"Get back to work, you muppets."

The Penalty Rates Cuts: Everything You Need to Know

The following is a very detailed analysis of the political economy of the Australian Fair Work Commission’s cuts to the minimum wage in retail and hospitality. It was written by Janet Burstall, my comrade in Workers’ Liberty. For the main Workers’ Liberty website, click here. The original article Janet wrote is posted here.

This article is intended primarily to inform Australian readers and bring them up to speed on the economic situation about the minimum wage cuts.


The Fair Work Commission’s Cuts

Penalty rates included in the awards for Hospitality, Clubs, Restaurant, Fast Food, Retail, Pharmacy workers will be cut for Sundays and Public Holidays by between 25-50%. The larger cuts are to the pay of non-casual retail and pharmacy workers, from double-time to time and a half, chiefly benefiting the bottom line for the large retail employers. Fast food workers remain the worst off, with Sunday penalty rates cut to Saturday level. The cuts to Public Holidays take effect from July 2017, with possible “transitional arrangements” for Sundays. The Fair Work Commission will hear this in May 2017.

The Restaurants award was not cut to the same extent in this decision because Sunday loadings had already been cut from 175% to 150% in 2014. Full and part time (non-casual) workers, in retail and restaurants, will feel the pressure to take on extra hours to make up for their lost pay, and employers will have an incentive to take those hours away from casuals who retain higher penalty rates.

The SDA Victoria estimates “that every year more than $1 billion dollars will be ripped from the pockets of Australia’s retail and fast food workers.” While the cuts apply only to awards, not enterprise bargaining agreements, as the SDA Victoria acknowledges “employers will use these cuts in penalty rates in negotiations for new agreements.”

And the Winners Are…

The two top Australian companies by annual revenue in 2016 are Wesfarmers at $66.2 billion and Woolworths at $58.6 billion, ahead of 3 major banks next on the list (IBISWorld).

Whilst Wesfarmers and Woolworths are known for their retail brands, both have significant liquor and hospitality investments, including poker machines and gambling. The SDA had already made agreements with Coles and Woolworths that have cut penalty rates even further than the Fair Work Commission. The FWC penalty rates decision further strengthens Coles and Woolworths to continue the downward pressure on take home pay.

Wesfarmers claims to be the largest private sector employer in Australia, paying around 220,000 people who spend their time working for Wesfarmers, over $8 billion a year, only 4 times the total of $2 billion paid to shareholders. Employees are paid on averages less than $36,400 a year. The 530,000 shareholders are paid on average almost $3,800 a year each just for owning shares, (Wesfarmers Annual Report 2016) and we can be sure there are many shareholders with well above average holdings. Woolworths employs over 205,000 people, with 111,000 of these in “stores, distribution centres and support offices.” Woolworths took $1.5 billion revenue from hotel investments in 2016. (Woolworths Annual Report).

According to newspaper reports, “Citi Research analysis shows cutting penalty rates would boost shareholder earnings by 8 per cent for Myer and JB Hi-Fi and 5 per cent for Wesfarmers.” It also shows that in November 2016 “most of Australia’s ASX-listed retailers have expired enterprise agreements. Those with expired agreements included Big W, Bunnings, Coles Supermarkets, JB Hi-Fi, Just Group, Kmart, Myer and Target…”The reason most retailers have expired EBAs in our view is the hope that wage reform will be implemented lowering penalty rates,” the Citigroup report says.

Franchising in the fast food and hospitality industries makes it more difficult to identify the size of operations for companies such as Retail Food Group, Bakers Delight, Pizza Hut and Dominoes, all covered by the SDA. Casinos are the largest single site employers in the hospitality industry, and covered by United Voice.

The proportion of employees working weekends has grown since 2008 in hospitality from 58.6% to 60.8%, and in retail from 44.4% to 47.6%. This compares to the proportions across all employees growing from 25.9% to 276.5%. The penalty rates cut is targeted to benefit employers and penalise workers in the industries that pay the most in penalty rates.

The Squeeze

In 2011 The Productivity Commission found a “long-term downward trend in the growth rate of retail sales” largely because of cheaper goods. The PC quotes research showing that larger retail firms in Australia have historically enjoyed relatively high returns on shareholders’ funds” and that labour productivity growth in retail is similar, on average, to that of the rest of the Australian economy. However retail grew more slowly than overall gross domestic product between 2003-2013. And the level of productivity in the retail industry remains lower “in terms of output per hours worked …than most OECD countries.” Growth in all but 2 categories of retail ranged between 1.2% and minus 2.1% between 2003-2013. The higher growth was in clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing at 2.5%, and in non-store retailing (mainly online) at 17.6%.

In January 2017 Fairfax Media reported on “confidential supermarket scan data” illustrating “how dire the outlook might be for the Australian grocery sector, and how aggressive discounting has pushed Coles and Woolworths down a road of mutual profit destruction.”

This competition between companies in the retail industry is being taken out on both farmers, with intense downward pressure on prices, and on retail workers, with intense downward pressure on wages. You can be pretty sure that it is not the corner store that drove the Fair Work Commission decision to cut penalty rates.

The Unions

The workers whose take home pay will be cut are covered by the unions that are parties to the relevant Awards, the SDA (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association), United Voice, Meat Industry Employees Union, and Professionals Australia (representing employed pharmacists).

The most visible union campaigning against the penalty rates cuts has been petitioning and signing up to a “Save our weekend” campaign, driven by United Voice.

The 230,000 member SDA has been complicit in eroding penalty rates, despite officials claiming to defend them. In September 2013 its website announced a “massive defence of penalty rates and overtime.” But 4 months earlier in May 2013 the SDA had already struck a template enterprise agreement with Business SA which abolished Saturday penalty rates and reduced Sunday penalties. And in August 2016 “ Fairfax published a massive investigation revealing that the SDA had cut deals with some of the country’s biggest retail and fast-food chains that left more than 250,000 workers being paid below what they’re worth.” Agreements with Woolworths, McDonald’s and Coles have since replicated the trade off of penalty rates. The SDA claimed that the deal offered higher base rates of pay, guaranteed annual pay rises and improved rostering and shift breaks, but it left many employees worse off.

After unsuccessful attempts to reform the SDA from inside, a group of dissatisfied members worked with Josh Cullinan to form a new union: “The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union” (RAFFWU) in November 2016. Josh Cullinan reacted to the February 2017 penalty rates cut. “Workers at the major retail and fast-food outlets have already had these penalty rates cut. That’s half a million workers out of the fight. We don’t think the Commission could have cut rates today if those 500,000 workers were in the fight.”

