An interesting report from the Grattan Institute on higher education funding for teaching and research has just appeared. Among a number of points, I enjoyed these the most:

1. There is little direct connection between research and teaching. I suggest it is because the courses taught usually have little if anything to do with the research undertaken. This busts the myth, propounded again and again, that teaching and research go hand-in-hand.

2. Universities in Australia already make about 3.2 billion in surplus from university fees, mostly from international students. And this is with a system that has significant government input. This money goes directly into research, since universities are keen to climb the dubious league tables that do the rounds these days.

3. Funding for research has increased exponentially since 2002.

However, what the report does not say is that research is typically over-funded with minimal expectations for output. That is, they give too much money for too few results. Each year people ask for more and more money, and fellowships increase their pay levels. Yet the expected results of research are ludicrously small. This situation creates a conundrum: a researcher has to spend grant money on research activities when less than half, if not a quarter, would be more than enough for the proposed research. Why give so much money? University research standing is also assessed on the basis of research money earned. It gets even better, for now we are expected to provide a return (at 2, 3 or 5 times) on the money ‘invested’ – the creation of a pseudo-market. Perverse? Of course. Australia has the dubious reputation of leading the world in such practices. This curious situation has brought me to the point of not applying for research money any longer. As one who has managed to get a few modest grants, I find I can get more actual research and writing done without them.

The Deutscher Memorial Prize Committee informs you of the title and venue of the 2014 winner’s Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Prize Lecture
Roland Boer – Marxism, Religion and the Taiping Revolution
Hosted by Historical Materialism 2015 Conference at SOAS, University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG,
Friday November 6, 2015, 18:15 – 20:00pm, Khalili Lecture Theatre
We are also pleased to announce the 2015 Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Prize Committee shortlist
Dave Beech, Art and Value, Brill 2015
Tamás Krausz, Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography, Monthly Review Press, 2015
Lucia Pradella, Globalization and the Critique of Political Economy: New Insights from Marx’s Writings, Routledge, 2014
David Roediger, Seizing Freedom, Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All, Verso, 2014

The winner of the 2015 prize will be announced at the start of the 2015 Lecture.

from The Deutscher Prize committee


At the recent World Cultural Forum, held in Beijing and sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, I happened to hear a rather intriguing paper. It offered comparisons between some major European countries, the USA, Japan, South Korea and China, among others.

It turns out that of these places, China ranks highest for confidence in the government and the greatest equality of wealth. Strange how these facts fail to make it into the corporate new networks.

Have you ever met people who are afraid of trees, animals, or indeed anything that resembles nature? Our strata executive seems to made up of such people. For them, trees are dangerous, threatening to overwhelm us all unless we fight them and subdue them. Any animal that may even dare to be in the vicinity is a ‘rodent’. This includes possums, birds, snakes, cats, dogs, lizards and the usual types you find around our place. What next? Perhaps all the green areas will be cemented over. Or they may start poking rifles out of their windows, picking off any animal that dares venture within range. Did I mention that many of us think they are barking mad?

On a recent rail journey around Australia (stories here and here), I checked my email once in two weeks. For some reason, the removal from my daily life of one significant source of consistent interruption meant that I could relax in a way I have not done for a long time. Of course, on return home, I began to check my email many times a day – until today. As part of my semi-retirement, I will check my email again only on Thursday next week, and then at most weekly after that. However, I did find that when you get in the habit, another day or two extra makes little difference.

I am somewhat thrilled that The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review has just published my first article on Stalin. It appears in issue 42.3 and is called ‘Against Culturism: Reconsidering Stalin on Nation and Class’ (247-73).


This article argues that the key to Stalin’s early theoretical work on the national ques­tion may be read as an attack on culturism – the propensity to identify an intangible ‘culture’ (often with religious factors) as the basis for collective identity. Although his criticism is directed at a number of social democratic organisations at the turn of the twentieth century, it also has pertinence for today due to the persistence of culturist assumptions. Two factors are important in his criticism. The first is to define ‘nation’ in order to sideline the culturist position, although his own definition is not without its problems. The second tackles the question of the structure of the state: does one begin with ‘national culture’ or with class? Stalin proposes that class is the determining fac­tor, which then enables a very different approach to ‘national culture’. The unexpected result is that the unity provided by a focus on the workers and peasants produces both new levels of cultural diversity and enables a stronger approach to ensuring such diversity. The approach undertaken in this article pays careful attention to Stalin’s theoretical and philosophical arguments as they appear in his written texts.

Full details of the journal issue:

As part of a rather crazy rush conferences in China last week, I went from one in Nanjing celebrating 120 years since the death of Engels to the World Cultural Forum in Beijing. It was organised by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and had many Russians present – a sign of the increasingly close ties between the two countries that make up the bulk of Eurasia. However, my favourite moment was a paper by a general from the People’s Liberation Army. He saluted us before he began and delivered his paper with military overtones, as though he were giving orders. The paper concerned the role of Marxism in the culture of the PLA.

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Even better, he posed for a photo with me, since we were on the same panel:

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