Socialism on Contemporary Australia

By Murakami, Thomas | Capital & Class, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Socialism on Contemporary Australia


Murakami, Thomas, Capital & Class


Longman, Melbourne, pp.208. ISBN 0582-80819-7

Reviewed by Thomas Murakami

In Australia, like many other countries, the radical-right with their ideology of economic 'rationalism' has, at least in the `published opinion', won the day. The simple belief that market forces can solve economic problems is hardly what philosophers of the Enlightening meant when they debated the meaning of rationalism. Especially since the disintegration of the Soviet-style 'socialism', the right believes the world will be an endless `capitalist paradise' and socialism is in the dustbin of world history. Today, four-fifths of the world population is living in extreme poverty and/or starving and twenty million people in the European Union are 'officially' declared unemployed. In post-Mao China, crime, poverty, unemployment and begging are a common aspect of life for many of the 1.2 billion Chinese. Given these facts one can only hope that capitalism will not rule for ever (cf. German Marxist philosopher Bloch's The Principle of Hope).

Battin and Maddox' book shows that socialism is debated rather than forgotten (cf. New Left Review 221 ). In ten chapters, the book examines socialism in contemporary Australia. The book also looks at the desirability of socialist politics and its feasibility. In their introduction both authors offer a `working definition' of socialism: `citizens acting collectively through government to pursue an egalitarian outcome that cannot be achieved individually'. Moving away from 'socialism', the authors prefer the term `democratic socialism'. However, the famous writings by Rosa Luxemburg: `Kein Sozialismus ohne Demokratie und keine Demokratie ohne Sozialismus' (no socialism without democracy and no democracy without socialism) might not have been discussed widely enough in the English-speaking world! Battin and Maddox also discuss the relationship between markets and socialism, which created more confusion than their discussion on 'socialism' versus `individualism'. Both reject a totally individualistic as well as a totally planned society. Maddox explains that the nationalisation of industry might often be called socialism, but this is not what socialism is about. Rather than the nationalisation of industry, Maddox sees capitalism as inherently undemocratic. The expansion of democracy to the sphere of industry and economy would be clear indicators towards democratic socialism.

Smyth views Keynesian economic policies as a compromise between labour and capital. For Australia's Labour Party socialism became increasingly `social democracy', when Labour adjusted to capitalism via the British new Fabian style politics and eventually adopted Scandinavian modifications with the Accords. Pringle compares the ethics of socialism with the ethics of capitalism (if there is one!). Marx clearly states in Das Kapital (vol.l, p.788, German edition.) that the motor of capitalism is profit and not morality or ethics. She correctly emphasises that for Marx, socialism was not an ethical question but a consequence of the inherent contradictions of capitalism. However, for many socialist writers and labour politicians of Marx's period the coming of socialism resulted in the immorality of capitalism. Pringle might assume correctly that philosopher G. Lucacs saw socialism based more on ethics than the economist Marx did. However, in his History and Class Consciousness, Lucacs sees the development of the concept, socialism, strongly connected with a certain stream of materialistic thinking (Marx, Engels, Lucacs, Luxemburg, Mehring, Korsch, and later: Horkheimer, Adorno, Althusser, Bloch, Mandel, Habermas, Offe, etc.) rather than idealistic (Schlegel, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Rosenberg, Heidegger, etc.). In contrast to capitalism, Pringle, prefers the concept of `personhood', which `involves friendliness and fellowship in its very definition'. This concept seems somewhat connected with what is known as `romantic socialism' (Saint-Simonian socialists in France, 1893, etc. …

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