Meanwhile the SDA and the trade union movement are calling on Malcolm Turnbull to “intervene[e] immediately to protect take home pay and then review… the laws that have led to this decision.”

Labour councils and the ACTU officials are speaking out against the penalty rates cuts and organising public meetings. Daniel Andrews announced a parliamentary inquiry in Victoria into the changes to penalty rates, and said the Labor government will be looking at ways to protect “thousands of Victorians from these attacks on their living conditions.” Bill Shorten is proposing a private members bill to stop the FWC cuts being implemented. It won’t get through the House of Representatives. The Save Our Weekend lobbying campaign, a partnership between United Voice and peak union bodies, is aimed at the next election. Given Labor’s record on replacing Work Choices with Work Choices Lite aka the UnFair Work Commission, a political campaign will not be enough to win back penalty rates.

The driving force behind these cuts is the large corporations that benefit from them, and there is no way to win without taking on those employers, by demanding restoration of penalty rates in enterprise agreements. There are many EBAs that have already expired or expire shortly.

However, the SDA leadership is incapable of this, United Voice may not have the confidence, RAFFWU doesn’t have the membership base, and Professional Australia membership is less concentrated and perhaps less likely to have enterprise agreements. The Meatworkers have stood up in large meat processing plants in the past, but there is no obvious sign that they have been able to take on the retail giants.

The power to win back full penalty rates is industrial. The affected unions should organise for enterprise agreements that include the old level of penalty rates, and that withdraw previous clauses that traded off penalty rates. The leaders of peak union bodies, and all left trade unionists should be organising and looking for ways to make this happen, despite obstruction by individual union leaders. This includes exploring how to support the efforts of RAFFWU to overcome the sellouts by the SDA leadership.

Liberalism’s Orientalist Fantasies About Islam

This is a long Facebook post one of my comrades made. It is targeted towards an Australian audience, but I think many of the lessons here translate to different contexts.


I generally do not want to get involved in “debates” about Islam, because A) I prefer to analyze Middle Eastern affairs in terms of geopolitics and global alliances, and B) they are not usually done in terms of academic debate, but simply pure wankery in the midst of the ongoing cultural war. But after the London terrorist attacks, we see the same media cycle being repeated – Muslims having to come out and collectively condemn the actions, self appointed talking heads becoming “experts” on interpreting Islam for the Western world, and right-wing ideologues continue arguing for decreased civil liberties for Muslims, from banning hijabs to outright banning Muslim migration. Yet this nonsense has been going on for the last 15 years, with no end in sight. And sometimes, when you see arguments so stupid, you have no choice but to respond i.e. getting accused of being a anti-White racist for simply pointing out the roles European and US colonialism played in the Middle East.

We are living in an age which places personalities above actual ideas. An age where the medical views of a model can be placed above those of actual doctors. An age where a housewife’s views on Islam can be placed above those of Middle East scholars. An age where an Islamic hate preacher, despite being banned by his own community, is constantly being invited to talk shows and be presented as the “face” of Islam in the Western world. Media stereotypes are often recycled and repeated among society, building up socially constructed notions of the Orient, of the other. To many current right-wing critics of Islam in Australia, from Cory Bernardi to Pauline Hanson, Islam is more than a religion of various denominations and contradictions, but rather, a monolithic entity which remain unchanged for 1400 years. As such, the Sunni and Shia, the Caliphates and the Ottomans, the Hui Chinese and Bosnian Muslim, are all interchangeable disciples of this entity. Modern issues faced in the Islamic world, from poverty and corruption to religious extremism, are not seen as the results of capitalism and globalization, but rather as inherent problems within Islam, which somehow can be traced back to a book written millennia ago.

In his works, Edward Said noted that the Western media have tendencies to depict Muslims as “absolutist and unreasoning” and “culturally primitive”. Throughout the last century, Hollywood films have depicted Arabs and Muslims as either villains to be eliminated, or victims to be rescued, usually by the White, masculine, hero. This explains why the majority of Muslims depicted on screen are either lecherous oil sheiks or fanatical terrorists, unless the film is set in 1980s Afghanistan, where the same jihadists instead became valiant freedom fighters against communism. I remember when I was a kid, I imagine the Arab world being those of majestic towers and flying carpets, straight from Disney’s Aladdin. Come 9/11, they are back to being terrorists again on the big screen.

In this Orientalist fantasy, Muslims are not real people capable of independent thought, but rather cardboard cutouts, where religion is the end all to their daily lives. They are divided into the role of the “Good Muslim”, e.g. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who utterly rejects Islamic traditions while embrace the Western world and their Judeo-Christian cultures, allowing Western reactionaries to live our their White savior fantasies. On the opposite end, sits the “Bad Muslim”, e.g. Anjem Choudary and other religious fanatics, but also pretty everyone else, with nothing in between. As such, despite only accounting for 2.2% of the Australian population, with half non-practicing, Australian Muslims are not see as “true Australians”, but perpetual foreigners, ready at any moment to take over and impose Sharia law, class and ethnic divisions be damned.

All of the wars waged by the Muslim entities, from the early caliphates to the ongoing War on Terror, are retroactively revised as one continuous war between the “primitive” Islamic world, and the “civilized” Judeo-Christian world. The Prophet Muhammad is demonized as a bloodthirsty warlord, while Jewish warlords such as Joshua are celebrated in the Bible. This is in spite of the shifting alliances in the Muslim world, which often fought one another, and even making alliances with the Christian kingdoms – from the two century long French-Ottoman alliance, to the British alliance with the Saudis in overthrowing the Ottomans. In contrast, all of the blood spilled by the European kingdoms to gain the favor of the Pope, all of the American natives forced to choose between the book or the sword, are never blamed on Christianity alone. History is continuously being written and rewritten.

Nothing is mentioned about the Abbasid Caliphate, and its Islamic Golden Age, or the House of Wisdom in Baghdad which collected knowledge in medieval sciences and art, before the Mongols burnt it to the ground in 1258, which made the Tigris bleed with ink.

Nothing is mentioned about the Mali Empire, which traded in gold dust, and whose ruler, Mansa Musa, caused a small inflation with all the gold he brought during his pilgrimage to Mecca.

Nothing is mentioned about the Safavid Empire, which converted Persia to Shia Islam, and had an extensive legacy of art, including depictions of Muhammad in miniatures.

Nothing is mentioned about the Ottoman Empire, which had a relatively liberal culture, legalized homosexuality in 1858, and had an extensive catalogue of homosexual literature.

