Phil Ochs ‘Love me, love me, I’m a liberal’ the two notions to make clear are: ‘ideological attacks’ are secondary at best. What counts are the needs of capital.
Fourth in series on expansion of capital. Capital has to expand to exist. Profits are only the means to that end. Expansion is not just for individual corporations. They come and under the pressures of competition. Rather, it is AGGREGATE capital that must keep growing.
‘ACCMULATE! ACCMULATE! That is Moses and the Prophets.’ (Marx)
Accumulation is the key to unlock the comings and goings of booms and busts. One is example is the current and continuing blockage to the expansion of capital. The first aims this morning is to make clear that ‘ideological attacks’ are secondary: Take the case of Neo-Liberalism. That set of notions are a consequence of the need that capital has to expand.
The presumption that this ‘idea’ is the cause of anything sows confusion around the Left. Secondly, a general point: a materialist account of how ideas relate to other social practices. Here is a neat passage from Marx and Engels:
Once upon a time, a valiant fellow had the idea that people were drowned in water only because they were possessed of the idea of gravity. If they were to get this notion out of their heads, say by announcing it to be a superstition, a religious concept, they would be sublimely proof against any danger from water. (The German Ideology)
That wasn’t true in the 1840s about gravity and drowning. It is not true today about neo-liberalism and exploitation. WRONG THINKING Nonetheless, the ALP and the ACTU rabbit on about Howard and Abbott making ‘ideological attacks’.
Eg through Work Choices and the Medicare co-payment. Nasty men have bad ideas. This babble also flows from Left grouplets. The fact is that Neo-liberalism is still a pretty good idea for global corporates. WHY do so many different kinds of people get it wrong?
1. LAZY If the attack is the result of an idea, then the Left doesn’t have to think about economics.
2. SAFE for the ALP, to blame ‘an idea’ means they never have to mention capitalism.
3. VANITY makes the intelligentsia feel important if power comes from ‘ideas’. What we produce makes the world.
On this third point here is Engels about how belief in the power of ‘ideas’ gained strength. The process began with religion: ‘fantastic reflections in the mind’ Those superstitions seemed grander than ‘the modest productions of the working hand.’ The priests and overlords got others to do the dirty work. The result was all merit for the swift advance of civilisation was ascribed to the mind, to the development and activity of the brain. Human became accustomed to explain their actions as arising out of thought instead of their needs, which in any case are reflected and perceived in the mind ….
So there emerged that idealist world outlook. Engels regretted that this error afflicted even Darwinians. So, where does ‘neo-liberalism’ fit in today? All needs generate ideas to justify their claims. The bosses represent their ideas as ideals, as ethical statements. Historical materialists know that when ideas are taken up by numbers of people they acquire some social impact. We see that religion. We saw it in the Great War when ‘God was on OUR side.’ Similarly, neo-liberalism as ideology plays a necessary part.
It confuses its victims and legitimises the exploiters. But to repeat: ideas express needs. Needs are class-determined. To repeat: neo-liberalism is a very good idea for most global corporates. The ever-lasting need of capital is to expand. But the obstacles take ever new forms. One small marker of these shifts is in the terms used for the strategy of expansion. Neo-liberalism is quite new. The term does not appear in the 1997 Macquarie dictionary or in the 1999 Oxford Australian dictionary.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Monetarism and Milton Freidman were all the rage. The aim then was to vanquish Keynesian spending. In the 1980s and 1990s, ‘economic rationalism’ came to the fore. The target was to remove restrictions on the trade in goods, services and cash.
Since then, the brand has switched to Neo-liberalism. The aim is to help capital to expand by helping corporations to take over services long provided by the state. Each of these three stages had a particular manifestation of the class struggle. The sixties and seventies saw the workers gaining strength.
The Eighties and nineties brought the backlash in taming the whole labour movement and breaking the most militant. Most recently, the aim has been to abolish organised labour. All these strands have always existed on the wish-lists of this or that fraction within the capitalist class. Yet one or other line of policy becomes dominant in order to deal with each particular pressure on capital’s expansion.
