Australian Capitalism: Crisis and Response

Australian Capitalism: Crisis and Response

This article makes an attempt to draw the basic outlines of the general environmental, economic and social crises enveloping Australian society, to understand their true causes and to outline a response that is both meaningful and effective to the extent that it manages to avoid setting it within the parameters of the problem, arguably the greatest pitfall of social and workplace justice movements anywhere.

Australia, like the rest of the world, is in a state of crisis. Representative democracy, which could never meet its ideals by virtue of its own internal limitations and its class character, has failed. This fact is reflected in the first instance by the way each of the major parties have embraced the kind of neoliberal and market fundamentalist policies that benefit the super-rich and penalise the rest of us for the injustices inherent to class society. Market fundamentalism and neoliberalism mean socialism for the super-rich and free market discipline for the rest of us. Elections within capitalist democracy mean little more then than the ability to choose between increasingly indistinguishable parties consisting of opportunistic careerists to govern on behalf of big business. The gap between mega-rich and the rest of us has grown to 30-year highs, though as a nation and in the face of all the evidence to the contrary (not least of which being the wealthiest 20 per cent own 61 per cent of the country's wealth, while the poorest 20 per cent own 1 per cent) we continue to think of ourselves as the ‘lucky country.’ [1]

On the basis of this crisis of democracy the institutions that govern society fail even to live up to their own impoverished standards of representation and are almost singularly unresponsive to the needs particularly of the Australian working class. We find that as a result of this, the environmental crisis continues to escalate, appearing more and more to surpass worst-case scenarios. The social and economic crisis continues to spread as the capitalist economy requires ever more state intervention, wealth inequality increases and governments devote themselves to scapegoating marginal and vulnerable groups like immigrants and refugees in lieu of acknowledging their inability or unwillingess to address the root causes of the problems in the capitalist system. The union movement continues its steady decline as legalism and reliance on the state strangles worker self-activity (arguably the lifeblood of the union movement if not that of any hopes of social progress, if not a basically sane and just future) at the shopfloor.

In the face of this ever-worsening crisis the dire necessity of social and workplace organising for the purposes of defending our rights and advancing our interests only ever becomes greater. We do of course have the option to try to reform the corporate capitalism we’re faced with today and otherwise to put band-aids on the dual cancers of market fundamentalism and market reductionism. These however try to squeeze every aspect of human existence into the soulless business of buying and selling, put a price tag on everything from love and hope to water and air, and reduce everything and everyone to objects whose primary worth and value is held to reside in their exploitability for profit. In the short term at least, quick and easy reforms appear in the face of these protracted and systemic problems to be far more appealing and immediately effective than attempts to address and challenge the actual causes of the problem, and to attack the injustices and insanity that give rise to this crisis at the source. This short term view is, however, illusory, as the conditions that give rise to this general state of affairs, in remaining unchanged, continue to give rise to them. Where attempts have been made to capture capitalist democracy for the cause of sustainability, they have lead to the phenomenon of 'neoliberals on bikes.' [2]

Can reforms be then the most effective response? As against the tendency to try to achieve a meaningful redress of the aforementioned crises, one might argue differently, that the basic problem in fact that we face, and the root causes of the crises we face as a whole, are that the traditional modes of political organisation and action, if not simply not being up to the task of helping us to act for ourselves or to facilitate our ability to take back control over the course of our own lives over the long term, are a major part of the problem. Ultimately of course the state functions, in the words of James Madison, ‘to defend the minority of the opulent from the majority,’ and as such may arguably be compared to an overblown standover racket with its own coat of arms and brass band that uses perceived threats to our way of life as a pretext to engage in wage class war against actual threats to the injustice indicative of a society based on class privilege such as ours. It otherwise functions as a means of allowing the opulent few in Australia to justify the maintenance of a political order that permits class oppression and exploitation through the wage system in the name of defending us from threats to “our” way of life, eg. Communism, terrorism, Occupy, anarchy, etc.

To the extent that this is the case—and it is to a very great degree arguably the case—the traditional strategies of the Australian labour movement, parliamentarism and laborism, are bound to fail. The reformist labour movement, in addition to colluding in an economic and social order that denies to workers the basic human and democratic right to directly control the conditions of our work, the reformist labour movement bases much of most of its industrial strategy on getting the Australian Labor Party into power. This they claim is the only way to protect the ability of Australian workers to defend our rights and advance our interests as members of a union from attacks on such perpetrated by successive Illiberal governments in the form of the so-called WorkChoices legislation. In place of this the ALP pursues industrial arbitration under the oxymoronic Fair Work Australia, which the Australian Council of Trade Unions appears to regard as nothing less than the salvation of Australian workers.

Rather than being the salvation of workers, the arbitration system manifest as (Un)Fair Work Australia functions as much to dampen down union militancy, if not to turn the unions registered with it into means as much of controlling and disciplining Australian workers as of helping to defend their rights and advance their interests. As reformist and generally bureaucratic structures the unions reproduce the oppressive hierarchies generated by the capitalist relations of production that necessitate the formation of unions, revolutionary or otherwise, in the first place. If this didn’t limit their effectiveness enough already, organising within the regime of Fair Work Australia further disempowers the few Australian workers that remain unionized by taking the power out of their hands at the point of production and putting it in the hands of industrial lawyers and legal experts. It further disempowers Australian workers to the extent that pattern bargaining arrangements limit us to industrial action once every three years when so-called Enterprise Bargaining Agreements come up for renegotiation. It goes totally without saying that the EBAs are strictly limited to renegotiating the rate and conditions of exploitation, and never at any stage are those responsible for negotiating their terms able to question much less to say challenge the ideological foundations either of class society or of the wage system. They might as well be called Enslavement Bargaining Agreements for all the good they do where ability of Australian workers to control the course of our own lives in our work or as human beings more generally is concerned.