Nothing is mentioned about the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which carved up the Middle East between the British and French Empires, overriding ethnic divisions, and its impact on the Middle East can still be felt a century.

Nothing is mentioned about the anti-colonial movements post-World War II, built along Arab Nationalist lines, which the Western powers countered with fundamentalist Jihadis.

Nothing is mentioned about secular Muslims states like Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, or even Afghanistan and Iran a few decades ago, where many lived Westernized lifestyles before foreign intervention.

As such, the Islamic world is never understood on its own terms, but purely through its interactions with the Western world. The backward practices of the Wahhabis, rather than seen as a product of a specific time or region, is depicted as representative of all 1.7 billion Muslims, and of Islam’s 1400 year long history. Are there solutions to the problem of terrorism? Yes, but bombing the Islamic countries back to the stone age, as advocated by right-wing ideologues, is not one of them, for real world politics do not operate on idealism, which is why the Saudis receive continued military funding despite sharing a similar ideology with ISIL, and why the very same Islamic terrorists the West fought in Afghanistan and Iraq are suddenly “freedom fighters” in Libya and Syria. But after all, for some, it is easier to rip hijabs off Muslim women, literally and figuratively, than actually doing anything significant, like stop consuming Saudi oil. Repeating “Islam is not a race” all day does not change the fact that a large majority of people attacked post 9/11 were Sikhs.

Rather than fighting terrorism by bombing people back to the stone age, then denying them rights to seek asylum, little is talked about the role of capitalism, which thrives on global inequality, or the ever expanding military industrial complex, which altogether fuel the specter of terrorism. The Western world is not always at war with Islam, for the target supposedly out to destroy the West rotated from the Yellow Peril, to the Red Scare, to the drug tycoons, and now, Islam. Among this mess, genuine Arab and Muslim voices are rarely consulted, except to be used to reinforce existing Western conceptions of the Orient, where war, terrorism, and poverty, rather than contemporary issues brought on by foreign intervention, are seen as the faults of the people themselves. A shooting in London or Paris becomes world news, yet bombings which kill hundreds in Baghdad or Damascus are simply just another “normal” day.

I do not profess to process long term solutions to terrorism, but instead of listening to self professed Western “experts” on Islam and the Middle East, how about talking to a Muslim or someone from the region for once? The Shias and Alawites who lived and died to fight ISIL in Iraq and Syria, or even the Kurds, Yazidis, or Christians doing the same? After all, these are the people who have to endure the very consequences of foreign intervention, having to live with the very stories we in the West only read in newspapers.

Main Points Behind the Labour Theory of Value

The following text comes from a pamphlet I am collaborating on. Myself and another comrade are working on distilling Value, Price and Profit down into an even simpler-to-digest form. All the text below is a summary of section 6 of Value, Price and Profit. It deals with the Marxist labour theory of value in its entirety, and its basic relationship to the expression of value in terms of money, price. The rest of the pamphlet will obviously deal with profit.


A. The Labour Theory of Value

1. We need to begin our investigation by asking “what is economic value?” Bourgeois economists don’t have a good answer to this question, but Marxists do.

2. Everyday we become involved in acts of economic exchange. Transactions that you make at the cash register are acts of exchange. We exchange the commodity of money for other commodities, like clothes, TVs, milk, fruit and vegetables, etc.

3. Marx points out that a single commodity is exchangeable for countless other quantities of other commodities. The ratios of commodities required for a successful exchange change depending on the commodity, but the value of the commodities always remains the same.

4. The value of the commodities is the mysterious third thing that makes the exchange of commodities possible. This third thing common to all commodities in exchange, value, is able to be separated out of the equation and analysed separately on its own. We are able to express this identical measure of commodities independently of their physical existence.

5. The value of commodities when they are exchanged is a social function of commodities. It has nothing to do with a commodity’s physical existence. Value is the “social substance” of a commodity, and this “social substance” is Labour. Marx says: “To produce a commodity a certain amount of labour must be bestowed upon it, or worked up in it” (Marx: 1960, 71).

6. This labour is not the individual labour of a single person, but Social Labour. Marx says:

A [person] who produces an article for their own immediate use, to consume it themselves, creates a product, but not a commodity. As a self-sustaining producer they have nothing to do with society. But to produce a commodity, a person must not only produce an article satisfying some social want, but their labour itself must form part and parcel of the total sum of labour expended in society (Marx: 1960, ibid).

7. Crucially, this labour must be integrated into the Division of Labour in society. In order for a commodity to be a commodity, and for it to have value so it can be exchanged, the labour expended on it must be performed as part of the social process of capitalism.

8. The value in commodities is therefore crystalised labour. It is fixed inside the commodity. The only way the value of a commodity can change is if more labour is worked upon it. The more labour a commodity has bestowed upon it, the more value it will have.

9. How do you measure the quantity of labour in a commodity, in order to work out its value? Marx answers this question. The time that the labour lasts. The amount of labour in hours, minutes, seconds. Perhaps even months, or years.

10. It might be pointed out that this theory might not get us any closer to understanding value. Don’t people work at different paces, and at different levels of skill? The lazier worker would bestow much more labour on a commodity, and would therefore make it worth more than someone who worked harder. In the same way wouldn’t someone clumsy make a commodity worth the same, or even more than someone with great skill? Marx has an answer for this:

This, however, would be a sad mistake. You will recollect that I used the world ‘Social labour’, and many points are involved in this qualification of ‘Social’. In saying that the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour worked up or crystallised in it, we mean the quantity of labour necessary for its production in a given state in society, under certain social average conditions of production, with a given social average intensity, and average skill of the labour employed (Marx, 1960: 74).

Marx gives an example on this point. The introduction of the power loom into England in the industrial revolution appeared to make workers work even more. They went from working nine or ten hours daily to working seventeen to eighteen hours a day. But the value of the cloth that weaver dropped by half. This was because it now took only half the time using the new machines to weave the same amount of cloth out of yarn. The product of twenty hours labour now had the same value of what used to take ten hours.

The name for this concept is called Socially Necessary Labour Time. It is easy to work out the average value of labour time in this way. The average of the overall skill, intensity, and productivity of labour, the “aggregate” ratios of all these factors, can be taken from statistics about global or national economic output.

