The System

Fighting 9/11 Disinformation the Easy Way

Ecocide on the East Side: the Environmental Crisis in Eastern Europe

Yuppies In Moscow!?

Crisis in Ukraine

Runaway Planetary Warming

On Terrorism and the State

Clean, Sober and Obedient

In the Wake of the Exxon Valdez: World Capitalism and Global Ecocide

The Sick Planet

Occupy Needs To Target And Destroy The Ruling Money Fetish

The Global Fascist Terror State

Michael Hudson and Webster Tarpley Disseminate Disinformation

The Modern American Left Doesn't Get Capitalism

The Crisis of Value

9/11 In Context: the Strategy of Tension Gone Global

Retort's Response: Intellectual Dishonesty

Left Denial on 9/11 Turns Irrational

9/11 In Context: Plans and Counterplans

Established Left as Ideology Police

Henry the Great on September 11

9/11: A Desperate Provocation by US Capitalism

After Genoa: Reform or Revolution?

Socially-Responsible Investing: An Oxymoron

After Genoa: Reform or Revolution?

Max Kolskegg

Note: This article was written in the weeks before the attacks of September 11, 2001, but first posted shortly after them. The author appended an Addendum expressing suspicions that the attacks were not unrelated to the events that occurred in Genoa in July, just two months before. He elaborated the connections between the events in two subsequent articles, available here and here.

It would be hard to deny that the events in Genoa were, as Starhawk has said, a major watershed in the history of the movement to create a livable world. The repressive forces of capitalism were in full display, so that even the most pacific of pacifists received a salutary shock and have been forced to reevaluate the rationality, if not the righteousness, of their strategy for social change. The near-murderous assault on the sleeping place of the Genoa Social Forum and the Independent Media Center on the 21st of July will go down in infamy. The skulls cracked there may change more than a few minds about who and what we're dealing with, and how best to proceed.

Useful analysis of the crackdown in Genoa by Starhawk, Lorenzo Komboa Ervin and others has pointed to some of the lessons that need to be learned. The capitalist class has shown remarkable solidarity and class consciousness in developing a strategy to repress the "anti-globalization" movement, both by force and by trying to split the movement where it is weakest, the division between its revolutionary and reformist wings. Some revolutionaries are pacifists, and the events in Genoa are not likely to turn them into reformists (although they may kiss their pacifism goodbye). But the main efforts expended by the police, politicians and media have been directed to splitting the reformists away from the revolutionaries by literally creating an image of violent, out of control "anarchists" who are ruining the party for everybody and should be shunned or constrained. And their strategy is a good one, as shown by the numerous calls for "self-discipline" from self-appointed leaders of the reformist wing like Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange. The fact is that a significant part of the movement is composed of people who seek to be recognized as leaders and spokespeople of various segments of the lower orders; by threatening to "put the masses in the streets" and make business as usual impossible until their demands are met, they hope to get a place among the powerful.

But then there are the revolutionaries as well. Although at present they are fewer in number than the reformists, it's just possible that they have a better understanding of the nature of the situation we're in and what we're up against, and a better idea of the appropriate strategies to pursue: strategies to destroy capitalism, not reform it, because it cannot be reformed. For the movement to go forward, it must remain united as one solid force opposed to capital's plans. Capital wants to split it and conquer it by division, it's age-old method. The solution? The reformist wing of the movement needs to recognize the futility of reform, throw off its leaders with their aspirations for power and prestige, and become revolutionary itself.

The Veils of Capitalism

Once just one mode of production among others (although from its birth marked as very different), capitalism has now become a "totality", a Global Machine of exploitation, domination and destruction. As Genoa showed so starkly, it permits no effective opposition and allows only minor reforms, and must be itself destroyed if the planet's ecosystems and lifeforms are to have a future. For a short while yet, the hope still exists that if people wipe away the obscuring veils that capital puts up over its horrific face and body, they will see it for what it is and will collectively find the will and nerve to drive a stake through its heart.

