone-in at a rock n roll concert could be a world-changing event was not one that was widely embraced.  At best, Woodstock reflected (rather than drove) the general rebellious spirit of the times. It may have been a demonstration that the youth were no longer prepared to accept the old social conventions, but it was not a centre-piece of any particular struggle.

However, 40 years later, it suits both the overt Right and the pseudo-left to look back  on Woodstock as some sort of pivotal event.   The pseudo-left is quite comfortable redefining  the ’60s era as having been all about  peace, love, harmony, tolerance,  while  the Right has fun lampooning the idea that a muddy gathering of half a million drug addled, group-thinky, tie-dyed, incense burning kids, should be viewed as having been of positive significance.

Ayn Rand wrote:

“The hippies are the living demonstration of what it means to give up reason and to rely on one’s primeval “instincts,” “urges,” “intuitions” – and whims. With such tools, they are unable to grasp even what is needed to satisfy their wishes – for example, the wish to have a festival. Where would they be without the charity of the local “squares” who fed them? Where would they be without the fifty doctors, rushed from New York to save their lives – without the automobiles that brought them to the festival – without the soda pop and beer they substituted for water – without the helicopter that brought the entertainers – without all the achievements of the technological civilization they denounce? Left to their own devices, they literally didn’t know enough to come in out of the rain. “

I actually have some sympathy with Rand’s view, although her contempt is far too extreme for me.

Poor old Clive Hamilton wants to have it both ways. In his Crikey article he wrote: “The original  Woodstock festival was imbued with a sense of harmony and  tolerance and was everywhere seen as a ‘victory of peace and love’ “. The rest of his article is a sermon about  the sixties movement more generally in which he explains that it’s time we woke up and realised that in reality  the “rebellion [which] shook the foundations of conservatism in the sixties and seventies  [ has resulted in]  the most materialistic, egocentric and decadent societies the world has ever seen”.

Apparently we were conned, instead of winning we really lost because the main impact of winning more freedom and greater personal autonomy was the unleashing of … da Market Monster!!

Continue reading ‘Yes, Clive, “all that is solid melts into air”, you just don’t get it…’

ALIENATION: from Karl Marx to Merle Travis and beyond

Sixteen tons
Whadaya get?
Another day older
And deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me
‘coz I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store.

‘Sixteen tons’ is one of many songs about alienation under capitalism. The song was recorded in the USA in 1946 by Merle Travis , whose father had worked in the mines of Kentucky. Merle’s father often used the phrase “another day older and deeper in debt” around the house. The song has been covered by many country artists, as well as blues and rock performers – my favourite version is by Eric Burdon. (Merle Travis’ version is here:

Check out Eric’s too:

The ‘sixteen tons’ refers to work, specifically in the coal mines during the era of the ‘truck system’ (under which workers in company towns were paid with vouchers recognized only by the local store rather than paid in cash). This may seem to date the song, even make it irrelevant to the current time. However, I think ‘sixteen tons’ can mean any kind of work people do for wages under a system in which wealth is socially produced yet privately appropriated. It’s certainly true that mechanization and automation continue to reduce the numbers of people doing such work; the kind of toil that my father always referred to in my youth as ‘dirty work’. (He worked in factories and used to nag me: “Son, study hard and go to uni and then you’ll be able to become a school teacher. Don’t end up in a dirty job.”).

Continue reading ‘ALIENATION: from Karl Marx to Merle Travis and beyond’

Let’s not forget Engels!


I’ve just read a review of a book about Engels entitled The Frock Coated Communist (due to be released on May Day).

Having not read the book itself,  I can’t really comment on it.   But the review prompted me to want to write something about Engels because he is so often overlooked.


The review opens  by saying  “It is a truth now universally acknowledged that capitalism’s most insightful philosopher is Karl Marx.” and the first paragraph ends with “Today, in the midst of a once-a-century crisis of capitalism, Das Kapital has raced to the top of the German bestseller lists and even President Sarkozy has been caught leafing through its pages.”   The rest of the article is an account of the importance of Engels in the development of Marx’s economic views.

Continue reading ‘Let’s not forget Engels!’