11. If the amount of time it took to make the same amount of commodities stayed the same, the value of those commodities would stay the same. But the productive powers of society are constantly changing. Labour productivity goes up and down all the time. In the short term, labour might be less productive, and create less product per hour, minute, second. But in the long term, since the industrial revolution, labour has become continuously more productive. It is simple to find graphs on the increasing productivity of labour. It is a law of capitalism that the greater the productive powers of labour, the less value will be bestowed upon the commodities created. The less productive labour is, the more values individual commodities will have. This is because there will be less labour bestowed upon more productively made commodities, and vice versa.

12. The productivity of labour also depends on other factors. Apart from the skill and intensity of labour, the productive powers of labour depend on:

First. The natural conditions of labour, such as fertility of soil, mines, and so forth.

Second. Upon the progressive improvement of the Social Powers of Labour, such as are derived from production on a grand scale, concentration of capital and combination of labour, subdivision of labour, machinery, improved methods, appliance of chemical and other natural agencies, shorting of time and space by means of communication and transport, and every other contrivance by which science presses natural agencies into the service of labour, any by which the social or cooperative character of labour is developed (Marx, 1960: 75).

B. Value and Price

13. None of the above theory applies to the price of a commodity. It only applies to a commodity’s value.

14. Price is a particular form that value assumes in the capitalist system. Price is the monetary expression of value. Price is the form of value in money form. This can be put another way. Price is the value of money.

15. The price of money used to be the value of gold. This was called the “gold standard”. Working out the value of money in this way was easy. The pound or the dollar would be set to a specific weight of gold. The amount of socially necessary labour time that it took to produce that specific quantity of gold was the value of the British pound or the American dollar.

16. The international gold standard for the US dollar was abolished by Richard Nixon in 1971. All major currencies are now “free floating”. This means that the price of money is now self-referential. The value of money now changes every millisecond. The value of money is now determined by speculation, by the rapid exchange of money for other commodities on the global market.

17. This doesn’t contradict the Marxist labour theory of value in any way at all. Money is a commodity like any other. Because money is a commodity, it is exchangeable in definite ratios with other commodities. This means it has value. It now no longer necessary to explain conceptually what the value of money is. It can be determined empirically at every instant with a computer.

18. Money is the universal equivalent commodity. It is the commodity that every other commodity uses to express its value in order to be exchangeable on the market. Money is the appearance of value, where socially necessary labour time is the essence of value.

19. Under normal, stable conditions, the price of a commodity will coincide with its value. This means that the price of a commodity will exactly express the amount of socially necessary labour time crystallised in it. This means that identical commodities produced under different concrete regional conditions will have the same price.

20. The market is a dynamic system, and the price of money and of commodities is constantly changing. Market prices may coincide with the values of commodities, but that is not always the case. Contrary to the slander levelled against the Marxist labour theory of value, Marx holds a place for the market forces of supply and demand in his economics. Marx follows Adam Smith in holding that two different concepts explain the reason why prices have the quantities they do. The first concept is market price. The market price of a commodity is determined by the laws of supply and demand. The second concept is the natural price. The natural price of the commodity is the price a commodity should have, and to which all market forces are tending the price to become under equilibrium. Under normal, stable conditions, conditions of equilibrium, a commodity will have its natural price. A commodity’s natural price expresses its value exactly.

21. All of what has been said above assumes that the capitalist system being discussed is a perfectly free market. Contrary to what the enemies of Marxist economics say, Marx assumes in his model of capitalism that it is a perfectly free market. The existence of monopolies under capitalism will distort market forces, and will cause commodities to avoid having their natural price. But that is not our concern here.


“Value, Price and Profit” in The Essential Left (Unwin Books: London, 1960).

Proposal Working Class Platform

One of my comrades is a member of Workers’ Liberty. After having a conference recently, the organisation drew up a proposal platform for the radical left in Australia to endorse for a renewed struggle against the bosses and the state. I reproduce the article this comrade wrote here. I endorse the charter.

I     The Article

Is the Turnbull government in such a shambles that Labor can confidently expect to win the next election?

If Labor were to win the next federal election, do many people really expect that Labor would reverse “rising income and wealth inequality”, and insecurity, that are feeding “non-mainstream parties that promote a more nationalistic agenda”. Is Labor in a position to satisfy the “concerns of electorates … who feel left behind by the solutions put forward to address weakened post-crisis economic growth?” (An investment advisor’s description of the problem).

At the last election Labor did eat a long way into the LNPs majority on the strength of commitments to protect Medicare, to tighten bank regulations, and cut back on tax breaks and subsidies to the most wealthy in superannuation and negative gearing. But Labor has credibility problems. Since the Accord it has helped to create many of the conditions for growing inequality, and many union officials have been complicit.

The vacuum of “political capital” is what has opened up room for the right wing nationalists to step in with their line on how to “make Australia great again”. It is a crude appeal to nation, blaming global trade and refugees for insecurity.

We make a class analysis of the roots of inequality and insecurity. In brief:

  • The continuing decline of union density is linked to changes made by successive conservative and Labor governments to the legal basis for collective bargaining. Union leaders show much greater passion and drive for electing the ALP and beating the Liberal Party, than they show for organised labour and beating the employers, or for holding the ALP accountable to the interests and needs of workers.
  • Many leaders of the labour movement have converted the legacy of the setbacks of the 1970s and 80s into a smothering ideological defeatism, educating workers to appeal to and defer to an imaginary national consensus rather than to try to find their own voice. We dissent from official union campaign slogans about workers being sacked for “being Australian”. This obscures the central issue of defending union organisation and conditions.
  • Risk is increasingly being shifted onto workers, through job insecurity and high rates of unemployment and underemployment. Privatisation and cuts to welfare payments further undermine the political economy of the working class, and increase inequality.

The story that neoliberalism is the problem does not point to an alternative, nor does it appeal to an identifiable social force to change things. Growing political instability in the western democracies has cracked open one of the biggest inhibitors for putting forward a radical socialist platform – that it would undermine stability.

Workers Liberty believes that the left could now assert a more radical platform in the labour movement and for the working class to rebuild a movement for itself as the social force that needs this platform for equality and freedom. A platform that clearly addresses working class interests is also a potentially constructive basis for uniting and organising, and could enable the left to transcend some the more factional pursuits that repel many people from organised politics.

II     The Charter

We propose these draft points for a union charter with demands on both government and employers:

  • Union rights, the right to strike and take solidarity action, for organising the unorganised in workplaces and educating their delegates, to take on the employer and the government.
  • Secure employment. For action against insecurity and casualisation. Transfer rights between employers, increase the dole, end work for the dole and renationalise employment services.
  • Public ownership of banks and other financial institutions, and utilities.
  • Union conditions and rates for all workers in Australia, whatever country they are from. Campaign to increase and enforce the minimum wage. Stop bosses blackmailing workers with temporary work visas. International solidarity.
  • Rapid transition to renewable energy, and renewable energy jobs, via public ownership.

