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ImageJoseph Choonara, author of Unravelling Capitalism, started off my first Marxism festival, with his talk “The rate of profit and capitalism today”. He follows the Financial Times and other financial press very closely, and finds that mainstream debates are usually between austerians and Keynesians. Those in favour of austerity believe that cutting public sector spending is necessary, while Keynesians believe that austerity has gone too far and that public sector spending is needed. This is sometimes called “making capitalism work for socialism”. Joseph argues that, while Keynesian policies are preferable for the working class, neither positions deal with a fundamental global problem: low level of investment. Using statistics on US and European economies, he shows how the long-term tendency is for the return of investment to fall, and how stimulus (like that of 2008) or any other state involvement fails to restore profitability.

These problems are then related to the increase of ‘dead labour’ in ratio to ‘living labour’. That is, technology replacing the need for so many workers. A familiar example is one checkout assistant supervising six self-service checkouts, rather than six workers, each with their own checkout. This is an inevitability, not something that bosses really have a choice in. Given these problems, along with overproduction, isn’t it a surprise that the capitalist mode of production didn’t meet its maker 150 years ago? Choonara explains that crises themselves find ways of restoring capitalism.

Though the terminology was hard to follow at times, the talk contained well-known examples to illustrate points, from the selling off of Woolworths for £10 to the high profitability after the destruction of World War Two. For a beginner in economics, this talk made it clear how concepts that often seem abstract and inconsequential in fact affect our lives and create struggle. An open discussion followed, in which many members of the packed lecture room asked questions on fictional capital, the Labour Party, and one speaker pointed out that 25 families in Greece own 75% of the country’s wealth. On the question of how optimistic socialists should be, Choonara ended the talk by borrowing a phrase from Antonio Gramsci: “Optimism of activity, pessimism of intellect”.

Michael Roberts’ blog was suggested for someone an economist who stands outside of mainstream debate.

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Finally! I got a copy of *that* Socialist Worker. It’s very unsettling to see a positive headlineImage in the Worker, and I’m not sure what it says that they needed a death to be able to write one. On the back of the Thatcher’s Dead pullout there’s a good section on how Labour are essentially trying to copy Thatcherism. “Labour’s failure to challenge right wing ideas has helped legitimise them.”

Me and nine others took part in an East Kent KONP (Keep Our NHS Public) meeting. We have plans to celebrate around 6th July, which will be the 65th birthday of the National Health Service. We will most likely have a showing of Spirit of ’45 and some speakers.

There was lots of other internal and publicity stuff to talk about, but we probably spent longer addressing the campaign against the Bedroom Tax. There are many myths that need to explain on benefits, but the main issue is that being unemployed and on housing benefits is the norm. This is only a minority. Most benefits claimants are either pensioners, disabled, or on in-work benefits. The divisive exaggerations are only a distraction from the billions lost in the rich’s tax avoidance, which doesn’t receive nearly enough outrage. Seeing as Ukip would go even further than the Tories with cutting benefits, there is an anti-Ukip leaflet that we will be giving out leading up to the Kent County Council elections. I have found from talking to people while leafletting or selling papers that many Ukip-supporters do not know what the party is really about, merely agreeing with the anti-EU stance. We agreed we need to pressure local Labour councillors to back the ‘No Evictions’ motion supported by independent left candidate Ian Driver, who has expressed his disgust at the bedroom tax and privatisation of the NHS.