“Socialism or Barbarism”? What the Communist Manifesto says about climate change

April 8, 2019

Regular readers will know that my columns sometimes take a philosophical turn. I do this because, as any writer must, I am constantly reading to supplement and refine my knowledge of the world and of ideas.

Today I want to return to one of my favourite short books that will be familiar to some of you and perhaps horrifying to others. I am, of course, as the title of this piece suggests, referring to The Communist Manifesto, authored by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels and first published in 1848.

manifesto cover

My interest in delving back into this text flies in realising the value and importance of a particular passage that is often overlooked. Perhaps this particular paragraph is not considered important because it occurs very early, before the main arguments are fleshed out, but it is a reminder that there is nothing inevitable or pre-determined about revolutionary struggle.

[In] a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

It is the final stanza here that has caught my attention: “the common ruin of the contending classes”. What Marx and Engels want us to know at this point is that while the class struggle is inevitable, there is no certainty as to the outcome.

Engels returned to this point in his 1878 work critiquing the ideas of the German social democrat Eugen Dühring, funnily enough in a pamphlet published as Anti-Dühring, in which he argued that the bourgeoisie could no longer determine the exact course of history, as it had done during its own revolutionary period:

its own productive forces have grown beyond its control, and, as if necessitated by a law of nature, are driving the whole of bourgeois society towards ruin, or revolution.

Other Marxists have since taken up this point, Rosa Luxemburg famously coined the aphorism ‘socialism or barbarism” to describe the stark choice facing the European working classes during the First World War. According to reliable sources, Luxemburg was paraphrasing another German revolutionary, Karl Kautsky who wrote in 1892, who wrote:

“As things stand today capitalist civilization cannot continue; we must either move forward into socialism or fall back into barbarism.”

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A changing of the guard: Gina Rinehart mogul-in-the-making or corporate raider?

February 4, 2012

James Packer, Lachlan Murdoch, Kerry Stokes, John Singleton and Gina Rinehart. While Stokes and Singleton have been around media traps for a few years now, the return of a Packer, a Murdoch and the addition of Rinehart represents a changing of the guard for Australian media dynasties.

But this will not necessarily mean a return to a past where empires and family fortunes are entirely entwined. Perhaps, ironically, it signals the end of the dynastic age and the emergence of new corporate battles for control of media assets.

Gina Rinehart

Why buy?

Much attention has been focused this week on Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart. Her play for Fairfax Media assets and her well-known disdain for “communist” journalists are a potent mix in these post-NOTW days.

There has been speculation and rumour about her motives, none of it substantiated, but all interesting.

I particularly like Stephen Maynes’ theory that Rinehart’s decision to raid into Fairfax was an act of hubris and rage at the unsympathetic portrait by Jane Cadzow in Good Weekend (published by Fairfax). From published accounts this seems a typical Rinehart approach to solving a problem.

Others raise the possibility that Rinehart and Singleton will now join forces to create a super network of right wing shock-jockery to campaign against Labor in the 2013 election. This is an attractive theory that aligns well with the suggestion Rinehart is a fierce warrior for conservative forces in Australia. It would be easy to do as Fairfax radio assets have been in play and Singleton’s Macquarie Network is a keen buyer.

Then there’s my favourite theory: Rinehart will grab the Fairfax papers, leaving the rest of the company behind. She will gut the current communistic news staff and hire a bunch of young Liberal communications majors; thus turning the SMH and the Age into simulacra of The Australian’s right-wing bile factory.

All equally attractive propositions to Rinehart’s lovers and haters alike. There’s no doubt her actions have polarized the media landscape and created turmoil in the already fragile media asset market.

[Published 4 Feb 2012 on The Conversation]

Update 4 Feb 6pm:

This disturbing footage was released by Get Up Australia. It clearly shows climate change denier and libertarian organiser Lord Monkton urging the establishment of a Fox-like media outlet in Australia funded by one of the super-rich.

It puts a new slant on the Rinehart putsch on Fairfax Media shares this week.

The story was reported on The Drum a couple of days ago by Graham Readfearn.

