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Capitalism ends up in the City: Essays in the Political Economy of Australian Capitalism, Volume 2

by Adam David Morton on November 24, 2017

This second volume in the five-part series on A Political Economy of Australian Capitalism offers seven contributions all revolving around the role of the state in diverse aspects of capitalist development in Australia. Readers can access the complete text ESSAYS IN THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF AUSTRALIAN CAPITALISM VOLUME 2 and download it as a fully searchable PDF. By the time of publication, barely two years had passed since the last shot was fired in the now infamous Miliband-Poulantzas debate on the role of the state in capitalism. Embroiled in what Stephen Bell has called the ‘intense distributional struggles of the 1970s’, the contributors to this edition sought to interrogate and explain the emerging contradictions of welfarism, constituted by social provision of goods mediated through private production, alongside the seemingly contradictory sentiment of revolutionary free trade. Hindsight, for better or worse, has dubbed this precise historical conjuncture an inflection point punctuating the struggle between a benevolent state-capitalism and an amoral market liberalism. This volume cuts through nostalgia and lament by permitting insight to contemporaneous praxis.

As a consequence of this strategic focus the Age of Growth (1945-71) is addressed as a prelude to the era of ‘economic rationalism’ in Australia (Bob Catley); the role of debt and Australia’s entanglement in the world money-market (Darryl Foster); the sociology of law in relation to anti-trust legislation (Andrew Hopkins); the confluence of agrarianism, populism, and racialised anti-immigrantism in Queensland and how that informs the social basis of conservatism (Glen Lewis); the comparative political economy of urban political economy (Colin Bell); and ruling class struggles in the aftermath of World War I that ‘made the country safe for capitalism’ in 1919, a year that witnessed more days of strikes than in any other year until the 1970s (Humphrey McQueen).

With the focus on the state, the state theory of Nicos Poulantzas is manifest throughout many of the essays as does a ‘dominant motif’ in the history of the political economy of Queensland, which is that of uneven development. In Glen Lewis’ essay, then, it is argued that at the time ‘some of the contradictions of Australian capitalism stand out with greater clarity in Queensland’ as a result of uneven development impacting on specific regional and urban scales linked to policies of defence, immigration and economic dependence. As E.L. ‘Ted’ Wheelwright’s introduction to the volume indicates, ‘in the colonial microcosm we see the operation of metropolitan capitalism writ large’ and this is nowhere more present that in ‘a new dialectic of urban capitalism’ impacting on Australia combining the social forces of state corporatism and then transnational capital in shaping urbanism. ‘As capitalism concentrates itself in cities’, Wheelwright summarises, ‘this increases the social costs of the system, forces the state to meet these costs and provide services which can only be collectively consumed, thus politicising the allocation of vital resources which are essential for success in the system’. The conditions of the political economy of housing, uneven development, and the role of the state traced in this volume, then, acutely shape the present.

At least as it is traced in this volume, the dialectic of modern capitalism ends up in the city. Emergent contradictions manifest in ‘ockerism’ as the ‘surface froth of important social changes’. As we, today, struggle to comprehend and apprehend the dialectic of capitalism in potentially another conjunctural episode riven with economic crises and social fractures, can the insights from our radical forebears help us churn surface froth into currents of social change?


Adam David Morton
Adam David Morton is Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. He is author of Unravelling Gramsci: Hegemony and Passive Revolution in the Global Political Economy (2007); Revolution and State in Modern Mexico: The Political Economy of Uneven Development (2011), recipient of the 2012 Book Prize of the British International Studies Association (BISA) International Political Economy Group (IPEG); and co-author of Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis (2018) with Andreas Bieler. He co-edits Progress in Political Economy (PPE) with Gareth Bryant that was the recipient of the 2017 International Studies Association (ISA) Online Media Caucus Award for the Best Blog (Group) and the 2018 International Studies Association (ISA) Online Media Caucus Award for Special Achievement in International Studies Online Media.

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