Factors such as these would appear to explain amongst other things the historical and dramatic decline in unionism in Australia, the decline and loss of union culture particularly inter-generationally, the concomitant decline of an understanding of the importance of concepts like solidarity between workers and a spread of nihilistic individualism and culture of all-for-self and winner-take-all in their stead, increasing social and economic inequality with particular reference to the income distribution gap and living standards for single mothers and indigenous workers especially, and increasing casualisation to the point where 60% of the Australian workforce is employed on that basis. A new way of conceptualising class struggle in Australia that seeks to avoid reproducing the parameters of the problem in the response would therefore appear to be necessary.

Towards A Meaningful Response

To the extent that all of the above follows, any organised response that fails to address the causes of these and other problems faced by Australian workers will inevitably fall afoul of its own stated goals and values and end up perpetuating and reproducing all it claims to oppose. Unionism per se is necessitated by the autocratic hierarchies that characterise the class society we live in and that enable it to function on the unjust basis that it does, just as it is necessitated by the class society that tolerates gross disparities in wealth between the super-rich who dominate social life by virtue of their class monopoly over wealth. It is likewise necessitated by the fact that all of the above manifests as the wage system, the means by which the capitalist, the monopoliser of resources, pays workers who are coerced by virtue of our lack of independent means into wage labour less in wages than the value of the goods we create or services we provide. It is necessitated by the fact that in this respect large-scale theft is the foundation of the capitalist economy and that wage-slavery enforced and perpetuated ultimately through the monopoly over violence of the state.

A meaningful response then will start on an acknowledgement of those most axiomatic of facts, namely that the means we employ determine our outcomes, and that if we imitate the stuctures we seek to oppose and that in fact necessitate us forming unions to defend our rights and advances our interests as workers in the first place, then ultimately we will only end up perpetuating and reproducing to one or another extent all the oppressiveness and exploitation we seek to overcome, and eventually to become much or all of what we claim to oppose. If we admit this then we admit not only that that hierarchy can only beget more hierarchy but moreover that this is a fact supported by history. Anyone who disagrees is challenged to find examples in history of power structures anywhere that have voluntarily given up their hold on power. For our part we assert that such examples, on the extremely unlikely chance that they actually exist, only serve to illustrate the rule by virtue of revealing themselves as exceptions to it.

If again all of the above follow no meaningful and sustainable response to the crises of democracy and the environment amongst others can come from hierarchical or statist responses. The traditional response of the left to the injustices and general insanity characteristic of class society in the form of the vanguard party is no less beset by the same general crisis of legitimacy than representative democracy. Socialist parties grouped around dominant personalities whose guru complexes appear to be matched in size only by their inability and unwillingness to listen to the experiences and thoughts of anyone else in the party (much less to say workers) have failed to achieve much besides the seemingly permanent derailment of any authentic manifestation of spontaneous resistance to the injustices and general irrationality characteristic of class society. The only thing they do seem to manage to maintain the continual process of recruiting and burning out of those whose genuine socialist aspirations towards a basically sane and just society lead them into the clutches of what are essentially ahistorical sects organised around the fossilised ideologies of long-dead idols.

We see this manifest as clearly as anywhere in the doctrine outlined by V.I. Lenin in his most progressive work, The State and Revolution. In this text we find the origin of the myth that adherents of Leninism use to justify their departures from principle where the state is concerned. While recognising that the state is a class institution whose basic historical function is to protect the economic and social privileges of the moneyed elite, Leninists continue to claim in the face of their own marginalization from and rejection by the working class that those who claim to act in the name of the working class can change the character of the state as a sum total of economically and socially alienated relationships whose function is to defend and perpetuate privilege. All that is needed is to change the personalities who control the levels of power and magically the levers will stop maintaining class privilege by means of institutionalized violence. By the same logic one might hope to put Leninists in control of the railway grid and send trains to the moon because what the controls do depends on who uses them; this idea is obviously ridiculous, and so too then is the idea that the class character of the state can be transformed purely by changing around the people who control it.

Implicit again in this idea of course is the idea that the state as an institution is something that can be controlled and is not in fact a machine that controls those who submit to its logic, that turns any who choose to engage with into it into cyphers for the logic of class rule and class privilege no matter what ideals they happen to start out with before getting their hands on the levers of power. To assume otherwise is to assume that one can be both an agent of progress and ignore history when convenient in terms of ignoring moments when historical precedent fails to align with the contours of one’s preferred beliefs. As previously noted, where in history is there evidence of any state ‘withering away’ or of anyone in power ever once in the history of human civilization giving up power voluntarily? None exists of course because it is not in the nature of power for those who have ever been in power to ever do so; as Lord Action pointed out, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If history is anything to go by illegitimate power is singularly wrestled involuntarily from the hands of tyrants and despots, or lost as the power structures they lord over become so fossilized and inflexible that they collapse underneath them. Perhaps this will be the fate of the present corporate oligarchy that we know and love.

