Going to extremes

With politicians bleating against “extreme” capitalism, activists need to be clear about our own extremism. Taking a leaf from Equality by the English Christian socialist, R. H. Tawney (1880-1962), here are three ways to be extreme.

First, we need to be extreme in our efforts to understand the dynamics causing the crisis in the accumulation of capital. In particular, we need to get beyond the media pap about a “financial” crisis. We have to recognise that the banking and stock-market upheavals are expressing the il-logic of over-production. The crisis began in the physical economy and is now looping back to intensify those disruptions.
Armed with that understanding, we can become extreme in working out policies to resist any shifting of the costs of the looming catastrophe onto working people. For instance, we need to learn how to tie our understanding of housing finance to tactics for preventing evictions within a strategy to protect the environment.

We can interpret the world only by changing it, and change it effectively only by interpreting it profoundly.

Secondly, we need to be extreme in our preparedness to keep quiet until we have made progress on each element in the previous extreme. Let’s leave it to the politicians to behave like kitchen tidies, their mouths flying open to reveal garbage whenever a journalist steps on their pedals.
No one can know exactly what is happening with the world economy. Still less can we predict where the next eruption will be. No one knows in detail how best to respond to promote the needs of working people. Within the laws of capital accumulation, new things continue to happen. We have to be extreme is keeping up with those developments.

As always, we have to listen and learn. Organising is education for the activist as much as for the masses. The educator must be re-educated.

Thirdly, we must become extreme in our determination to apply the lessons learned from the two other “extremes”. We have to be rigorous in our analysis, ready to jettison early approximations whenever evidence and concepts sharpen our understanding. 
In terms of fighting back, the implosion of global capital is no time for rhetorical bluster, of sounding more “left” than everybody else. A huge amount of rebuilding has to be done, organisationally in workplaces and in communities. Many of the insights into exploitation that were taken for granted twenty years ago have to be re-established as common sense.

For each extreme, we could well revive the pledge at Eureka: “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.” In the short term, we need to be extreme in our understanding and application of “truly”.

Humphrey McQueen
Melbourne, Australia

Written for and delivered at the Spirit of Eureka conference in Melbourne on 28 november 2008.