We would like to hear responses to this draft charter from labour movement activists.

“Simple-Minded Bullshit”: How Texts Have Intrinsic Meaning

In this blog post, I want to argue that political texts have intrinsic meaning. By this I mean that we should be essentialists about the meaning of political texts (hereafter just “text”).

Being an essentialist about a text’s meaning means that one holds that a text possesses a finite set of attributes that are necessary for its identity and function as a meaningful piece of work. This should immediately appear controversial to some. It is a widely held view that the meaning of a text is to be understood in a fundamentally anti-essentialist manner. The meaning of a political text is in no way necessarily given, on an anti-essentialist account of meaning. On this view, the meaning of a text is contingent on a range of varying epiphenomenal factors (external, secondary factors). It is very popular to say, for instance, that the meaning of a text “changes” when it is interpreted in different contexts.

Anti-essentialism is a very popular view of textual interpretation, but I want to argue that it is wrong. The main argument I want to give for this is that if we deprive texts of intrinsic meaning, they cannot be shown to have any determinate rational content. It is impossible for a text to be “committed” to anything if it cannot have determinate rational content. Further, I want to argue that the only way for a text to be able to be assessed rationally is if it possesses intrinsic meaning. The only way for a text to have determinate rational content is if it possesses intrinsic meaning.

I     Dialectical Monism

What I am putting forward is very radical. The picture of public rationality and political discussion that I am putting forward is radically monist. This means that I am asserting that the sphere of political discussion and action that humans inhabit is fundamentally unified. I assert that when it comes to political discussion and action, we inhabit one world, and one world only. There are not, as post-modernists assert, multiple different “realities” or social spheres. The political ontology that I am offering up here is one where all discussion and action occurs on the same level.

On this account, if the conditions were right, it is a very real possibility that every human should be able to make themselves intelligible to one another. The conditions that satisfy the mutual intelligibility of political agents would be the conditions of rationality. The universe of political discussion and action is therefore guided by one standard of rationality. This is a totalising philosophy. This is another feature that sets this system of textual interpretation apart from a post-modern one. Post-modern philosophy resists grand narratives and totalising structures. They do this for many reasons, a famous one being that totalising structures are necessarily oppressive, or lead to one being open to be tricked by illusions and contradictions. I’d like to resist that judgement about totalising philosophies. I argue that there is no way to escape subscribing to some or other assumptions about what the total world is like, in order to say something in particular. Hegel calls this “demanding the universal”. Hegel says that every particular argument you make is built into a complex background network of related judgements and assumptions. Having a rigorous account and analysis of these systems, building into a total system, ensures that what you are saying in particular is rational.

The standard of rationality I have in mind for ensuring that political agents can be made mutually intelligible to one another is lifted straight from Hegel. “Absolute negation” is the standard of rationality. Hegel says negation is some entity being related to something it is not. The concepts of otherness and negations are mutually supporting. When an entity is undergoing a moment of negativity, Hegel says it is undergoing changeAbsolute negation is when an entity can determine itself through something which it is not, without being alien to that other entity (Ikaheimo, 2011: 160). Hegel also calls this freedom. Hegel argues that absolute negation is the standard of rationality for any kind of political discourse because it shows some entity or judgement can withstand contradiction without losing its identity. Something can withstand otherness without being destroyed. One can immediately appreciate how powerful this kind of standard of rationality is. As we shall see below, Hegel offers up the perfect metaphilosophy for understanding they key issue of our time: intersectionality.

It turns out that humans have the potential to be the perfect kind of entity in the universe, thanks to this standard of rationality. If humans are able to undergo absolute negation with one another, they are free. The more perfect the process of absolute negation, the more perfectly free humans are. The specific kind of process that humans go through in order to achieve absolute negation is called self-consciousness (Ikaheimo: ibid). Another name for Hegelian self-consciousness is intersubjective recognition. Humans have the ability to determine themselves through others by recognising others, that is, by relating themselves to others intersubjectively. Terry Pinkard puts a Kantian spin on this process, and says that this is a process of social legislation. I want to disagree with this characterisation. Self-consciousness is fundamentally anti-liberal and anti-pragmatic. The picture of meaning and human agency that Hegel is putting forward is fundamentally ontological. This means that Hegel is not merely trying to say something about what humans do, but what they and the universe are like. Hegel says that self-consciousness only manifests itself in social and cultural institutions, and is not a process of mere social legislation or mere “giving and asking for reasons”, as a follower of Wilfrid Sellars might put it. Hegel calls the social and cultural institutions that humans create in an attempt to govern the imperfect processes of absolute negation Spirit. When humans have social institutions which can facilitate self-consciousness perfectly, they have the perfect kind of society. Humans will be perfectly free.

This kind of system has strong links with Spinoza. Hegel argues that imperfect “forms of consciousness” (imperfect structures of intersubjective recognition) are real, but they are not true. This is what Hegel means when he says frequently that something is real, but at the same time false. He means that that entity does not accord properly with the demands of the Absolute Idea, the standard of rationality of absolute negation.

So embedded in this argument I am about to make about texts having intrinsic meaning is a political ontology which puts forward the very real possibility that humans can achieve a perfect society. I suggest this is the society Marx was imagining. Hegel’s metaphysics is completed by Marx. The society which will best facilitate self-consciousness is communism. The four kinds of “estranged labour” that Marx talked about in the 1844 Manuscripts are an articulation of Hegel’s theory of self-consciousness. So is the concept of commodity fetishism in Section 4 of Chapter 1 of Capital.

II     Deducing Intrinsic Meaning

I do not mean to simply offer up this political ontology and argue that because this political ontology is attractive, I must therefore be right about texts having intrinsic meaning. I am certainly open to doing that, but I want to do more than just that. I want to show that this popular idea that texts do not have an essential meaning is false. Further, I want to show that if we examine the movement of the arguments for anti-essentialism, we can see that it is necessary that we conclude that texts have intrinsic meaning. By examining the structure of anti-essentialism, not only will we be able to show that it is false (in the sense of absolute negation), but that the logical conclusion of anti-essentialism is an essentialist theory of meaning of texts.