Perhaps the most effective veil hiding the true visage of the monster is the very notion that it can be significantly reformed. The tidal wave of promotion of "fair trade" and "green capital" by reformist critics is quite successful in deluding people into devoting their energies and resources to hopeless struggles for minor palliatives. But there is no such thing as "fair trade", when the workers who produce the commodities that are "traded" are exploited in every country by virtue of their condition of wage slavery; unfairness is ineradicable under capitalism. Without a critique of the inherent unfairness at the very root of capitalism, reformist leaders of the "antiglobalization movement" appear to be primarily concerned with getting the capitalists and ruling elites of undeveloped nations a better deal from their bosses in the industrialized countries.

A "fair wage" or a "living wage" won't eliminate exploitation either. In fact, many reformist heavies consider even this demand too extreme; their non-profit organizations largely depend upon underpaid workers. "Debt relief" won't solve the problem; "generic AIDS drugs" won't; "campaign finance reform" won't; nor will "free and fair elections", or "corporate welfare reform", or "universal health insurance", or "public transit", or "the new urbanism". All of these reforms together, implemented to the degree fantasized by their most passionate advocates, would hardly slow the destruction of the world by capitalism.

And how would these reforms be implemented and enforced? Through some giant increase in the controlling powers of states, or perhaps of supra-state organizations, say a "reformed", super-powerful WTO. (It was the state we saw in action in Genoa.) A high proportion of the leaders of the reformist organizations are wannabe managers of capital (in Europe, Social Democrats, Socialists and Communists, with long track records of capital management in the past, and in the US, liberals and Greens trying to reverse the "turn to the Right" and take the reins). Their "critique" really consists in little more than complaining that the wrong clique is at the controls and that they themselves would do a much better job. They would claim to want to raise wages a bit, make them "fair" if possible. . . only to find that it's just not possible, sorry! Fortunately, the large numbers of people they rely on for their prominence have no such intention and may be open to a genuine critical analysis of the crisis we face.

For those concerned with genuine change, change in the core content of social life, not just a new label on an old scam, the task at hand is to leave the naked body of capital exposed to view. Even naked it will be a formidable power, but it is really rotten at the heart. It is unsustainable (think global ecocide), it is suffering from an accelerating profit crisis (the coming worldwide crash), and its mesmerizing powers are failing. In Genoa, the task of stripping the veils away got off to a good start. Let's take it a bit further.

The Illusion of Naturalness

Capital presents itself as a state of nature. The story goes that human societies have always bought and sold commodities, sought profit and wealth, and been divided into rich and poor. Evolutionary theory is invoked to claim that societies evolve like organisms, in a struggle for existence that has selected for mass, hierarchical states and empires which can survive in the natural battle of all against all. Today we simply enjoy the good fortune of living in the world-historical victor in this perennial fight, Western Civilization (sometimes called Democracy). With the fall of the Soviet Union, we are told, history has come to an end. We have reached a condition of social perfection! This whole story is a tissue of lies, easily disproven. It is dinned into our ears throughout our lives, by parents, teachers, bosses and media, to make sure we adjust to our situation and to shut off questioning.

Capitalism is a unique form of society with a specific birth place and time, late medieval England. Some earlier societies in some places did exchange commodities, and some of these used money as a medium of exchange to facilitate the process, but they were not capitalist. In capitalism for the first time material production is undertaken not for the provision of the needs of the society (with frequent normal surpluses exchanged with neighboring societies), but exclusively for the continuous expansion of profit: the accumulation of value. In pre-capitalist societies, even those based on slavery, production was for the purpose of meeting people's needs. Accumulation of wealth was achieved by warfare and conquest, not by ever-expanding material production. But first in England, and from there spreading over the entire world, a cancer grew that took over the metabolism of the social body.

Some of the more sophisticated ideologists of capitalism, economists and historians, admit that capitalism is a recent form of society and claim that it got its start in Europe through the slow growth of merchant wealth in the "free cities" that resulted from "trade" between them. The point of this story is to emphasize the peaceable naturalness of the process of capital accumulation. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Capitalism got its start when lords in rural England realized they had both the physical power and the incentive to evict the peasantry from the land they occupied as tenants and from the forest and grazing lands they held in common, and did so. On these "enclosed" lands the lords turned to maximized sheep production to make wool for the European market. The peasants were forced into the surrounding towns and cities as indigents with nothing but their ability to work to exchange for survival. The proletariat was born at the same moment as production for profit, and the two have been wedded in a death-struggle ever since.

