This is the text of a talk given around 1985; and deals primarily with the causes of the Depression of the 1890s, looking at parallels to the 1930s. Some of the material here is a bit out of date, but what the heck.
During the past century, the Australian economy has experienced two periods of extremely severe economic collapse: the depressions of the 1890s and the 1930s.
These crises were quite unlike anything we ourselves have ever experienced. In both depressions there was a decline in gross national product of the order of 30%. This meant mass unemployment of between a third and a half of all workers, widespread misery, hunger and anger.
These periods of crisis are important for us as revolutionaries for it is in periods of crisis that the system reveals its inability to satisfy the basic needs of the mass of the population.
It is in periods of crisis that all the old certainties are brought into doubt, when hundreds of thousands of people begin to turn to desperate solutions, when the ideas of revolutionary socialism can grip the imagination of the masses.
What is it that produced two such extreme crises in this country? What forces, what events, what circumstances?
Is there any prospect of Australia being gripped by these kind of crises in the future? After all, Australia today is still a relatively prosperous place.
Now when you begin to look at the crises of the 1890s and the 1930s, you face tremendous problems. For a start, there is no Marxist account of these crises in Australia. To my knowledge, nothing marxist at all on them, not even a serious magazine article.
So what I want to do today is to give the outline of a marxist explanation of these disasters, starting with the...