Even where the notion of the ‘workers’ state,’ furthermore, is nuanced enough to accept the idea that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ Marx spoke of referred in actual fact to the ‘dictatorship’ of the entire class (as opposed to a the dictatorship of the party and of a small clique of self-appointed gurus who claim to speak in its name), and even if the notion of a ‘workers’ state’ nuanced enough to allow for the idea of a ‘workers’ state’ that consisted of autonomous workers’ organisations such as the factory committees and soviets established in the early days of the Russian Revolution, why continue to use an inflammatory term like ‘state’ to refer to modes of organisation that are anything but statist? Why continue to do so especially if this creates confusion about the class nature of all states and continues to provide a pretext for those who claim to be socialists to fulfill their own political aspirations in the name of promoting economic democracy and workers control?

Surely if one was anxious to distance oneself from the class nature of the state and guard against the vaguest possibility of perpetuating old forms of oppressions under new guises in the process of attempting to bring an end to the pervasive chaos, injustice and class war that characterises the world in which we live, one would go out of one’s way to develop new ways of conceiving of social organisation that precluded any mention of statism or of inorganic, coercive hierarchies whose primary function was to neutralize the threat of social and economic justice. Why from any point of view is there any need to create unnecessary confusion between the oppressive forms of the old world and the liberatory ones that we should be beginning to create that can form the basis of an entirely new way of thinking, being and relating to one another once enough people have embraced it to bring it to fruition?

It seems clear then that the problem with the vanguard model of organising stems from the fact that socialist parties that organise on this basis tend to prioritise a grab for power over nurturing wage-workers’ capacity for independent thought and action and self-activity, a fact that manifests an exclusive if not somewhat cultish mentality rather than an inclusive one. This in turn serves to punish those interested in the goals of the part for evidencing precisely the kind of questioning attitude and self-activity that they should be embracing and perpetuates their dependence on the very same kinds of oppressive hierarchy that they should be trying to learn to live without. Furthermore, traditional state socialist parties create a false divide between workers and self-appointed revolutionary leaders who envision their own role as being to dictate to workers what to think and how to act from the position of enlightened gurus rather than listening to and organising with them as equals. To the extent that the parties of the left are internally authoritarian and define their socialism by what they say rather than what they do, they appear to regard diversity of opinion and points of view as a threat rather than as the means for establishing greater understanding and cooperation that it is. They likewise seem to focus on what divides them from other groups and those whom they don’t see eye to eye with, rather than trying to build on what they have in common and use that as a basis to try to resolve their remaining differences constructively.

What seems especially ironic about this situation is the way that Socialist parties fail in all of these very basic respects, and then have the nerve to get in front of workers and bemoan Stalinist state capitalism while using 'working class self-emancipation' interchangably with their own designs on power, as if the fate of the Soviet Union would have been any different had Trotsky ascended to the throne instead of his main rival. The arrogance and hubris of the Leninist is reflected in their apparent belief that workers are dumb enough not to notice, which in the end merely adds insult to injury. The fact is that workers aren't dumb, and we do notice the attempt to sell us one thing and then follow up by giving us something else, and that's why we don't tend to join. One might argue by contrast to this vanguardist model of organisation is that inside everyone is a worker capable of independent thought and action and self-activity trying to get out, and rather than trying to preach ideology to anyone just ask them the right kinds of open-ended questions about the things they should be thinking about until they connect the dots for themselves, as per the following (loose) example:

'So, Worker Fatima, why do you think it is that you're subject to the autocratic heirarchies characteristic of capitalist relations of production when your individual freedoms that form the foundation of your own ability to self-actualise your own humanity by taking control over the course of your own destiny depend on the ability to choose?' 'Uh, I don't know, because the rich care more about their own self-enrichment than then do respecting other people’s freedom?'

While we can and should certainly try to organise on the basis of what we have in common with those who are members of such groups, then, particularly since it makes no more sense to hold anyone who joins a Socialist party because it approximate their own anti-capitalist sentiments personally responsible for the suppression of the Kronstadt uprising than it does to try to pretend that historical divisions don’t exist for the sake of a fragile unity, on balance we have far more to gain by appealing to the authentic aspirations of the mass of unorganised and class-unconscious Australian workers for a more basically sane and just society than we do in trying to water down our principles in the name of attempting to pander to those who are doomed to ineffectiveness and irrelevance by their inability to overcome their attachment to ideologies that have since passed their use by date (and in any event only serve ultimately to alienate them from workers by virtue of their dogmatic and generally autocratic character).

The facts of the future

As against the traditional modes of organisation of the left (however defined) comes revolutionary or anarcho-syndicalism. Anarcho-syndicalism in particular is the idea that holds that revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism to be an appropriate vehicle for subjugated classes in capitalist society to regain control over the course of their own destiny. We view it as a potential force for revolutionary social change to the extent that it combines the possibility for a general defense of rights and advance of interests in the present with longer term strategies designed to facilitate development in workers of the class consciousness and capacity for self-activity necessary before capitalism and the state can be replaced with a new democratically self-managed society. Self-activity we regard as axiomatic to the success or failure of this project given that the means we employ determine the outcomes we achieve, and that since outcomes desired must be consistent with the means used to bring them about, only workers capable of freedom can actually bring about a free society. This being the case, we seek to nurture self-activity and with it our collective ability to think and act for ourselves and on our own behalves through modes of organisation and action such as solidarity, direct action (meaning action undertaken without the intervention of third parties such as politicians, bureaucrats and arbitrators) and direct democracy, or workers' self-management.

