A Political Economy of Australian Capitalism
Almanacs. Yearbooks. Types of periodical.
As early as 1964 The Socialist Register launched its ‘annual survey of movements and ideas’ from the standpoint of the independent new left. Initiated by Ralph Miliband and John Saville, currently edited by Leo Panitch and Greg Albo, The Socialist Register became ‘the intellectual lodestone for the international Left’.
Within a similar conjuncture, the series Essays in the Political Economy of Australian Capitalism was launched. The brightness of this star shone later and faded quicker. The first in the five-volume series was published in 1975, edited by E.L. ‘Ted’ Wheelwright along with Ken Buckley, and the final edition was published in 1983. The ambition was to focus on the historical development and contemporary growth of capitalism in Australia from the standpoint of historical materialism.
Emergent fractures in the structures and processes of capital accumulation globally furnished the authors with ample points of departure for radical critique. The Yom Kippur War and OPEC oil crisis were not yet distant memories. Nor were Nixon’s Guam Doctrine, the conscription it ended or the Gold Standard it tore asunder, flashpoints of a bygone era. The social reform agenda of the Whitlam government in Australia is stopped dead in this year by a political event so traumatic, the current terrain of federal politics still bears the scars. Students across the continent join workers and academics to consolidate alternative hegemonic forays. The Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney is but one tangible manifestation of these smoldering embers of dissent.
No political ‘line’ was laid down by the editors who were themselves at sympathetic odds. Wheelwright was the Left-Statist lifelong member of the Australian Labor Party whilst Buckley identified as a civil libertarian who carried a membership card for the Communist Party of Australia. Both kept salubrious company, noting Andre Gundre-Frank and Walden Bello as friends and intellectual influences. So too, at least for Wheelwright, could the publisher be counted as a fellow traveler. The conflagration of events at this historical conjuncture, pregnant with revolutionary potential, along with sympathetic, like-minded and energised intellectuals formed the nexus between the ideal and material which made possible this chronicle of desperate hope.
The significance of yearbooks and almanacs was much earlier anticipated by Antonio Gramsci. In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci regarded annual almanacs as crucial in disseminating an integral conception of the world (Q14§60) and, elsewhere, he similarly wrote that yearbooks dedicated to a single subject or divided into sections and dealing with an organic series of fundamental issues—such as the constitution of the state, international politics, the agrarian question—would be vital in shaping different needs and interests through a progressive broadening in appeal (Q24§5).
In our digital age these insights might seem quaint and the role of the yearbook or almanac a residue of a bygone age. The social function that The Socialist Register still performs, however, would belie this notion. Even though the shelf-life of Essays in the Political Economy of Australian Capitalism was much shorter, the afterlife of the debates on, in and beyond Australian capitalism contained in these pages remains.
This section of the blog therefore provides a repository of all five volumes of Essays in the Political Economy of Australian Capitalism and the near 50 chapters they included, which are presented here in clean digital format, fully searchable, as part of that dialogue in constructing and contesting an integral conception of the world.