The main point here is that capitalism is a distinctive, indeed highly unusual, product of a specific historical situation, and bears little resemblance to the many other social forms people have experimented with over time. It is the only social formation in which all human activity is devoted to the production of continuously expanding profit. In most societies down through history production was undertaken to supply basic needs, and the whole sphere of material provision was subordinate to other social objectives, which varied from society to society. Sometimes the principal objective was the concentration of power, as in Egypt under the Pharoahs or Imperial Rome, but even this social distortion did not lead to ever-expanding demands for labor and materials. On the contrary, the goal of these power-oriented systems was stasis and stability, not internal growth; expansion was through conquest.

But power-oriented societies themselves have been rather rare in history. Vast regions of the world and long spans of time never witnessed the growth of mass, centralized societies. Ancient Greece, to cite an obvious example, was a society of city-states, scaled to a human dimension and without the incentive, by and large, to aggregate into an empire. Production of material needs in the Greek city-states and the surrounding countryside was primarily for local consumption, with only a limited amount of production of luxuries for trade with neighboring areas. Instead, tremendous energies were devoted to arts and crafts, poetry and philosophy, science and technology, in ways so imaginative and creative that we still are dazzled by their achievements. In no arena is this more true than in their experimentation with and development of truly democratic forms of social organization, reaching a level of popular participation in meaningful decision-making never attained again by their cultural descendants.

The history of capitalism since its beginnings in the English countryside has been bloody and sordid. The process of Enclosure of common lands eventually spread throughout the British Isles right up through the 19th Century, and similar seizures of peasant lands got underway, with a substantial delay, on the European mainland. Britain had a strong headstart, which meant that its development of industrial production utilizing the labor of the newly-created proletariat was also well in advance of similar processes in France and Germany, enabling it to maintain a superior navy and control the seas. With this advantage Britain built up an Empire on which the sun never set, and into which it introduced the same land seizures and capitalist social relations as had developed in the home country. Other powers, mostly European, were not far behind, and a race was on to carve up the world into competing empires.


Miraculously, a small number of indigenous groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America are still resisting the penetration of their ancestral forest or mountain strongholds by the forces of capital and the state, but they are under severe threat. (In some cases NGOs singing a song of "sustainable development" are acting as the spearhead of this penetration.) With these exceptions, however, capitalism is a global system; there is no country on earth which has eluded its grasp. The present "globalization debate" for most participants is an argument over details of its admininstration. It's a fight over crumbs, really. Should nation states be permitted to maintain legal protections for large internal constituencies, or should such laws be finally removed to permit absolutely unrestrained movements of capital?

With the planet on the verge of ecological collapse through deforestation, ozone depletion, soil loss, chemical pollution, and global warming; with plant and animal species undergoing a catastrophic rate of extinction, orders of magnitude greater than in any natural period of "great extinction" of the past; with languages and indigenous cultures dying out rapidly; with human hunger, disease, war, racism, sexual and child slavery, and rape and other forms of violence against women all at crisis levels over much of the world, it's clear we don't have a lot of time to dicker over minor palliatives. We need to kill capitalism before it kills off the entire planet. So why aren't we proceeding straight to the task at hand? Because capitalist society, in addition to its massive physical coercive powers, has perfected mind control.

People raised in modern capitalist society are subjected to forms and processes of mystification from birth to death: authoritarian or decentered parents; prison-like schools, and tyrannical workplaces, all presenting themselves as natural, unquestionable and inevitable, and all permeated by toxic mass media pollution. The great majority of people buy into it completely; they develop the social character of capitalism. It is a shroud worn over the body of each individual person, which has the magical property of obscuring what they see and transforming it into its opposite. Absolute dominance of market forces is "freedom". Hierarchy, patriarchy, authority, deference, private wealth, money and a life devoted to consumption, recreation and other forms of mindless infantile narcissism all feel cozy and natural. We have adapted to our social environment. We reproduce it every day. We are our own cops. We pass on the blow. We beg for favors or mercy from those above, and torture those below. Capital's got us right where they want us.