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Geting the good oil – Exxon Mobil and sponsored journalism

July 30, 2010

My friend and colleague, Wendy Bacon, who is the director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), is circulating this open letter to journalists and supporters of journalism about Exxon-Mobil’s sponsorship of the Australian journalism awards, the Walkleys.

Wendy’s concerns are valid and in this open letter she, and other signatories are calling on the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (the Australian journalists’ union) to ditch Exxon-Mobil as a sponsor because of the way the company works to suborn independent journalism and because it funds climate change denial.

July 29, 2010

Open Letter

Chris Warren
Secretary
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance

Dear Chris and organisers of the Walkley Media Conference,

We have recently become aware that Exxon Mobil is the Gold Sponsor of the 2010 Walkley Media Conference.  As journalists and others with an interest in media, we ask you to reconsider this decision and remove its sponsorship.

The MEAA Code of Ethics emphasises the central importance of striving for the truth and the responsibilities of media in a democracy. While we can understand the need for sponsorship, we consider that Exxon Mobil, a transnational oil corporation with a strong record of funding climate skeptic groups is an inappropriate choice. These groups promote confusion and ignorance in the community. They also protect fossil fuel interests threatened by policies aimed at meeting the grave challenge of climate change. Not only does Exxon Mobil fund these groups but it has been neither open nor honest about it.

In addition, Exxon Mobil has a long record of funding groups, which continually attack and undermine media organizations and individual journalists, which they consider to be too liberal.

Exxon is sponsoring the conference in order to gain and enhance their credibility through association with the Australian media community.  We consider that whatever financial advantages have been gained by the MEAA in return for this sponsorship deal, the reputation of the MEAA and its credibility in protecting the role of journalists to seek the truth and the public right to know is too great a price to pay.

Therefore we the undersigned call on MEAA to withdraw from this sponsorship arrangement before the conference. If you would like to discuss this matter with a group of signatories, please contact us,

Wendy Bacon, Journalist, Director Australian Centre for Independent Journalism
Alan Knight – Professor, UTS
Chris Nash, Professor, Monash University
Phillip Chubb, Associate Professor, Monash Universit
Jenna Price – Academic, UTS
Martin Hirst – Associate Professor, Auckland University of Technology (MEAA member# 2731592)

If you would like to add your signature to this letter, contact Wendy Bacon [wendybacon1ATgmail.com]

The claims made in this open letter are easily verified, the following is a brief list of sources that you can check out if you wish to confirm any of this for yourself.

Nigerian journalists threaten to boycott Exxon Mobil

Uyo — Journalists in Akwa Ibom State have threatened to boycott activities of an American oil exploration and exploitation firm, ExxonMobil, saying the mode of operation of the oil giant in the state does not add value to the socio-economic well being of the state.

[AllAfrica.com Feb 2010]

Exxon Mobil’s poor record in Nigeria

OILWATCH Africa, an environmental group concerned with the underbelly activities of the petroleum industry, is currently pressing the Nigerian government to impose heavy sanctions on ExxonMobil, an American oil and gas major, for alleged frequent oil spills in some communities in Akwa Ibom and Rivers States.

[Scoop.co.nz June 2010]

Exxon Mobil ‘green’ company of the year according to Forbes magazine

What an eye-grabber! “ExxonMobil: Green Company of Year.” I mean, who woulda thunk it?

Too bad the provocative headline of Forbes’s current cover story is little more than cheap window dressing. Worse still, its unnecessary hyperbole detracts from what could have been an interesting piece about the oil giant’s high-risk, high-reward bets on natural gas. The article, by Christopher Helman, reasons that power plants will burn Exxon’s gas in the place of comparatively dirty coal, thereby offsetting tens of millions of tons of carbon-dioxide emissions each year.

[Columbia Journalism Review August 2009]

Exxon Mobil funding of climate change denial

Exxon continued to fund climate denial in 2009
Tue, 20 Jul 2010 04:36:45 +0000
ExxonMobil gave approximately $1.3 million to climate denial organizations last year.This has been reported by The Times (London) after being provided information by the Greenpeace Research Department. (The Times is unfortunately a subscription-only paper online, but a version of the story can be found syndicated at The Australian)

[ExxonSecrets – Greenpeace]