A     The Romantic Genius: The Beautiful Soul

“Reason” is the third chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). We can reconstruct Hegel’s general argument in this chapter in order to show that texts have intrinsic meaning. The chapter “Reason” deals with the change in structure of self-consciousness that went on during the Enlightenment, right up until Hegel’s day. But in this chapter Hegel only deals with the effects of the Enlightenment at the level of individual consciousness. So if one reads the Phenomenology and stops at the end of “Reason”, they will only have an abstract understanding of absolute negation. You will not know the full story. Hegel is famous for this sort of philosophical exposition. He ascends from the most particular to the most general, incorporating more and more parts of his total system until he reaches the top. We would normally take the most general and sweeping pronouncements of a theory as an abstract summary of its overall upshot, but for a Hegelian or a Spinozist this is the theory at its most concrete. Hegelian systems are organic systems. This means that all the previous levels of the system are still preserved at the top, they’ve just reached their most perfect deduction at their highest level of generality. The lower levels have shown that the top is true. This is a fundamentally Aristotelian idea, and although Spinoza is not a fan of organicisim, Spinozist philosophy holds onto the same kind of theoretical exposition.

The second and third parts of “Reason” deal with morality. The first part of “Reason” dealt with natural science. If you follow the development of the first part of “Reason”, and you agree with Hegel’s argument, you will agree with Hegel that the disenchanted picture of the universe that natural science puts forward doesn’t offer us a complete picture of the universe. That’s beside the point right now.

The final moments of “Reason” offer us the answer to how it is possible for texts to have intrinsic meaning, and how this picture of meaning emerges out of anti-essentialism. Hegel discusses the dialectic of the “beautiful soul” in the final moments of Reason. In this part of the Phenomenology, Hegel is concerned to demonstrate how it is possible for there to be any kind of determinate ethical content in an individualistic human society. How is it possible for society to exist as a collection of atomised individuals, and yet have stable and coherent systems of morality?

Hegel examines the dialectic of an extreme form of individualism not unlike the individualism of today’s neoliberalism: the picture of the “genius” put forward by Romantic philosophers. Hegel calls the Romantic genius the “beautiful soul”. The label is clearly meant as a criticism. The beautiful soul will at once be recognisable to to the seasoned internet user. The beautiful soul is a contradictory form of self-consciousness. The beautiful soul holds that there is only one stable form of moral law, or moral duty, and that is the beautiful soul’s own conscience. We can immediately see how this relates to a discussion about the intrinsic meaning of texts. The content of the moral duty to which the beautiful soul holds themselves, therefore, is not found in the moral law to which they are committed, but in their own conscience, their own opinion.

Any kind of moral law or duty is therefore not essential to the rationality of morality. It is not an external thing outside the interpretation of the Romantic genius. In what will seem like no surprise at all, Hegel says this kind of understanding of the meaning of morality leads to a contradiction: the beautiful soul is either a moralist or an ironist, according to Terry Pinkard (1996: 214).

1     Ironist

Pinkard explains that

Nothing can count for such a “beautiful soul” unless they let it count for them, and this election of what counts for them is something entirely personal, something that they must decide on their own to do in term of their own basic convictions. This formation of the romantic authentic individual is thus logically led to taking an ironic attitude toward everything, including themselves. Nothing can count as absolute, nothing as definitive unless they, as an individual, elects to count it as such; but the romantic, authentic individual knows that in principle this cannot be a sufficient ground for convincing others of the meritoriousness of what they have elected to count as worthy of belief or action because the others must elect to count it for themselves on the basis of their own convictions. … Thus the romantic agent knows nothing can be final and definitive in a communal sense, and knowing that, they also know that nothing can be final and definitive for themselves, since whatever bonds they put on their thoughts and actions can also be loosened and thrown of by them. The only appropriate attitude therefore is irony, the belief that whatever one believes and takes seriously cannot be final and definitive even for oneself (Pinkard, 1996: 214-215).

2     Moralist

The other side of this contradiction is for the beautiful soul to become a moralist:

The other possibility for the beautiful soul is to preserve their moral purity and stick to their convinctions, demanding that the world take the on their own terms or not at all. This beautiful soul cannot be ironic, for that would mean for them that they should abandon their own deepest beliefs. However, a community of such beautiful souls would be unlikely to be able to sustain itself since it would quickly deteriorate into pure confrontation among uncompromising “men and women of conscience” (Pinkard, 1996: 215).

B     Social Crystalisations

The one stable locus of meaning for any kind of moral duty for the Romantic genius depends on the perspective of the person being asked to reflect on their conscience. Hegel rightly concludes that this leads to a completely contradictory account of morality. One can immediately see Hegel anticipating Nietzsche at this point. There is no stable or coherent conception of the moral law if all we depend on is the context of someone’s conscience.

Hegel, however, says that we can derive a stable conception of morality if we sublate (forgive me, Richard) the dialectic of the Romantic genius. If we transcend, but preserve these two unstable and contradictory polar opposite accounts of morality, we can achieve a satisfying account of ethical meaning.

The answer that Hegel gives to the dialectic of the Romantic genius is summarised in the last section of “Reason”:

SECTION 437: The distinction, then, of self-consciousness from the essential nature (Wesen) is completely transparent. Because of this the distinctions found within that nature itself are not accidental characteristics. On the contrary, because of the unity of the essence with self-consciousness (from which alone discordance, incongruity, might have come), they are articulated groups (Massen) of the unity permeated by its own life, unsundered spirits transparent to themselves, stainless forms and shapes of heaven, that preserve amidst their differences the untarnished innocence and concord of their essential nature.

Self-consciousness, again, stands likewise in a simple and clear relation to those different laws. They are, and nothing more — this is what constitutes the consciousness of its relation to them. Thus, Antigone takes them for the unwritten and unerring laws of the god —

“Not now, indeed, nor yesterday, but for aye
It lives, and no man knows what time it came.”

They are. If I ask for their origin, and confine them to the point whence they arose, that puts me beyond them, for it is I who am now the universal, while they are the conditioned and limited. If they are to get the sanction of my insight, I have already shaken their immovable nature, their inherent constancy, and regard them as something which is perhaps true, but possibly may also be not true, so far as I am concerned. True ethical sentiment consists just in holding fast and unshaken by what is right, and abstaining altogether from what would move or shake it or derive it.

The ethical reality or ethical substance of the community in which the Romantic genius finds themselves is the intrinsic meaning of their ethical context. Whether or not they agree with the prevailing social rules of their community, they nevertheless acknowledge that those are the rules of their context. Despite their truththe prevailing ethical social order for the beautiful soul is their ethical reality.