Perhaps it's necessary to respond to the point often made that many of these aspects of capitalist society are as old as the hills, and must derive from "human nature". Religious fundamentalists and reactionaries in general, for example, believe men are naturally superior to women physically and intellectually, so that patriarchy is natural and has always existed in all societies (or if not in some particular case, it should have!). But this should just tip us off to the inseparable connection between patriarchy and religion. Organized religion is above all a system of social control that is designed to render male domination "natural" in the eyes of its subjects, men and women. It has been highly successful for thousands of years, and has simply been appropriated by capitalism and maintained as a prop to its operations (remember the Protestant Work Ethic?). Even as capitalism takes over all inherited, traditional social forms it transforms them; the father morphs from the symbol of God in the family to the representative of the Boss. But the fact is non-patriarchal societies have existed (and may indeed still thrive in some remaining tribal enclaves), disproving "natural" male superiority.

Capital has inherited as well a few thousand years of social hierarchy, authority and deference. Such a social structure seems so familiar and inevitable that anything else is almost unthinkable. In Classical Athens, however, it needed to be defended, and was not simply taken for granted; in The Republic Plato makes Socrates score one of his cheap points by remarking how you certainly wouldn't want to be on a boat where the course was chosen by majority vote of the farmers on board rather than by the captain who knew all the many dangers lurking in wait to sink the stupid democrats. Equality is nice in theory but it doesn't work! So just get used to having a boss, to rich people, bureaucrats or technical specialists making all the decisions, and bow down!

Marx and His Enemies

Capitalism goes one better, however, over past structures of social hierarchy and domination, by hiding its reality under false appearances. The market is promoted as the realm of free exchange of equal values. Even leftists at anti-globalization protests chant about "fair trade" and "fair wages", subscribing to the capitalist myth that the market could be, if only the right people (e.g., themselves) were in charge, a neutral arbiter of value and mechanism of "trade" of equivalents. These illusions live because the nature of exploitation under capitalism has been successfully obscured. Capitalism's apologists, practitioners of the charlatanry of economics, have worked overtime for the last 125 years to hide the source of value, human labor, from view.

That the source of the value of a commodity is the human labor it contains was known to Aristotle, over 2300 years ago. Political economists of the 17th , 18th and 19th centuries, including Adam Smith and David Ricardo, who attempted to understand developing capitalism objectively and scientifically (even if their class allegiances lay with the "rising bourgeoisie") also knew that the source of value is human labor. They failed, however, to explain the source of profit, the Holy Grail of their efforts, for the discovery of which they were unworthy. But then along came Karl Marx, who carried their analysis through to its logical conclusion, discovering the source of profit in "surplus value", the portion of value created by human labor that is appropriated by the capitalist for his own enrichment.

On the surface the "exchange" between the capitalist and the worker seems to be a "fair" one. The worker agrees to work for the capitalist for a certain wage, and is paid what his or her "labor power" (i.e., ability to perform the particular kind of work involved) is worth on the "labor market". In general this wage is more or less equivalent to the value of the commodities the worker needs to "reproduce" his or her labor power (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) so that the work can continue day after day. But as Marx carefully shows, there is a hidden component to the transaction, an additional value which is appropriated entirely by the capitalist. This "surplus value" derives from the quality possessed uniquely by the commodity "labor power": its living, creative, human force, which has been channelled into the commodities it produces by the relations of domination and subservience that are maintained by capitalists as a class over working people. Simply put, workers create more value in a unit of time spent working than they receive as a wage for that time, even if that wage is "fair" or "a living wage". The difference goes entirely to the capitalist and enriches him or her, while the worker, like a rat on a treadmill, never gets anywhere.

Capitalism, then, as explicated with precision and clarity by Marx, is most fundamentally a system of "social relations of production" which maintains the social domination of the capitalist class over the rest of humanity by the imposition of wage labor (or, for some categories of workers, salaried labor). The surplus value appropriated by the capitalists is converted, by sale in the market of the commodities in which it is embodied, into its money form, and is the source of profit. The key process of social control under capitalism is continual "value accumulation", in which profits are reinvested in new cycles of production to expand the system on an ever larger scale.

