Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Parliament and politicians fail on fracking

Louisa L

When the Northern Territory government opened 51 per cent of the territory to unconventional gas extraction, Guardian Australia’s Lisa Cox responded with “'Not safe, 
not wanted': is the end of NT fracking ban a taste of things to come?”

The headline referred to the NT fracking inquiry committee’s final report summary, “For a significant majority of the people participating in the inquiry, the overwhelming consensus was that hydraulic fracturing for onshore shale gas in the NT is not safe, is not trusted and is not wanted.”

In her wide ranging article Cox quoted Lock the Gate NSW coordinator Georgina Woods: “Like other extractive industries, they have a lot of reach, a lot of money, a lot of power – and governments in Australia do tend to eventually concede to extractive industries.”

Cox reported that only five companies – Origin, Exxon-Mobil, BHP, Shell and Santos, dominate worldwide. In the NT Pangaea Resources and Mitsubishi are also involved, and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting owns an active licence south of Mataranka Springs near Katherine. 

That Rinehart’s company relinquished portions of the licence last year to create a 25km exploration buffer zone from the springs and the Roper River, indicates the strength of opposition. But 25 km means little, as water resources there are all connected.

WA and SA administrations have banned or imposed moratoriums on fracking in farming areas, wine regions and tourist centres - for now - after seeing powerful united fronts derail fracking deals in the east. But Aboriginal lands in the Canning basin in the Kimberley and APY Lands in SA appear to be fair game.

Betrayals or business as usual?
Betrayals by politicians and parliamentary parties are keenly felt. In NSW the Nationals are targeted, in the NT, it’s Labor. All major parties have fracking blood on their hands.

Cox wrote, “A week after the NT ended its ban in April, the treasurer, Scott Morrison, gave the territory an extra $260m to make up for its low GST share, as well as an extra $550m over five years for remote Indigenous housing. He denied the timing of the decision was linked to the lifting of the moratorium.” 

Nick Evershed also in Guardian Australia pointed out, “Queensland’s CSG industry was helped along by a government scheme introduced in 2000 that required 13% of all power supplied to the state electricity grid to be generated by gas by 2005.”

Parliamentary subservience to the mining industry couldn’t be clearer.

Gumbaynggirr man and Tent Embassy Firekeeper, Roxley Foley, spoke earlier this year of the need to “combine our revolution with the working peoples’ revolution, and bring everyone with us.”
In the Pilliga, Josh Borowski speaks of the rape of Australia’s rich resources. “And we’re not nationalising any of it!” Strong words from a radicalising young farmer.

NT First Nations’ youth group, Seed says,  “Together we must strengthen our land rights and put community before profits.

“Communities have a right to have the final say about what happens on their country, and to make decisions about their own lives. Only when communities have the freedom to define their own path, can our people truly heal.”

The struggle against fracking is only one of many battles raging across the country against the multinational corporations’ exploitation of Australian people and natural resources. 

Third generation farmer Josh Borowski was one of six farmers in a group lock-on opposing fracking in the Pilliga, NSW on 2014.

In Longford Victoria, 230 maintenance workers on ExxonMobil’s off shore gas platform have been on a year-long picket line in an intense battle with the multinational hell-bent on crushing Australian workers’ hard won wages and conditions. 

In Melbourne on 17 April, 1000 strong state-wide delegates meeting to Change the Rules marched to ExxonMobil head office in solidarity with the Longford workers.  Outside the multinational’s head office, Troy Carter, one of the Longford maintenance workers’ delegates on the picket line, sent a powerful message to ExxonMobil,  “These workers clearly understand the importance of their long fight and the sacrifices their families are making in standing up against one of the world’s biggest multinationals. How dare a multinational company come into our backyard and rape our natural resources and not put back into our country and our families what belongs to us. We’re proud Australian workers and if you’re not going to stop ripping us off and not pay any taxes, well you can get out of here.” (For full article see Vanguard May Day edition)

In the past 4 years ExxonMobil didn’t pay any taxes and has now announced that it will continue not to pay taxes in Australia for another 4 years!

The struggles for working people’s livelihoods, protection of country and the environment and for the wealth of Australia’s natural resources to benefit the people have a common enemy in the multinational domination and exploitation of Australia.  

