Socialism…

Australian Options magazine no 67 out now editorial: Whither Capitalism; Whither Socialism?

‘AO founder Elliott Johnston posed “the question of socialism, however named” just before his recent death.

The hundreds who attended his memorial service heard of a tireless campaigner for justice and social change on which to build a better world.

Far from being anachronistic, his convictions are being echoed by many people around the world in protests against obscene greed and growing inequality by the “occupy movement”.

Due to our current fortunate position in the global economy, Australians often don’t see the world in the same way as those in countries where the financial crisis of capitalism is now spawning social and political crisis.

In countries where democracy is the norm, like Greece and Italy, normal governmental processes have been suspended and technocrats installed because the people simply cannot be trusted. The proposal to consult the Greek people through a referendum was quickly dispensed with and the Prime Minister with it.

The “occupy movement” (OM) quickly became big news in most developed countries, reinforcing the adage that nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

Rude awakenings about the assumed democratic right to protest were meted out to the occupiers of public spaces in hundreds of cities around the world; Melbourne saw the return of the choke hold when the Mayor summoned the cavalry, California the pepper spray to seated passive protesters and New York’s finest were sent in with billy clubs to defend the citadel of Wall Street. Trade unions joined the protests in many cities, notably in the US where redundancies and short time working are imposing savage cuts on incomes.

OM has raised all the big questions about why the powerful economic interests do not serve social needs. It has stressed the view that wealth and those who have it are growing more venal, while those that don’t have it are suffering for it.

Despite the control that the Murdochs and Berlusconis have over the mass media and the world view they propagate, OM’s protests have resonated with majority public opinion in many countries, simply because the message is true.

The policies which the governments in the capitalist economies are following will intensify the inequality and the social crisis it engenders.

The global financial crisis shows no sign of a solution, threatening millions of redundancies and increasing poverty, as the ILO has reported. Two years ago the G20 predicted that slashing interest rates, pumping public money into weak banks, cutting taxes, increasing spending and printing money would address the problems.

But further crisis looms as the depth of indebtedness remains intractable and the burden of debt has shifted from the private to the public spheres. The long credit boom has gone into reverse. Now vital public services are in the sites for cutbacks – as the sacrificial lambs of a crisis not of our making.

Of course OM came to us warts and all. It may appear naive, without any long term strategy, and bedevilled by the erstwhile vanguards of the political left.

The occupations also attracted many of the desperate and those harmed by poverty and ill-health. But a visit to the “Occupy NY” website reveals a long exchange about socialism…its failures and mistakes but also a true engagement on what was an alternative social system to the failures of capitalism written in the street.

Readers of AO know that this is precisely what motivated Elliott Johnston throughout his long life and in founding this magazine.

While the Gillard Government has been selective in its mini-budget cuts, it must resist a competition with the Opposition for the title of best defender of the interests of corporate Australia by cutting public spending in the face of declining tax income. Even many in the corporate world are nervous about the commitment to create a budget surplus, recognising the dangers of recession. The strategy, as in the 1930s, is to cut expenditures as they carry out the global financial plan to restore capitalism’s fortunes at the expense of the 99% of people so famously championed from the streets by the OM.

As Paul Keating has recently commented, the current economic crisis promises to be the worst since then, and the left is forewarned about the need to unite the left under those circumstances.

We need positive proposals. How about an Australian referendum on how to spend the budget and address the crisis? Some expenditure is kept from public view and hidden in quadrennial funding such as needless grants to private schools. The billions being wasted on unwanted wars, corporate subsidies and middle class welfare would be good places to start in restoring fairness. Introducing social controls to match the guarantees and bailouts made to banks, as well as public ownership, equity and regulation which treats them as public utilities with limits to prevent high risks, frauds and scams would be supported by public opinion in these times.

Unlike previous crises, the current one is overlaid by environmental crisis, putting at a premium the need for public investment and jobs in renewable energy industries which could involve beneficial treatment of workers’ savings in superannuation rather than leaving them to the vagaries and rip-offs of the financial services industry.

Workers should be able to choose certainty with modest returns for retirement rather than risk and losses of their savings in the sharemarket with added losses to fees and charges.

The OM has opened up all these issues anew, buried as they were in the era of corporate greed and privatisation which swept the globe in the latter part of the 20th century.

Such demands open up thinking and analysis about the social system which Elliott Johnston called “socialism, however named”, combining participatory democracy, fair shares of wealth and power, and sustainability. This is a project which AO is keen to support.”

Australian Options magazine $5 no 67 now out subscribe contact donjarrett@internode.on.net.

Articles on ‘Occupy’; Williams, Bridge and Pocock on “Living and working in Australia”; Stillwell on “What prospects for tax reform?”; Sutherland on “WorkChoices Unfinished Business”; White on Timor-Leste; Ann Pettifor on financial crisis; Kaye on the price on carbon; Bill Dunn on ‘The political crisis of government debt”; Dow on the banking crisis; Ranald on ‘New trade agreement threatens public health”; Roos on “The future of manufacturing” plus music and book reviews.

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