Unfortunately for the capitalists, however, the system is fraught with ineradicable tendencies to break down, the most acute of which is the tendency of the profit rate to fall as the mass of accumulated value grows. The rate of profit falls over time as more and more value is embodied in machinery and materials while the relative proportion of value devoted to wages and salaries falls. Because of the competition between capitalists they are forced to reduce their production costs to a minimum, and the primary means to do so is to replace living labor power with machinery and automation. But since the only source of new value is that human labor input, the result is the inevitable reduction in the proportion of new surplus value to the mass of value already accumulated.

The tendency of the rate of profit to fall over time leads to repeated economic crises, which appear as "overproduction" problems at first, then as recessions and depressions. Productive capital takes flight into stock speculation, finance, and other forms of fictitious capital (as well as new sectors of production, where possible), which does nothing to restore profitabililty for capitalism as a whole but merely redistributes the agony among sectors.

The world has been in a continuous and worsening profit crisis since the 1970s; the barrage of media hype about "prosperity" over the last few years has been a campaign to obscure the ever-deepening fall in living standards of the vast mass of humanity and the destruction of the natural environment, while capitalists have abandoned productive activity for speculative stock and financial investments.

When Marx broadcast his discovery to the workers of the world in Capital and other writings, the whole field of political economy was abandoned by the ideologists of capital and a new truly dismal "science" was born, economics. Since Marx the main effort of economics has been expended in the attempt to hide the source of value and profit.

Marx's Labor Theory of Value and concept of surplus value are sharp weapons in the hands of the proletariat, enabling them to see how exactly they are ripped off by capitalism, and where the system's weaknesses lie. Marx's achievements were bad news for the masters, and their lives have never been the same since. They don't sleep well.

Marx is not easy to read quickly; he takes application, so today with attention deficit disorder so widespread he doesn't get much attention. His name has also been associated by his enemies with totalitarian state capitalist regimes like the Soviet Union, Communist China and Cuba, sullying the reputation of the man who has contributed more than any other to the understanding of capitalism and of post-capitalist society as well. Nowadays it is required for people to show their post-Marxist credentials. Many anarchists believe that Marx was a bad guy, because of arguments he had with Bakunin (a 19th Century Russian anarchist) and because his name has been glued to the monstrosities of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao and Fidel to put over the lie that the regimes were "workers' states". But put anarchist polemics and vulgar Marxism aside, and actually read Marx himself, and a very different man comes through: not only a brilliant analyst of capital and a great literary artist (Capital, volume 1, [the only volume he saw through to the press] is a great work of art), but even perhaps the greatest theoretician of anarchist thought as well.

Marx, like numerous socialists before him, had a vision of post-capitalist society that today stands condemned by Right and Left as "utopian". He considered the term "socialism" to designate a condition of freely-associated people in a society without social classes based on differences in private possession of wealth and control over the means of production of material needs. Decisions about what to produce, how much to produce, and how to carry on the productive process are made by everybody able to participate and interested in partcipating, democratically. Bureaucrats, technocrats and bosses no longer exist. Money and markets are also non-existent; there is no attempt to exchange equivalents, but simply to provide for everyone's needs. People are equals again, as they used to be. Everything is free for the taking. Abundance rules, not scarcity as in capitalism. Marx's vision, it must be admitted, has little in common with the states associated with his name.

The Left Bastion of Capitalism

The rump of "actually existing socialism", still hanging by a thread in Cuba and perhaps elsewhere (North Korea?), and still promoted by nostalgic, aging leftists remembering the good old days of the Soviet Union and the Second World, is a fossilized remnant of the previously widespread but now defunct form of capitalism properly designated as state capitalism. The difference between private (or corporate, or monopoly) capitalism and state capitalism is merely one of the degree to which the state controls the process of production and distribution of commodities. Commodities, that is, products of human labor containing value and surplus value, are the basis of state capitalist society as much as they are of private capitalism. They are produced by wage workers who do not receive the full value of the products of their labor in exchange (because this value is greater than the value of their wages) but are forced to surrender a portion of it uncompensated to the controlling elite.