This provides the answer for the intrinsic meaning for political texts. A political text’s intrinsic meaning is the crystalisation of the social context in which it was written. Whether or not we agree with the prevailing attitudes of the society from when a political text issued, the debates and the issues at stake at that time are the intrinsic meaning of a political text. The political landscape of the time that a text was written is the organic unity of meaning within a text.

This helps us “commit” a political text to something, it helps us rationally assess a political text without having to commit it to a static and singular meaning. The meaning within a political text that we are consulting is the ethical substance of its time. This allows us to give it friction against our own ethical reality, the meaning of our own social context.

Yes, the idea that a text as an intrinsic meaning is “simple minded bs” indeed.


Hegel, G. W. F. Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by J. B. Baillie (1910) (Forgive me for using this version, I wanted to copy and paste the text hahahah).

Ikaheimo, Heikki (2011) “Holism and Normative Essentialism in Hegel’s Social Ontology” in Recognition and Social Ontology.

Pinkard, Terry (1996) Hegel’s Phenomenology: The Sociality of Reason.


Turning Radical Politics into a Spectacle

You should not expect discussions in the mainstream media (MSM) to get you one iota closer to understanding the real world. Seasoned Communists know this so well, that to them the content of the mainstream media is nothing but a circus-act of cliches and aphorisms. Despite this, the MSM is still a useful resource for Communists. Frequently national newspapers can serve as platforms for statements of intent by the ruling class. The MSM can in this way serve as an important way to coordinate the affairs of the capitalist class.

But the MSM is most often involved in pointing out activities, cultures, and groups of people as a spectacle. The sole purpose for doing this is to reaffirm the ideological convictions of the target audience of the MSM. This target audience is usually the reasonably wealthy petit-bourgeoisie and bourgoisie. Sometimes this is done for ridicule, or a “beat up” (sustained ideological attack). At other times the MSM media points out novel phenomena for the purpose of constructing a “cautionary tale”.

This is exactly what the Irish journalist Angela Nagle does in her two articles “What the Alt-right is really all about” (6 January 2017) in The Irish Times, and “The Scourge of Self-Flagellating Politics” (19 January 2017) in Current Affairs.

In this blog post I’d like to point out where Nagle went wrong in these two news articles. I’d also like to suggest some corrections about what she could have done in order to accurately picture the reality of the topic she was discussing, and give some constructive advice about what earnest readers should do to improve the situation she was lamenting.

Introducing Novel Movements to the Bourgeoisie

Nagle’s topics of interest in these two pieces are liberal identity politics, and the rise of white supremacism and neo-Nazism into mainstream political discourse. The function of these two articles is not to discuss the material causes for either of these political ideologies, or to explain their inner tendencies or essential characteristics. Her purpose was to construct a “cautionary tale” about extremism for the audience of the mainstream media. The (petit-) bourgeoisie has until the popularity of Trump had very little to do with identity politics or outright white supremacism, and is now taking a sudden interest in these two social phenomena as they become more prominent, and become more important in order to make sense of the political landscape of Western countries.

The first thing Nagle attempts to achieve in either of these articles is therefore an introduction for the reader to these two social movements. Nagle remarks that

“explaining” the Alt-right’ to a general audience will always make you sound like an overwhelmed grandparent trying to figure out how to work the internet, in part because of their slippery use of irony.

Nagle is accurate in her depiction of the alt-right as neo-Nazis and white supremacists partly because the ideological commitments of this social movement are easily intelligible to middle class and ruling class audiences. Nagle is not really interested in analysing the alt-right in either of these pieces. The “cautionary tale” she is interested in telling is constructed chiefly out of discussing the “call-out” and “privilege checking” culture of liberal identity politics. It is this characterisation of privilege checking culture that I want to discuss.

The Puritanism of Radical Politics

Nagle spills a lot of ink in her 19 January article on the privilege checking and call-out culture of radical activism. She draws the same link that Mark Fisher does in “Exiting the Vampire’s Castle” between call-out culture, Nietzsche and Christian confessionalism. Call-out culture is depicted as an insane and irrational practice that develops out of activism that organises itself into cult-like groups.

Apparently the alt-right feeds off of cult-out culture, and the two social movements are intertwined and mutually self-sustaining. Practitioners of identity politics will self-flagellate and accuse themselves of being corrupted by oppressive components of their identity. Nagle ultimately concludes that this culture is mostly virtue signalling, although she doesn’t name the concept explicitly. Neo-Nazis and other members of the alt-right will then abuse and harass these practitioners of identity politics online for corrupting Western culture and the white way of life.

The ultimate message the reader is meant to take away from these two articles is “isn’t this horrendous? Have people really lost their minds?”

Nagle’s work touches on an oblique truth about liberal identity politics as a movement–it can at the worst of times devolve into public shaming and crippling guilt complexes. But nowhere does Nagle deal with the material conditions that give rise to liberal identity politics. Furthermore Nagle doesn’t bother to offer up any sort of suggestion as to how to improve the situation for this layer of radical activism.

Orwell: Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun

Well I’d like to put forward a suggestion about what radical activists can do to prevent their organisations from devolving into cults, and becoming centres of shaming and confessionalism. I’m not going to critique or analyse identity politics. What I am about to say applies as much to left-liberal practitioners of identity politics as it does Communists.

Both identity politics and Communism promise in their common-sense guise a utopian reality free from pain and suffering. For this reason, radical activists, be they Communists or otherwise, tend to dwell quite a lot on the current suffering of today’s oppressed peoples. All humour becomes extinguished from branch meetings and activist spaces because no example of happiness currently existing in the world can match up to the supposed perfection of the utopia their movement is attempting to bring about.

Orwell wrote about this under a pseudonym in his opinion piece “Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun” for the Tribune in 1943. Orwell says radicals are wrong to picture a future state of universal non-oppression as one of perfect happiness. He argues that humans, by their nature, can only understand goodness or badness in terms of contrast, and so it is actually futile to imagine some perfect future society as free from all unhappiness. Much of his time is spent  giving examples of how it has been impossible for anyone to imagine a future utopia in any kind of detail.

I would like to suggest that the confessionalism, guilt complexes, and abusive cult-like behaviour of much of the radical left, be they spaces where identity politics are practiced or not, is due to the unhealthy pictures of utopian non-oppressive societies that they picture. This is not the same as accusing these spaces or activists as being “Utopian”. The “utopia” that we should be imagining, and one that we can very definitely prefigure right now, is one of solidarity and comradeship. When we promise ourselves a society free from oppression, we should not be promising ourselves a society which is free from unhappiness.