The state organises capital and disorganises labour. Always. All times. All places. The sell-off of government assets got underway in the 1980s. Think of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, The Commonwealth Bank, QANTAS and TELSTRA. What those operations had in common was that they were in competition with global corporates.
In the USA, most of those services had never been run by governments. Hence, selling them off did not bring a qualitative shift in the areas open for the expansion of capital.
What is new?
Take two aspects, the political and the economic. One turning point came with the 1997-98 Asian crisis. Revolutions in Thailand and Indonesia taught the IMF a big lesson: if you hollow out the economic power of the state you risk undermining its political clout. After 1998, the IMF call was for ‘effective states’. ‘Effective’ means having the power to control the masses.
Now for the economic front.
What’s new is that capital is being encouraged to expand by shifting into activities long and widely assumed to be the preserves of government. Eg wealth, education and social welfare. Think about each of those realms as a colony to invade – but colonies at home. Some examples The Commonwealth runs its own communications network in Canberra. The Telcos complain that this system deprives them of $100m every year. Defence and others resist the sell-off on grounds of ‘security’. This example would transfer wealth by giving the Telcos the tax revenues. The transfer by itself need not result in the expansion of aggregate capital. However, Telstra could use the extra revenue to expand other aspects of its business.
For some time, much of Centerlink has been a mix of government agencies, NGOs, and global
Corporates. So far, the changes have moved taxes towards the corporates. However, if the unemployed had to pay for these services, the expansion of capital would become direct. This could be done by extending the HECS arrangements to people on NewStart. Should they ever get a job which pays more than the minimum wage, they would be ‘taxed’ to pay for the services that ‘found’ the job for them. This process is not the same as shifting tax revenues to the corporates.
The co-payment is only the start. What we can expect is that almost everyone will be forced into buying medical cover from the global corporates. Health will become even more of a commodity.
A century ago, governments killed of trains and trams, driving people into buying corporate commodities known as cars and fuel. At the same time, construction companies profited out of tax funds for roads and highways. Now, merchant bankers fund tollways as a vehicle for selling access as a commodity. Taxes now take the form of misnamed Private-Public-Partnerships. Each of three words is a lie. Privatise. The Left has absorbed the propaganda of capital.
‘Privatise’ is the corporate’s spin. To make something ‘private’ makes the sell-off and sell-outs sound personal. We should never use ‘privatise’. But always say sell-outs to global corporates. That is the truth of the matter. [There are no ‘private’ schools – there are only tax-funded non-government schools. The only ‘private’ education is home-schooling.]
Schools and hospitals are sold-off on the grounds that the corporates will produce better results. Opponents of selling off schools point out that the results are rarely better and often worse. That is not an argument against the sell-off. The aim is not to serve the people. The aim is to find a new areas of expansion for aggregate capital.
NAPLAN scores don’t matter. What matters are the numbers on the corporate balance-sheets.
When NGOs and not-for-profits provide services, they do not affect the rate of accumulation. Rather, they are the Trojan horse through which the global corporates get their feet in the door. See how Employment services passed through Mission Australia to Maximus in latest round of contracts.
A. If governments pay them to run hospitals, the firms profit out of taxes. But that arrangement does not directly allow for any expansion of capital. All taxes come from existing wealth.
B. However, the corporates might use the profits from the schools and hospitals to invest elsewhere.That recycling then opens the way to expropriating new values and thus to expansion.
C. If the corporates take over the provision of goods or services on their own account, then they have acquired a new domain for expansion.
This method is direct. B and C are what capital needs most. They promise a path to the next bout of expansion. The era of neo-liberalism is far from over. The crash of 2007-08 did not demonstrate its bankruptcy. Rather, the crash highlighted how essential the neo-liberal agenda is for the next round of capital expansion.
Of course, as with monetarism and economic rationalism, an even newer strategy will become necessary. As ever, the survival of capitalism depends on the next round of its exploiting workers.