Monthly Archive for March, 2009

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!’

Edison Hour : switch on everything @ 8:30pm on March 28

Light up to celebrate human progress!


What bothers me when I look at this beautiful photo is the dark bits!

Internet Censorship: $11 000 fine for linking to banned sites

Catallaxy reports on the recent threat to fine the hosting service of broadband discussion site Whirlpool. Catallaxy’s report follows on from a report by the Public Polity site.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority threatened the host after a discussion thread on Whirlpool linked to an anti-abortion site banned by ACMA.

This makes a mockery of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s claims that his proposals to censor the internet are not about wanting to censor political speech:

Freedom of speech is fundamentally important in a democratic society and there has never been any suggestion that the Australian Government would seek to block political content.

Price Systems

How would prices be established in the absence of a capitalist market?  This question has come up in the Who Needs the Owners? But What’s the Alternaitive?” thread.  Arthur pointed out proper discussion of this issue could get quite technical and therefore  deserves a thread of its own.

The question of pricing arose via comments from Jad, who has been arguing in favor of “technocracy” as an alternative to capitalism.

(It’s worth perusing that other thread in order to see how that discussion evolved, before jumping in here.)

I’ll republish the comment from Jad which prompted Arhur’s call for a new thread, followed by Arthur’s reply, and we can take it from there.



Hi Again, A bit more on technocracy, after having looked at “Bright Future”.

I agree that the technocrats are hopelessly Utopian in that they offer almost no practical steps regarding how their proposed system can be arrived at, but I think a similar criticism could be made of Bright Future. In any case, I don’t think small doses of crackpot, utopianist speculation now and then do any permanent damage, so I thought I would offer some comparisons between the resource allocation model in Bright Future (BFM) and the Energy Accounting Model (EAM) model of the technocrats. ( By the way, although I’ve only been seriously investigating Marx for a couple of years and was in nappies in ‘68 when some of you folks were stomping the streets, unfortunately I no longer consider myself very young!).

In relation to the determination of what is produced, for both BFM and EAM, this is dependent on consumer demand. To measure demand, BFM would rely on things such as past consumer behaviour, consumer surveys and demographic predictions, whilst EAM emphasizes the electronic recording of all purchases made. There is no difference of any substance here. Of course, both EAM and BFM recognise that supply will never be perfectly matched to demand, due to changes in consumer preferences.

In relation to individual’s consumption rights, under EAM all individuals would have the same consumption entitlement (which is based on the premise that without the waste of private ownership aggregate supply capacity would exceed aggregate demand), whereas under BFM, initially at least, consumption entitlements would depend on the amount and quality of work performed.

I agree that EAM, whilst more communistic, is unrealistically utopian here in not recognising that it would take time for people’s consciousness to change and that it is not just the technical aspects of the production system that are relevant.

Both EAM and BFM see factors such as prestige, enjoyment and intrinsic reward as becoming more important than material reward as a motivating factor for work. The major difference between EAM and BFM is in relation to the pricing of goods and services. Under EAM the cost and price of goods and services is determined by the energy required for their production. Under BFM allocation of resources to production units is dependent on demand for consumer goods, and consumer goods are exchanged for work. I presume that the price of consumer goods would therefore be dependent on the socially necessary labor time necessary for their production, in an application of the labour theory of value.

I think the EAM method and theory of pricing is superior to BFM for two interrelated reasons.

Continue reading ‘Price Systems’

Who needs the owners? But what’s the alternative?

Over the years I’ve done a lot of talking with people, friends and workmates in various workplaces, about the idea of the workers ‘taking over’ and running things for ourselves. It’s an idea that holds great appeal to me, so I advocate it. Most times, people respond by rolling their eyes – they generally think the system can be fixed so that it functions more fairly. I then try to point out that the system ain’t broke – unemployment, alienation and periodic crises is precisely capitalism functioning. Fortunately, people are skeptical and therefore willing to listen to new ideas. Some ask what the ‘workers taking over’ would actually mean, how would it be different/better, what would it look like?