That last goal in particular is inspired by libertarian socialism or anarchism, which is in turn predicated on the idea that it is the state, rather than its absence, that engenders a war of all against all and survival of the fittest. This understanding is based on a basic recognition of the essential function performed by the state as described by James Madison, ie. to ‘protect the minority of the opulent from the majority,’ thereby facilitating and expediting the class war of the few on the many in the name of protecting their privileges from the threat of natural justice. In contrast to this, libertarian socialism or anarchism insists that since the primary function of the state is to protect privilege, and that since the state does tend very strongly to sell itself to its victims in the manner of a protection racket, dangling bogeymen in front of us while shaking us down in the form of facilitating exploitation and class-based oppression, we really don’t need centralised authority to maintain order and social cohesion and can in fact do much better through nonstatist, nonhierarchical, economically democratic forms wherein each enjoys a basic modicum of real control over the conditions of our lives by controlling in the first instance the conditions of our work.

In this context then, as revolutionary or anarcho-syndicalists, we view syndicalism both as a meaningful and useful strategy for facilitating worker self-activity to that end as well as being an alternative co-operative economic system upon which to base a democratic regime of production for the satisfaction of human need once the injustices understood to be inherent to capitalist society have been overcome. The end goal of revolutionary or anarcho-syndicalism then is to abolish the wage system, which we regard as wage slavery being as it is based on economic compulsion and hierarchical control, and state or private ownership of the means of production. We argue then that these lead to class divisions, with all that follows in terms of unequal distribution of decision-making power and oppressively hierarchical and autocratic relations of production. While focusing on the labour movement then in the name of fostering worker self-activity in the direction of helping ourselves to become capable of being free and creating conditions of freedom where we can control the course of our own destiny and the conditions of our work, we also seek in the context of building workers solidarity and of our ability to identify as unionists and as syndicalists to broaden anarcho-syndicalism by incorporating the insights available to us via the study of intersectionality.

Syndicalist intersectionality

A common criticism of revolutionary and anarcho-syndicalism from the Leninist quarter seems to revolve around the idea that the refusal of syndicalists to involve themselves in parliamentary shell-games is tantamount to a refusal to engage with the innumerable ways that injustice manifests away from the point of production. In this strawman-invoking mythology, syndicalism reduces the sum total of injustice in capitalist society to the oppressiveness and exploitation inherent to the wage system and the autocratic hierarchies characteristic of capitalist relations of production, and assumes that all other forms of oppression (such as those based on gender, race, ability etc) will magically disappear as a consequence of the socialisation of the means of production.

In reducing all forms of oppression to class, the Leninist strawman suggests, the ‘apoliticism’ of syndicalism lends itself either passively to neglect of, or actively to hostility towards, organising against social injustice on the grounds that to do so is a distraction from class struggle at best, and at worst is anti-worker. This kind of extreme class reductionism is compared favourably with the vanguard model of Trotskyist organisations such that syndicalists are portrayed as anachronistic and out of touch with current social and economic conditions. The issue of the difference between anarcho-syndicalists and state socialists as understood from the point of view of anarcho-syndicalists can then on this basis be neatly sidestepped.

Despite the admitted fact that certain aspects of very early syndicalist propaganda does lend itself to half-truths in this respect, ie. to the extent that it depicts white, male factory workers in overalls, this strawman otherwise rests on the claim that anarcho-syndicalists have no integrated concept of oppression consistent with feminist studies of intersectionality, and that we are more or less incapable of understanding or appreciating that the mentality that objectifies the worker and sees their worth primarily in their capacity for exploitation might be the same responsible for injustice directed towards and harm done to people and things including but not limited to women, non-Anglos, the environment, and the animal kingdom. Given the virulence and destructiveness of actual class reductionism, this invocation of logical fallacies in the service of fact-dodging borders on defamation.

Ironically enough though it seems to be more from self-proclaimed Marxist quarters that this kind of reductionism tends to appear, as this following quote from a blog run by Socialist Alternative member John Passant would appear to suggest:

Real discrimination and real sexism are a part of day-to-day life, and their roots lie not in any fundamental differences between men and women, but in the structure of our society. It isn't a coincidence of biology that women are unequal to men. It's part of the fabric of a capitalist society, where workers are pitted against one another in a multitude of ways. Gender is one of those ways, and that's what keeps women in a subservient role. [3]

The author appears here to understand sexism to be an adjunct of capitalism, which ironically enough would seem to be a good example of the kind of class reductionism that Leninists tend to attribute to syndicalists. In contrast to this however, one could (and we do) argue that sexism and other forms of discrimination have in fact existed since year dot, (perhaps as a result of the evolutionary schism in the triune brain as discussed by Paul MacLean, Arthur Koestler and others), and that, rather than being the fruit of capitalist exploitation, sexist and other discriminatory attitudes are taken advantage of by said exploiters for the purposes of divide-and-conquer.