As mis-governments and politicians sell out the people, a mood for substantial change grows. Some illusions remain that changing the faces or parties in parliament will be enough. But the longer these battles continue, the more those involved are learning that solutions lie in their own united action. 

Parliament does not serve the people. Its democracy is illusory. It automatically serves the corporate ruling class unless the united people force it to do otherwise. We need to build a system that serves the people.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Humphrey McQueen on 3CR Radio: The Communist Manifesto

This talk was delivered by Humphrey McQueen on 3CR Solidarity Breakfast as part of the celebration of Marx’s 200th birthday.

As part of our celebrations, this morning we’ll look into another of the works he wrote with his lifelong comrade, Engels. We began with their German Ideology from 1845-6, and now we’ll enjoy The Communist Manifesto from 1848.

Now for The Manifesto, which was written in the heat of a revolutionary upsurge. The Chartists had rocked the United Kingdom throughout the 1840s. The years 1848 to 1851 see uprisings across Europe, from Ireland to Poland. Engels is on the battlefront in south-west Germany. Richard Wagner is heaving a piano onto the barricades in Dresden.

Marx is a political exile because of his writings. In July 1847, he organises the Communist League which commissions The Manifesto.  It is published in February 1848.


Poetry in motion

Parts I and II are a prose poem – perhaps the world’s first prose poem.(1)  The energy of Marx’s style captures the power of his subject matter. In preparing these notes, I found myself reciting The Manifesto aloud. It lends itself to declamation. Indeed, Berthold Brecht shaped The Manifesto for a cantata with music by his fellow Communist, Hanns Eisler. 


The opening pages are a paean of praise for capitalism. They could be called ‘A capitalist manifesto’:

The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part …

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.

A dialectical approach reveals that capitalism makes possible its opposite in communism.


Speed traps

One trap in approaching The Manifesto is that its pace sweeps us along so that we can miss much of what Marx and Engels are saying. We need to apply the brakes. To show why, I’ll unpick the opening paragraph. 


Who doesn’t know the first sentence?

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Stirring words. But wrong. Forty years later, Engels adds a footnote. Not all history is class struggle – only ‘all written history’. We had been remaking ourselves for tens of thousands of years before classes emerged. For instance, there was no class struggle on the Australian continent before the late 1700s.(2)  


Engels’s correction doesn’t go far enough. What he calls ‘written history’ came after the emergence of classes. Evidence about that earlier epoch is from archeology, not written records. Objects tell us next-to-nothing about what their makers thought or how their societies were organised.


To continue our examination of the first paragraph:

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, Guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another,


What divided them? The pairings are of economic categories, which is what we might expect. But Marx and Engels sum them up in terms of oppression, which indicates a broader set of power relationships. Although they do not say so, we can sense the long arm of the state as the means to enforce oppressive economic relations. 


They describe the conflicts as ‘constant’ which means that they go on all the time. They then introduce a vital qualification. The struggle might be relentless but it takes different forms:

carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight,


The crux of being an historical materialist is to reject all explanations that impose an ‘eternal, natural and universal’ order on human activity. Our task is to answer the question ‘how exactly?’ for each time and in every place.


There’s one more point to take from ‘uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight’.

The class struggle is not a pantomime dragon which stirs for the final act but otherwise sleeps through the drama. Too often, people equate ‘the class struggle’ with big events – 1848 or 1917. Those revolutionary upsurges are, of course, expressions of class conflict. Under capitalism, however, the struggle goes on every second of every day – and throughout the night. Working longer, working harder, working broken shifts, being out of work – all impact on the quality of our sleep, and of our dreams. 


As we reach the end of the first paragraph, Marx and Engels have a further shock in store. We expect to hear that the class struggle is 

a fight which each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large

That’s the outcome to which Marx and Engels devoted their lives. What happens if we don’t have a ‘revolutionary reconstitution’? The Manifesto’s answer is grim. We suffer

the common ruin of the contending classes.


Progress is not inevitable. Marx and Engels never fell for what is called ‘the Whig interpretation of history’ in which things get better and better. They knew too much about the Ancient World to suppose that life always improves - more or less– and sooner or later. 