I then point out that, in most situations, the workers ‘run’ things anyway – this happens on a day-to-day basis. Who in a workplace ever sees the boss – I mean, the real boss, the owner of the industry or service-provider? Sure, we see our foremen and managers, who – like us – need their weekly wage to survive. But the big boss, the owner? So, things day-to-day are pretty much done by the workers on the ‘floor’. While most people I’ve talked with reckon we need the foremen and managers, no-one has ever stated that we need the owners. No-one has declared: “Oh no! Without the owner of our industry, everything would collapse!”. Under the current economic crisis, the reality is that, with the current owners of industry, etc. in charge, everything is collapsing.

Continue reading ‘Who needs the owners? But what’s the alternative?’

Freeview Australia gets spoof ad pulled from YouTube

Freeview” (Wikipedia) is a campaign by Australian free-to-air channels to convince you that free-to-air TV is not mostly boring rubbish. The campaign boasts about the fact that Australians will have fifteen digital channels to choose from on free-to-air TV, instead of the six free-to-air channels that Australians have (at least the ones who live in a major city).

What the campaign doesn’t mention is that most of the new channels are just exact rebroadcasts of the already-existing free-to-air channels (exceptions include ABC2 and SBS World News, which broadcasts foreign-language news reports). So some Melbourne comedians doing a show about TV today decided to parody the Freeview TV commercial.

The parody was posted on the Internet’s most popular video-sharing site, YouTube, but yesterday it disappeared, due to a “terms of use violation”.

However the video is available on several other video-sharing sites, including this copy from

Freeview: More of the same sh#t – Watch more

Continue reading ‘Freeview Australia gets spoof ad pulled from YouTube’

Unemployment and Revolution

We haven’t said much on Strange Times about what is now looking to be the most serious capitalist economic crisis since the Great Depression (and quite possibly far worse than that one).   That’s because we’re floundering. Well I am anyway, and I have no desire to hide that by just coming out with “Marxist” platitudes about the inevitability of it, “we told you so”, “look what capitalist greed leads to” etc.  And I also don’t have enough of a grip on it to write anything which goes beyond superficial handwaving  about the falling rate of profit, over-production, debt, and all the rest of it.

When I see our leaders pontificating about the crisis and proposing various ‘stimulus packages’ it appears queasily Monty Pythonesque.  I don’t think they really know what they’re doing. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.  Nevertheless I just don’t know enough about Marxist or capitalist  economics to produce any sort of informed critique.

So that’s my excuse for staying quiet.

Nevertheless, it’s clearly of the utmost importance for us to get our heads around it rather than to just sit on the sidelines and watch things fall apart.   So to make a start on this I’d like to launch a discussion of an old (1981) paper entitled  Unemployment and Revolution.   It’s an analysis of why unemployment occurs under capitalism and why moving to social ownership makes far more sense than waiting for capitalism to rise phoenix-like from the ashes, yet again.

Continue reading ‘Unemployment and Revolution’

Clive Hamilton’s sexual conservatism

Kieran Salsone has written a piece about Clive Hamilton’s essay “Rethinking Sexual Freedom” at his “Websinthe” blog. He identifies Hamilton’s views on sexuality as conservative, and I agree.

Salsone identifies Hamilton’s intellectual dishonesty:

He [Hamilton] also goes too far straw-manning ‘post-moderns’.

The debate over the sexualisation of girls has outed these post-moderns. They have always argued that children are sexual creatures and should be allowed to explore and express their sexuality without the guilt imposed on them by neurotic adults and conservative clerics. Luckily, they believe, children are much smarter than neurotic adults and slip easily into a savvy, ironic, critical mode whenever there is any danger of falling under the sway of advertisers or media.

He then goes on to describe an unholy alliance between those that think children shouldn’t be punished merely for touching themselves in ‘a naughty place’ and corporate vampires trying to push ‘corporate peadophilia’ as a means of selling their wares.

While I have no problem with attacking commercial interests having anything to do with children’s sexuality, it’s wrong to say that there is a causal relationship between the two without undermining a movement to remove shame and denigration from the lives of children.