As long as working class men view working class women as their oppressors and side with males of the exploiting class in that respect, as long as we see a commonality of interests with our gender over that of our class, our own exploitation will continue to the extent that we fail to build solidarity by failing to appreciate that the power exercised over us by exploiters of our own gender relies on the same indifference towards and contempt for the freedom of others that we display where our own gender privilege is concerned. The myth of 'reverse sexism' is a perfect example in this respect. If our conduct is demonstratably sexist, then purposefully confusing being criticised with being attacked in order to shift the blame onto the person trying to hold us accountable for our behaviour (if not our contempt for the freedom of others) is arguably indicative of the kind of bad conscience which is very much telling in terms of the nature of the criticisms being made.

These facts aside, the assumption that forms of discrimination and social oppression such as sexism and racism continue to have currency on the broader left. From where does this erroneous assumption stem? Could it have something to do with the apparent broad emphasis of Leninist vanguard parties on material inequality and material exploitation at the expense of acknowledgement and treatment of the tension between the freedom of the individual and the autocratic hierarchies characteristic of capitalist relations of production? While economic equality and level playing fields are obviously very important aspects of the process of redressing the insanity and injustice characteristic of capitalism, particularly to the extent that it raises the issue of the power imbalances that capitalist monopolism gives rise to, reducing the struggle for socialism to a question of material equality is also arguably a poor reading of Marx. How can the issue of economic equality alone have any meaning without talking about the ability of each to reclaim control over the conditions of our own lives as individuals, and vice versa?

If the main problem with capitalist relations of production is the fact that material inequality gives rise to power imbalances gives rise to autocracy, then there would appear to be no shortage of merit in making a political reading of Marx’s economic analysis. If this is so, then would not an analysis of power relations on that basis not only allow for a more meaningful reading of the aforementioned, but furthermore make it possible to draw clearer parallels between the injustices associated with multiple kinds of privilege? Would not such a power analysis help us to understand how economic privilege under capitalism intersects with the kinds of social privilege associated with, amongst other things, the gendered hierarchies of patriarchy and the racialised hierarchies indicative of societies such as ours? It would very much appear that they would.

A wide variety of forms of social and economic oppression not only exist but also intersect with one other along the lines referred to above—this much is clear. Revolutionary and anarcho-syndicalists are very much conscious of this, but we are likewise absolutely conscious of the that various forms of privilege, be they economic, racial or otherwise, give rise to numerous points of discrimination and hierarchical oppression that run roughshod over the freedom of the individual and the ability of each to control the conditions and course of our own lives. It could not be more clear that these various forms of oppression function independently of one another, and that becoming conscious of class divisions in society and the need for the revolutionary overhaul of a system that allows one person to exploit the labour of another in no way means that awareness of other forms of social oppression of necessity follows, especially where one’s own privilege in that respect is concerned. If the revolutionary and anarcho-syndicalist movement does have any major shortcomings, however, maybe one that requires the most urgent attention is the failure to fully appreciate, understand and incorporate the insights available to us through the lens of intersectionality into its praxis.

To that end, let us consider first of all the fact that the most profound injustice characteristic of the capitalist economy is the autocratic hierarchies that arise out of economic privilege rooted in private property; if we oppose hierarchy within the capitalist economy as the greatest obstacle to the ability of each to control the conditions and course of our own lives on the grounds that it’s the one that affects the most people around the world, then surely it’s also appropriate to oppose hierarchy as such. If this follows, then instead of treating economic privilege alone as it manifests as class divisions and class-based oppression, it would appear to make vastly more sense to treat all forms of privilege as the main problem previous to treating any one of them as they manifest in daily life. If the sum total of the social and economic injustices we face stem from multiple hierarchies built around a variety of different forms of privilege from gender and racial privilege to those based on sexual preference and ability, and if the way that they buttressing one another helps to strengthen each against the threat of economic and social justice, then surely the battle against the specific oppressiveness and injustice of each manifestation of privilege-based hierarchy demands a battle against the general oppressiveness and injustice of privilege-based hierarchy as a general principle.

If this is the case, then as unionists of a revolutionary stripe practical organisational strategies are required to reflect our concerns on a theoretical level with the innumerable ways that a variety of different forms of privilege and oppression are visited on the working class and how these prevent the development of an effective realisation of solidarity and mutual aid in the face of class war perpetrated on high by the moneyed aristocracy. We need to combine our concern for the development of the self-activity of workers both waged and unwaged, in the workplace, in the home and in the unemployment queue with the insights available to us through syndicalist intersectionality to develop practical strategies for building solidarity and unity and our collective consciousness as human beings united in diversity by our common economic and social interests.

One particularly good example of this organisational necessity in practise is arguably the Resolution on Gender and Biology adopted as a constitutional amendment in recent years by the Industrial Workers of the World. It reads as follows:

WHEREAS biology is not destiny and gender is culturally constructed and complex,

WHEREAS all bodies of the IWW should ensure the safety and inclusion of their members regardless of their gender identity or status or sexual orientation.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that any and all spaces within the IWW (including, but not limited to, gender-based committees, caucuses and events) should respect the right of individual members to self identify and participate in all union activities according to that self identification.