The glorious socialist future is no sure bet. Like every other advance, its likelihood depends on how each side wages the class struggle. 

It’s also worth pausing to consider the phrase ‘revolutionary reconstitution’. Too often, Marxists think in terms of ‘a transition from feudalism to capitalism’. Transition is a long way from any kind of revolution. 


A fighting program

The Manifesto sweeps across thousands of years to spell out ten current demands. They ‘will be different in different countries.’ Once more, there can be no eternal, natural or universal.


We don’t have the time to examine each point in detail. Yet it’s worth noting that four of the ten relate to agriculture, which might be a bit of a surprise. Marx always included agriculture under his treatment of industrial. He didn’t restrict ‘industrial’ to steam-driven factories. 


Their final proposal comes as a total shock. After Marx and Engels insist on the

Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form.

they call for the

Combination of education with industrial production, etc. etc.


How does that differ from the current bleats out of employers and so-called education ministers for schools to turn out students who are ‘job-ready’?


The demand in The Manifesto is one more expression of historical materialism. Recall our discussion of The German Ideology and ‘Thesis Eleven’ about interpreting the world and changing it. They are parts of a whole. They are not choices. Here, Marx and Engels apply that insight to formal education. We learn by doing. That Marx and Engels did not know how exactly that precept should be put into practice is clear from their lapse into ‘etc. etc’.  



How do we put The Manifesto into effect in 2018? Above all, we must follow its lead with demands related to everyday life. We can think in terms of ‘Five Pillars” of immediate and ceaseless concern for working people: housing, transport, work, health and education. 


The sixth element is to link the environment inside each of those. Our bio-system is not a thousand miles away from our daily doings, not a wilderness, but backyards, front streets and worksites.


The seventh pillar is to defend the freedoms that our class has won the capitalists so that we can keep advancing all our needs.


Deciphering the text

Slow reading alone is not enough to savour all the ingredients that Marx and Engels stir into the rich pudding of The Manifesto. Their text is a short course on Western thought since the Greeks. 


We’ve time for only the most notorious example. Marx and Engels praise capitalism because it has

rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. 


The phrase ‘rural idiocy’ is not a swipe at people who live in the countryside for being naturally stupid. The phrase combines Aristotle and Rousseau. 


‘Idiocy’ is not an IQ score. Aristotle is the source for the term ‘idiocy’ in contrast to his view of humans as ‘political animal’. The Greek notion is that only the active citizen could be fully human. This view links to The Manifesto’s call to even up urban and rural life.


Four years later, Marx recognises that the French peasants are a class-in-themselves but not yet a class-for-themselves. He pictures them like potatoes in a sack, lumped together but with no interaction. That weakness allowed them to be manipulated by Napoleon III. 

Their ‘idiocy of rural life’ is also a whack against Rousseau for whom the ‘state of nature’ is good, happy and free while society corrupts us. No. As Marx puts it in Capital: even if we are not Aristotle’s political animal, we are ‘at all events a social animal’.


Which edition?

Helen Macfarlane did the first English translation in 1850. Engels supervised an English edition in 1888, with adjustments and corrections. As we have seen, a few of those changes are highly significant.


All the editions on offer today include these improvements. If all you want are the thirty pages of the text, it won’t make any difference which version you pick. Go for the cheapest – download from Marx Archive. 


To locate The Manifesto in its historical context, however, two other considerations come into play. First, how insightful is its introduction? Secondly, how much supporting material is included? On both those criteria, I rely on the 1971 edition from International Publishers in New York. The editor was the remarkable Dirk J Struik. Struik was a Dutch-born Marxist, a mathematician and an historian of mathematics and of technology. He provides a seventy-page Introduction and ninety pages of related writings by Marx and Engels. 


By all means read The Manifesto at full belt for its excitements. But then go back and ponder it sentence by sentence – even phrase by phrase. We’re richly rewarded every time we do.


(1) See Marshall Berman's chapter on The Manifesto in All That Is Solid Melts into Air (1982)


(2) By January 1848, Marx still had not distinguished 'labour' from 'labour-power'. That breakthrough came years later as he slaved his way towards finishing Das Kapital in1867. Marx was not born the author of Capital. He got there through study and struggle - interpreting and changing the world.