Continue reading ‘Clive Hamilton’s sexual conservatism’

Bushfires and lynch mobs – Woolly Days article

The blog “Woolly Days”, written by Derek Barry, has just published an article about the way the media and police have stirred up hatred against the people accused of arson in relation to the recent Victorian bushfires, saying that “the presumption of innocence is a sick joke. Within hours of being charged, he [Brendan Sokaluk, the most well-known of the accused] was viciously attacked in the media and in social network sites to the point where some have questioned whether he is capable of getting a fair trial.

In response to a comment asking what the approach should have been, I responded:

I’d go deeper than Duncan, and ask “what long-term strategy could people who oppose this sort of lynch-mobbing adopt to make that behaviour less rewarding for the media and police?”

Which is a mouthful, I know, but it’s the only possible way IMO to come up with a strategy that doesn’t just mean we want people in the media to act against the interests of their employers, which is unlikely.

The only way this sort of behaviour would stop, or become less prevalent, is if it appealed to fewer people. Is it possible, for instance, to somehow confront school students, in a systematic way, with the effects of this mob mentality, perhaps in a similar way to Jane Elliot’s “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” exercise?

I think that even if every arsonist is guilty as hell, there are plenty of fires that had no arson involved, and getting people worked up lets them identify “evil” people and have a good old hate, but avoids the hard questions about what bushfire policy should be, as was debated here in the article “Australia’s Bushfires – both trees and people suffer from green policies”.

Anyone who’d like to see a revolution survive has a vested interest in asking how reactionary propaganda aimed at encouraging people to boil over with anger might be stopped, I think.

Via Spiked: Authoritarians treat climate change debate as a disorder

An article by Brendan O’Neill in today’s Spiked Online discusses a conference on climate change denial about to be held at the University of Western England.

O’Neill says

In a sense, this vision of elite, brainy environmentalists on one side and a baying, insult-hurling crowd on the other speaks, however accidentally and however crudely, to an underlying truth: environmentalism remains a largely elitist project, beloved of politicians, priests and prudes keen to control people’s behaviour and curb our excessive lifestyles, and it rubs many ‘ordinary people’ up the wrong way. Of course much of the public goes along with the environmentalist ethos, bowing to the central idea that mankind is destructive and observing such rituals as sorting their rubbish, but they do so half-heartedly, recognising that, fundamentally, greens’ anti-consumerist, anti-reproduction, anti-travel arguments run counter to their own personal aspirations. Yet rather than recognise this frequently hidden divide between the green elite and the ‘baying crowd’ as one built on differences of opinion, on clashing aspirations, even on rational assessments by sections of the public that recycling is a waste of time, increasingly environmentalists pathologise it, turning it into evidence of their wisdom in contrast to the public’s mental instability.

I’d just observe again that IMO it’s important to divide authoritarian, reactionary, anti-human Greens from people who’d identify as Green but who aren’t opposed to human progress, and also from those who may hold ideas we disagree with but might actually be won over in debate.

Review of “Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry”

Today’s Online Opinion publishes a review by Joseph Quesnel of Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard’s book “Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation”.

The book, which is available here, looks at the “Aboriginal Industry” in Canada, says that “Native people in Canada continue to suffer all the symptoms of a marginalized existence – high rates of substance abuse, violence, poverty. Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry argues that the policies proposed to address these problems – land claims and self government – are in fact contributing to their entrenchment.”

Quesnel’s review states that “insofar as Aboriginal communities remain focused on pre-capitalist, kinship-based thinking still attached to traditional conceptions of governance, corruption is the result in the modern context. It is, Widdowson and Albert assert, what keeps Indigenous people from enjoying the benefits of modernity.”

Quesnel also says:

Widdowson and Albert recount an experience while they worked with the Northwest Territories government. There, they discovered that the government was interested in aboriginal “traditional knowledge”, despite not being able to define it and which anyway interfered with actual science. The main problem, as they see it, is that this knowledge is derived from pre-scientific animistic beliefs. A central problem for the authors is the unavoidably spiritual dimensions of so much thinking on Aboriginal issues which, they caution, inform public policy and make empirical observations problematic.