On the basis of this example we can envision working groups for class-conscious workers who are ready to organise on the basis not only of gender, as in the above example, but also for those who experience prejudice and discrimination based on (to name a few) ethnicity, sexuality, ability. Every worker who joined an anarcho-syndicalist union could then feasibly be (and to the extent that time, resources and inclination permitted) involved not only in the union group particular to their area, industry or condition, but also groups designed to facilitate self-activity on the basis of challenging social forms of discrimination and prejudice that could well and do ‘cross the border’ so to speak into the workers’ organisations.

One way that a clearer understanding of how the various forms of hierarchy intersect with various forms of privilege might be effected could arguably be done with the additional examination of the phenomenon in social psychology of moral disengagement. This approach would look at the psychological mechanisms we use in establishing pretexts for blame-shifting, such that we blame the victims of oppression for the qualities or characteristics on which basis we discriminate against them, and play the victims in order to try to rationalise our conduct in our own minds (the classic example of this par excellance of this would appear to be the manipulative tactic of purposefully confusing being criticised with being attacked).

To take the mythologies of reverse-sexism and reverse racism as examples, the marriage of the study of moral disengagement in social psychology with a comprehensive intersectionality clearly helps us to gain a broader understanding of the parallels between these different manifestations of sexism and racism particularly where they help us to understand how someone socially privileged in terms of gender and ethnicity, and who discriminates on a similar basis, might purposefully refuse to distinguish between criticism of their conduct and an attack on their person in order to avoid being held to account for their conduct and otherwise to defend their own privilege against the threat of justice—if not to say the denial of freedom to those oppressed upon whom their own privilege depends.

In the case of the relationship between the dispossession and racist oppression of the indigenous population of Australian is concerned and the destruction of the natural environment at the hands in particular of mining companies, an analysis of how these two facets of the injustices and insanity typical of Australian society might examine the commonality they share in the Australian state that was founded on wholesale dispossession and genocide and that functions to protect economic and social privilege in the short term at the expense of the capacity of the planet to sustain human, animal and plant life in the long. In addition to this it might examine the green syndicalist concept of bioregionalism alongside the demand of indigenous Australians for land rights, and try to begin to figure out how white anarchists might pursue the former while respecting if not taking the initiative to help indigenous Australians to pursue and implement the latter.

One way or the other, the scope of workers’ organisations grounded in anarchist principles to study and analyse the relationship between various manifestations of discrimination and oppression would ultimately appear to be as broad as the injustice and insanity of class society. Organisational support for those wanting to undertake study and analysis on this basis and to further develop our collective understanding of how to organise against it, would aid a better understanding of the nature of the social, economic and political dynamics that support and perpetuate various centres of social and economic privilege and its associated injustices. Just as such an analysis might be used to develop a clearer picture of the state as the sum total of all these oppressive and alienated relationships, it offers the potential for oppressed individuals and groups to perceive their common interest in dismantling social and class privileges and hierarchies as such, and to unite on that basis. With the development of such an understanding would come a broadening and deepening of workers’ solidarity, and with it the effectiveness of organised resistance to the tyranny of capital.

Syndicalism and class

Internal coherency is worthless without the ability to communicate meaningfully and effectively with workers outside of our organisations; thus another significant question in formulating a meaningful response to the general crises of capitalism and the state is how to communicate effectively and in such a way as to encourage the kind of discussion and dialogue that can be inclusive of as many different points of view as there are participants in struggle. Similarly, the question of how to engage in communication where respect and consideration for oneself and others is the rule rather than the exception when it comes to resolving differences of opinion would also appear to be paramount.

The difference between and succeeding on this count would appear to rest on the difference between treating anarchism as a noun and treating it as a verb, and with all the differences in attitude that result. These would appear to manifest on the noun side of the equation as attempting to maintain a monopoly over ‘right’ or ‘correct’ answers, in the autocratic manner of vanguard parties, and on the other to focus on perfecting the kind of questions that inspire further thought and action in the manner of those concerned more with constructive and reciprocal discussion and debate than always being right and crushing anyone who dares to be contradictory once too often. The obvious benefit of treating anarchism as a verb is that we define ourselves by what we do, we can focus on what we have in common with others not as ‘enlightened’ as ourselves for the purposes of building solidarity and promoting the ability of all to resist the oppressiveness of the autocratic hierarchies at the core of capitalist relations of production and all the other injustices and insanities of this world of crisis.

Alternatively of course we can treat anarchism as noun, and work from the assumption that to be an anarchist is a matter of wearing the right label, being part of the right group, listening to the right bands or having the right tattoos. Besides lending itself naturally to hypocrisy and double standards by virtue of operating from the basis of the assumption that what we say is more important than what we do, treating anarchism as a ‘saying thing’ also seems to compel us to focus more on what differentiates us from others in the name of defending our ideological purity. This leads us to worse assumptions again, such as the myth that defending doctrinal purity is to 'have politics,' whereas to focus on building solidarity to the extent that you can on the basis of what you have in common is being 'apolitical,' 'wishy-washy' or 'fake.' That such notions come from anarchists seems anachronistic to the extent that it parallels the kinds of assumptions understood to be the domain of state socialists, which in establishing a pretext for demonising anyone with whom one has a difference of opinion provides ample room for bullying and rumour mongering.