This kind of prefigurative politics would be more healthy in dealing with the imperfect consciousness of our fellow comrades. One of my comrades describes this culture of solidarity as one of “accountability”. When we “fuck up”, we should do so knowing we are still in solidarity in our comrades, and that criticism from our comrade-peers comes from a place of trust. This is, however, conditional on being “accountable”: recognising and owning up to our faults, and being transparent.

Finally, I think it is important that all radical activist spaces should have policies for dealing with (sexual) assault, harassment, and other serious wrongs that members of spaces are known to commit. Too often serious accusations of misogyny and sexism is explained away as “slander” put down to identity politics call-out culture. I think if we fostered cultures of comradeship and solidarity during normal times, it would make dealing with serious issues less divisive and easy to twist and spin.

What to Do After You’ve Punched a Nazi

I was overjoyed when I saw the video footage of the anarchist punching Richard Spencer. Richard Spencer is reputed to have coined the phrase “alt-right”, and behaves in exactly the same way as a neo-Nazi, although he disavows the label. Slate quotes an article from the New York Times that describes what Spencer did at one of his speeches:

He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room — it was not clear who — shouted, “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the room shouted it back.

This is just one example out of many of the toxic activities that Spencer has been engaged in.

The Rise of the Far Right

Racism, white nationalism, neo-Nazism and all other kinds of toxic bigotry are on the rise in Western countries. With the inauguration of Donald Trump as the US President, layers of the population who are sympathetic to these ideas are going to feel more confident in becoming vocal and more organised in their toxic and inhuman ideology.

For many on the far-left, the video clip of Spencer being punched was a refreshing moment of catharsis. For many, Spencer was getting exactly what he deserved, and the attack represented a powerful “Fuck You” to the Far Right. The Far Right has been on the rise in Western countries, and so far it seems like little is happening to stop it.

More than this, to the far Left, it seems like the most prominent attempts to deal with the Far Right have been wrong-headed. People like Spencer take pride in their bigotry, and aren’t open to rational discussion about their views. Far-leftists are correct when they diagnose the white supremacist mind as twisted and out of touch with reality. The system of assumptions upon which their ideology rests are grounded on irrational emotions, not solid empirical evidence. Many on the left think that this means that the only way you can fight neo-Nazism and white supremacism is by doing exactly that–physically fighting Nazis.

Propaganda and Gossip

The video clip of Spencer being punched seemed to represent more than just evidence of an act of praxis. It was a moment for celebration. This was a massive propaganda win for leftists. On the video Spencer skulks off after being attacked, clutching his head and looking back to make sure he can avoid any further violence.

But what seems like a massive propaganda win is turning into a topic for gossip among the in-crowd. I agree with some leading comrades that the ideological value of this video clip of Spencer being punched is radically dwindling. The clip is being used to make more and more abstract memes that appeal to only those “in the know” about what to do about neo-Nazis.

Some leading comrades have commented that the endless celebration of one Nazi being punched is not going to make sense to the common American, or the common American worker. I agree with this. Most workers in the US and other Western countries are not organised, and haven’t been educated about what a neo-Nazi is, and why it is a good thing for this lone anarchist to have punched one. There will of course be different levels of class consciousness among the general population, but we shouldn’t make assumptions that this video clip is immediately going to translate our message over to the average person.

Black Blocs and Direct Action

I would like to broaden this discussion by talking about the significant anarchist presence at the Trump inauguration. Many will already know that many anarchists attended the Trump inauguration in an organised “Black Bloc”. Some anarchists engaged in “insurrectionist” tactics. This means setting out to challenge authority through violent means. Many anarchists at the Trump inauguration took insurrectionism to mean being violent to neo-Nazis and damaging private property. Insurrectionist tactics are one example of what Communists call “direct action”. Direct action is when one engages in direct public protest instead of (usually clandestine) negotiation in order to achieve strategic aims.

The punching of Spencer is an example of an anarchist engaging in insurrectionist direct action. Like the action of punching Spencer, many on the far Left celebrated the violent direct action of the Black Blocs. To me at least, this rioting represented something powerfully symbolic. Against the reverence of the (small) attendees of the inauguration, and the (frustrating) platitudes of liberal commentators and protesters, the Black Bloc advertised the message of the far Left: “We won’t put up with this!”

But like the punching of Spencer, the insurrectionist direct action by the anarchists probably isn’t going to translate into sympathy for our cause among the unorganised working class. In fact I (not without a sense of shame) agree with the trot Paul D’Amato in his 2012 online article Diversity of tactics or unity in action?: by engaging in mere gossiping and in-crowd discussion about the direct action of the anarchists at the inauguration we risk being elitist and sectarian in our approach to building our movement.

The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

Insurrectionist direct action is a very real and live device in the Communist toolkit for achieving strategic goals for our movement. But it is a mere tactic, and not a strategic goal in and of itself. If we continue to just gossip and celebrate our use of tactics, we lose sight of the bigger picture of the Communist cause. If the celebration of punching Nazis, smashing windows, and getting into fights with the police continues for much longer, we will not be doing our jobs properly.

Insurrectionist direct action is “sexy”. Everyone loves a good story about a confrontation they had with the cops. But it is not enough to build our movement. In fact the direct opposite is going to help us with the revolution. Slow, painstaking and patient organising in our workplaces and communities is going to help us grow in numbers and strength. This is real power. Brute physical strength is not enough to help us grow and win. It is a necessary component of helping us win, but it is not sufficient. Only organising is sufficient, as well as necessary.

Organising is always necessary as well as sufficient tactic for building our strategic goals because it always builds power. Insurrectionism only works sometimes, and in isolated cases. Further, insurrectionism is a corollary of organising. A large layer of people need to have been previously organised in order to make insurrectionism intelligible and understandable.

We can go even further. Insurrectionism is not a good tactic in and of itself. Its goodness as a tactic is derivative. It is good because of what it brings about. It is good because of its consequences. It is therefore not an intrinsic good. Think about the justifications Communists give for insurrectionist direct action: It helps expose systems of authority. It physically resists and dispels bigotry. It displays, in powerful symbolic form, the message and strength of the Left to others.

All of these justifications point outside the internal organisation of the working class. This demonstrates that insurrectionism is not an intrinsic good. It is, however, still a good of some kind. Which means insurrectionism could and must be practiced when it is necessary.

The question all Communists should be asking themselves is: when should I be engaging in direct action? What kind of direct action is sufficient for our overall strategy?

I personally think that Trump’s inauguration was a better time for insurrectionism, than others. But we need to be mindful that we aren’t raising mere tactics to the level of strategy.

It is a Law of Capitalism that Capital Will Centralise