Earlier in May I presented on Marx’s critique of political economy for the Queensland School of Continental Philosophy – here is the recording of it. (I didn’t write the very generous bio…)
Where is the proletariat? The proletariat is everywhere, just as the boss is.
On 10th of May in the lead up to the Budget the Federal government announced fundamentally interlocking changes to the subsidies to childcare and the provision of paid parental leave. Less money will be given to parents and more money will be given to childcare and early childhood education providers. These changes reflect an attempt by the state to address multisided and interrelated problems of the social reproduction of capitalism and do so in the historical moment of dwindling economic fortunes. These interlocking problems are: the rising costs of social reproduction in the context of falling revenue, the size of the supply of labour and the care and raising of children. The changes mean the intensification of work – in the broadest sense – for the class on a whole and for women specifically, especially mothers. Indeed both the cuts to paid parental leave and the increase in the subsidy to childcare are aimed at having the same impact: to reduce the time that parents, and this will usually mean mothers, spend out of paid work and at home caring for their children. This means in practice an intensification of both waged and unwaged labour and their concurrent stresses and challenges.
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion
On the 12th May Treasurer Joe Hockey will present his second budget. The budget lies at the heart of the state’s efforts to reproduce capitalist society; thus understanding what is in the budget plays some role in interpreting the terrain in which we contest capitalism on. His previous budget was the centrepiece of a clear vision (a Plan A) to address the challenges facing capital accumulation in Australia and it lies pretty much in ruins. Facing the end of the mining boom and thus a drop in growth levels, profits, wages, rises in unemployment and Federal debt, the budget aimed to reduce spending on social reproduction and increase stimulative spending on infrastructure. The latter was to be financed in no small part through asset recycling (privatising state assets and reinvesting the funds). This was sold as a response to a ‘budget emergency’, a narrative that over-emphasised the size of Federal debt for political effect (just as the Left/social democratic narrative denied its existence). Added to this were efforts, coordinated on a state level, to disperse points of social contestation: the construction unions, ecological protests and community opposition.
It’s now pretty clear the Campbell Newman’s LNP has lost the Queensland election due to opposition to the ‘leasing’ (the effective sale) of state assets to raise funds to pay down debt and stimulate accumulation through investment in infrastructure. These two things are key parts of what I have argued is the Plan A to ensure the accumulation of capital in Australia as the mining boom fizzles out.
How many other state governments will proceed with asset sales now? And the Federal legislation to encourage this asset recycle remains stalled and unable to pass the senate.
How then can the investment in infrastructure be financed? And what are any of the alternatives for capitalism in Australia?
Whilst elections have little to do with our struggle for emancipation this result makes it clear that the current malaise of bourgeoisie politics and the general soft refusal of large sections of the population to sacrifice for capital means the state seems unable to act effectively for the best interest of capital – and all this in the context of a bleak global economy.
As the end of the mining boom begins to bite will this layer of refusal hold? Can vast expenditure on infrastructure be financed any other way? What could possibly be a Plan B for capital? And what shape will our struggles take in this period of crisis, decline and malaise?
Far from being the essence of socialism, planning is a typical feature of capital as it reaches hegemonic maturity (Negri 2014, 295).
Last year I argued here on this blog that capital in Australia had a ‘Plan A’ to deal with the end of the mining boom: a vast wave of investment in infrastructure.[i] My core argument was that this plan would see the rise of an ‘Infrastructure State’ (in the tradition of Negri’s (2005) ‘Planner’ and ‘Crisis’ states) that would enable and often fund or help finance infrastructure spending, shift some of the costs of social reproduction off its books and onto the wage and into the home, and work to dissolve points of opposition. There is a clear alignment between organisations such as the Business Council of Australia and Federal and state governments. Indeed since writing the original piece the volume of arguments for just such a plan have increased. As the government argued in the Mid-Year Economic and Financial Outlook:
A key component of this Strategy is the continued roll out of over $50 billion of infrastructure investment. These investments have already begun and include major
projects across the nation that will reduce congestion, improve productivity and create jobs. The Government’s investment in infrastructure also includes incentives of
$5 billion through the Asset Recycling Initiative, which will catalyse over $38 billion in new infrastructure. In total, the Infrastructure Growth Package will lead to over $125 billion of new productive infrastructure over the next decade.
On a global level both the G20 and the IMF are looking to infrastructure as the solution to flagging demand (International Monetary Fund 2014 , G20 2013). The secretary of the Treasury summarised the logic for infrastructure spending committed to at the Brisbane G20 Leaders Meeting as follows:
G20 members focussed on supporting investment in infrastructure as a means of managing the short and longer-term challenges of promoting growth while undertaking fiscal repair. In this regard, they noted the benefits of investing in expenditure are threefold:
it supports aggregate demand during construction;
if done well, it augments the economy’s supply capacity and boosts productivity for the long term; and
if priced appropriately, it may even help the fiscal position in the medium term (Martin Parkinson 2014, 7)
However it now seems that governments on both Federal and state levels has significantly failed to implement this plan – despite the above claims in the MYEFO.[ii] In August it was reported that none of the major planned infrastructure projects which were meant have been started within one year of the Coalition’s election were ‘shovel ready’(Duyn 2014).
How much is this due to the crisis of political authority due to the antipolitical condition of the present (to draw on the work of Left Flank)? How much is this due to the struggle of the class – even if this takes most often sullen and silent forms (to draw on the theoretical legacy of operaismo)?
Below is the text of my paper that I presented at Historical Materialism Australasia 2014. I haven’t had much time to generate much new research so this paper serves two roles: it is a summation of the argument made in Roads to Nowhere – Capital’s Plan A and it introduces a new problem. This problem is that despite an existing and clear strategy for stimulating capital accumulation, a plan shared by many of the thinkers and political forces of capital, the state has not been able to effectively realise it. Key legislation hasn’t been passed, opposition to privatisations remains high and it appear that the East West Link is stalled and may possibly fall over.
This might mean that as capital accumulation in Australia continues to slow the main solution to its problems becomes inoperable. What then for our ability to assert our collective autonomy against and beyond capital’s domination? This will probably be the direction I will try to take in my research over the coming months.
Australia will be quite different in a few years’ time…
The tendency is a general schema that takes as its starting point an analysis of the elements that make up a given historical situations. On the basis of that analysis, it defines a method, an orientation, a direction for mass political action (Negri, 2005, p. 27)
What does it mean to think in the conjuncture?(Althusser, 2000, p. 18)
(I have been working on this post for many months now. It has been slow going as I have only been able to commit small amounts of time to research and writing as some pretty major – and excellent – developments in my life have distracted me from my computer: namely the birth of my son who is without a doubt the major focus of my time and energy. I have been eking this piece out in half-an-hour lunch breaks at work and this I think has added to its troubled narrative. Also since becoming a father my ability to successfully construct long sentences has diminished. Perhaps this change will be seen as ‘punchy’ rather than moronic…. I also think since so much of the research of this piece has involved stepping on the terrain of dominant mainstream thought and summarising it that some of the radical elements of the critique of political economy have become muted.
Readers will probably find this piece fairly dry, structurally incoherent, and laborious but I hope useful and I intend to use it as background for more work here and political interventions published at The Word From Struggle Street.
As usual there remain far too many typos for me to be happy about but I wish to get this out in a timely matter.)