If such things take the place of free and respectful debate once someone decides that they don’t feel like admitting when they’re wrong and decides to invoke fallacies such as the ad hominem to neutralise points of view (and those who hold them) that they no longer find convenient, then what becomes of the culture of openness, mutual respect and reciprocity on which the health and vitality of social and workplace justice movement depend? If openness, mutual respect and reciprocity are the lifeblood of said movements, not only are they strangled without them, but also face the danger of turning into impoverished ghettos where personality politics, popularity contests, negativity, suspicion and fear take the place of principled reflection, meaningful dialogue and constructive engagement with the outside world. We see this on occasions when groups and networks become so toxic that kangaroo courts and witch-hunts take the place of processes that can at least match the bosses’ courts in terms of their capacity to respect the laws of natural justice and abide by the associated norms of due process, with all that that entails in terms of placing the burden of proof on complainants in situations to establish their complaints beyond reasonable doubt where disputes become formalised and of respecting the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’

The question of dispute resolution within the anarchist milieu is an important one particularly if we remember the fact that the means we employ determine our outcomes, which in turn serves to demonstrate the axiomatic importance of making sure that the means we employ are libertarian and just and serve equitable outcomes. The alternative of course is merely that attempts to this end expedite the convenience of individuals or groups who happen to be in a position whether as an officeholder of an organisation or even as a dominating personality to influence them in a direction favourable to themselves. Despite having a positive outcome for ourselves when we find ourselves in this position, such outcomes are obviously detrimental to the movement as a whole to the extent that they disrupt the harmony between means and ends and are otherwise tantamount to social and workplace justice movements becoming good examples of what we claim to oppose.

This would appear to be the case particularly when playing the victim becomes a normal part of interacting with those with whom we don’t see eye to eye. While this approach to dealing with differences of opinion dominates interactions, anyone with an axe to grind can invoke the 'you're either with us or with those who are creepy, sleazy, racist, ageist, sexist, hetero-sexist, trans-phobic, able-bodiest, classist, sizist or any other behaviour or language that may perpetuate oppression' fallacy and everyone who hates any of the above will fall into line lest they fall afoul of the anarchy police. We can to one extent or another remain militantly in ignorance of and neglect any grey area when differences of opinion arise in favour of modes of thinking that, in invoking the ‘with us or against us’ fallacy, gives rise to the equally fallacious assumption that ‘it’s okay to treat other people with exactly the same lack of respect indicative of all the forms of discrimination that I or we claim to oppose because discrimination.’

The internal health of a social movement is clearly vital to its success, particularly in the anarchist movement, which aims to unite means with ends and develop through self-activity and all that that involves in terms of thinking and acting for oneself the facts of the future in the present. At times, especially when the movement reaches an organisational impasse and we start looking for scapegoats for the dysfunctionality of the milieu as a whole, it becomes so toxic that the short term satisfaction of some for revenge surpasses the long-term need of such movements as a whole to develop cultures of responsibility and accountability to collectives that in turn imply the rejection of all the mechanisms of blame-shifting characteristic of moral disengagement. In the event that this happens it behoves all concerned to reflect on our own conduct and to apply to our own conduct all the great insights we derive from the actual or supposed conduct of others. It’s a truism that at the end of the day we have no greater enemy than ourselves, and any insight we think we can gain from the conduct of others pales in comparison to the insights we can gain from our own. While some of us may operate on the basis of pretences to the contrary, it’s the insights we gain from our own conduct that are the most powerful, if not to say the most beneficial both for ourselves and for the social and workplace justice movements in which we participate. Interacting with others on the basis of this kind of approach is vital not only for the sake of the internal stability, cohesiveness and longevity of the networks and organisational structures that take a lot of time and voluntary effort to build up, but also for the purposes of analysis and reflection so vital to the development and maintenance of a relevant and effective revolutionary praxis.


To the extent that we lack meaningful control either over the climate crisis or an unresponsive parliamentary political system that represents little or nothing apart from those in power and the moneyed interests behind them, crisis is as pervasive a part of Australian society in the present time as chaos is indicative of the free market. It may even be said that the chaos indicative of the free market is the reason why we have the crisis we’re in, especially to the extent as noted above that the market operates on the basis of socialism for the rich and market discipline for the poor. This is especially true where the lack of control over our work and by extension our lives given the economic monopolism at the core of class society and the autocratic hierarchies at the core of capitalist relations of production concerned. To the extent that this follows, the alienation and exploitation that tends to characterize the wage system specifically serves only to exacerbate the general conditions that remove by constantly greater degree our individual and collective ability to exercise such control. An economic regime predicated on workers control and syndicalist intersectionality, which takes into account multiple forms of economic and social privilege and attempts to combat all simultaneously as part of a broader struggle against oppressive hierarchies, would be desirable in the main because of the potential contained therein for everyone to reclaim control over the courses of our own lives.

The age-old question of course and the one that has caused so much conflict and division amongst opponents of social injustice is how to get there. One can never claim to have all the answers by a long stretch and those who do claim a monopoly over answers generally tend not have much of a clue as to what the question is, but one fact remains however which is that the means we employ have to be consistent with our outcomes. As before, the reasons for this are clear: (1) the former determine the latter and (2) a free society can only individuals who are themselves already free, particularly to the extent that we have overcome our emotional and psychological dependency on institutionalised power structures and leaders to tell us how to think and act. History amply demonstrates that every failure to do so generally tends to result in workplace and social justice movements becoming to a lesser or greater extent everything that they claim to oppose.

This, and the fact that forms of social oppression and injustice such as sexism and ableism extend beyond capitalism and into anti-capitalist movements, would appear to be the primary justification for incorporating the insights available through the study of intersectionality into a more general syndicalist intersectionality, and in doing so thereby raising the fight against particular manifestations of discrimination into a general struggle against privilege and injustice and thereby increasing the effectiveness and relevance to all of the struggle for a basically sane and just society.

1., accessed 14 February 2013;, accessed 14 February 2013;, accessed 14 February 2013.

2., accessed 14 February 2013.


Posted By

Feb 14 2013 11:16


Attached files


With Sober Senses
Feb 15 2013 21:55

Is capitalism in Australia currently in crisis? With a 3% growth rate an unemployment at approx 5.4% it is hard to see that it is. There are certainly lines of tension and struggle....but come on.

Feb 15 2013 23:52
With Sober Senses wrote:
Is capitalism in Australia currently in crisis? With a 3% growth rate an unemployment at approx 5.4% it is hard to see that it is. There are certainly lines of tension and struggle....but come on.

That's the case, capitalism fluctuates within it's field of social and cultural control, any former colony, now euphemized as a global ally, but with the same identical century -old social structure, still functions from it's original condition, as a primary producer. There are booms and busts ad infinitum in the capitalist future, Australia is riding on the back of mining exports to Asian production, and when global demand for commodities drops, tension emerges in the Australian labour market.
The long rave on anarchism's existing struggle to not have its intrinsic values swallowed into the mire of identity politics was refreshing though. How to get there? Is voting really relevent now?

"This, and the fact that forms of social oppression and injustice such as sexism and ableism extend beyond capitalism and into anti-capitalist movements, would appear to be the primary justification for incorporating the insights available through the study of intersectionality into a more general syndicalist intersectionality, and in doing so thereby raising the fight against particular manifestations of discrimination into a general struggle against privilege and injustice and thereby increasing the effectiveness and relevance to all of the struggle for a basically sane and just society."

I thought the closing paragraph was cool.

Feb 16 2013 06:49
With Sober Senses wrote:
Is capitalism in Australia currently in crisis? With a 3% growth rate an unemployment at approx 5.4% it is hard to see that it is. There are certainly lines of tension and struggle....but come on.

According to its own logic it could probably be doing worse and I definitely appreciate the value of analysing it on its own terms. The point however related to the expanding social and environmental crisis, reflected particularly in the statistics referenced about the growing divide between rich and poor and the torrent of data continuing to demonstrate the effects in this country of climate change. In any event, 'growth' as a poor man's substitute for progress and change serves none but the moneyed classes.

With Sober Senses
Feb 16 2013 03:57

Well I think it is important to make a distinction between saying capitalism is bad and undesirable and that it is in crisis. Also whilst it is important to see the growing division between capital and labour in relation to the division of wealth, I think we need to take into consideration the growth of non-wage sources of income ( credit, financial investments, super etc) for large sections of workers to explain how high levels on consumption have been maintained as well as what the actual rates of wages growth have been.

Feb 16 2013 07:09

Sure, on both counts. On the basis of the things you refer to capitalism obviously continues to work well enough for those it was designed to benefit in the first place, even if it puts more and more pressure on the rest of us. 3% growth looks good on paper, granted, even if it is built on 60% casualisation and all that involves in precarious employment and an upward transfer of wealth. Admittedly I failed to address the kinds of questions you're raising, mostly because I haven't thought about them, but the theme of the essay is social crisis resulting from capitalism working the way it's supposed to which a slighter better title might have done a better job of reflecting. It's not really a contentious theme as a good Google search will reveal; this was one of the first things I came up with:

That said, what you say about the relationship between non-wage sources of income and the maintenance of high levels of consumption definitely sounds significant and relevant - though isn't the reliance of large sectors of the population on credit itself unsustainable in the long term, especially given current circumstances?

With Sober Senses
Feb 16 2013 12:40

60% casualisation? Do you have a link to those figures?

Feb 17 2013 05:12

I did a recruiter training course through the ACTU towards the end of last year and that was the figure they were throwing around. I must have gotten it confused though because the only figures I could find through a quick search were that 60% of all casuals are women and 60% of youth workers are casuals (may need to address that in the body of the text). That's still pretty bad though. Definitely something to be said for a campaign against the trend.


Feb 17 2013 05:15

Ah nup, found something a little more substantial:

Downloadable PDF is at

"Over the past few decades – despite strong and sustained economic growth – we have seen a worrying and dramatic rise of insecure work in Australia. Today, only about 60% of workers are in full or part-time ongoing employment; the rest – some 4 million workers – are engaged as casuals, on short-term contracts, in labour hire, or as “independent” contractors.

Insecure work leaves a large section of the workforce not sharing in our national economic prosperity. They have inferior rights, entitlements, and job security to their counterparts in ongoing employment. It makes it tough for working families to plan for their future when they cannot rely on regular incomes, but have rising household costs, and are shouldering more and more household debt.

The rise of insecure work in Australia is the result of a business model that shifts the risks from the employer to the employee. Australian unions do not believe a strong, prosperous economy must come at the expense of quality jobs, of respect for workers’ rights, and of workers exercising some control over their working lives."