Although these state capitalist regimes were promoted as "Socialist", in fact they were (and are, where they still survive) forms of capitalism which were forced on essentially peasant-based societies, in a far more rapid and brutal manner than occurred in Western Europe in preceding centuries. The assaults on the Russian and Chinese peasantry by the dictatorial regimes of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao resulted in millions of deaths by starvation, execution and labor camp incarceration, on a scale fully equivalent to the Nazi Holocaust. (This well-attested fact is denied by a few remaining apologists for these regimes, such as the unrepentant Stalinoid Michael Parenti.) Both eastern Communism and western Nazism/Fascism show the extremes to which capitalism will go to maintain control of refractory workers. The really impressive aspect of these bloody regimes was the scale of their operations. But with their eclipse the underlying processes of expropriation, domination and exploitation haven't really changed. Ask peasants under assault today by armies and paramilitary deathsquads in Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. These mopping up operations of capital proceed at full pace, funded and organized by the power centers of global capital, in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo.

Those Anarchists!

Although the New World Order is presented as a harmonious cross of Democracy and the Market, its underlying reality is quite the reverse. An accurate characterization would be something along the lines of State-Imposed Corporate Oligarchy (SICKO), that is, tyrannical rule of a tiny elite maintained by the brutal physical force of states and the total penetration of psychological control mechanisms. Genoa and its aftermath provide a clear and succinct snapshot of its operations: ruthless crackdown on dissent, pathological application of torture, and a continuous blitz of defamation and denunciation, while behind the scenes the state planners develop new levels of integration and surveillance to suppress future resistance. Now let's ask ourselves again, what exactly do we hope to achieve by pleading with the sickos to let up on us a bit? One image says it all: helpless people at the Diaz school raid, raising their empty hands in signal of total submission, yelling "pacifist, pacifist" as their skulls were mercilessly cracked open by the Fascist foot-soldiers of capitalism.

Anarchists have been warning us about the state for a long time, and trying, rather ineffectively, to keep it at bay. In the past they tended to focus on it almost exclusively, as the hypertrophied form of social hierarchy and institutional coercion. But nowadays many anarchists are savvy to the context in which states operate, and recognize with Marx that the state's modern role includes more than simple suppression of rebellion. Under the conditions of modern capitalism the state is the principal organ for planning capitalism's predations, both against people and the planet, where all capitalists have common interest and the goal is maximal exploitation. The ever-present tendency of the different private concentrations of capital to devour one another wherever possible requires some overarching control if the competitive process is not to result in imbalances and undermine the profitability of capital as a whole and the security of its rule.

The nation-state is the dominant form historically, but we may be witnessing the growth of new supranational states at present, such as, potentially, the World Trade Organization. It looks like the obvious candidate for this distinctive role, the United Nations, can't serve this function on behalf of capital, as it no doubt would be willing to do, because its structure permits too much sunlight. The new supranational state(s) will be highly secretive. Their task is not an easy one. Global coordination of capital will have to find a way to control the excessive ambitions of individual capitals and regional blocs which are in a condition of perpetual competition. The largest multinational corporations, despite their far-flung operations, still, for historical reasons, maintain strong ties to their nations of origin and have supported regional planning efforts (NAFTA, the FTAA, the European Union, etc.) to increase the physical territory over which they can maintain uncontested control. Unfortunately this raises the competition to the regional level as well, with the development of contending blocs, mainly the Americas (under the domination of the United States), Europe (with Germany in the driver's seat), and East Asia (where China seems now to have an edge over Japan). This breakup of the globe into regional factions was accurately foreseen by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The reformists in the "anti-globalization" movement are, whether they admit it or recognize it or not, statists. The solutions they propose and the reforms they seek all presuppose an increase in the interventions of states into social life. They operate with a false analysis of the state as essentially distinct from and potentially opposed to corporations and capital. But in fact the state, in all its modern forms, is a function of capitalism. This is perfectly obvious with sickos like George W. Bush or Silvio Berlusconi, but is no less true of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Vladimir Putin, Fidel Castro, Lionel Jospin or Hugo Chavez. Right or Left, the heads of state are dedicated to capital heart and soul. It's not like these individuals have a choice; they merely supervise the inherent functions of the state, above all the maximizing of profit. All over the world, wherever a leftist party is in power, it is assiduously enforcing the "structural adjustments" (what an Orwellian term!) of the IMF or World Bank. In this regard the historical Left has been a racket every bit as criminal as the Right. Only the anarchists and a few genuinely revolutionary currents of Marxians have held out against the state as the only possible form of social power. The revolution we need, which will actually solve the problems we face rather than intensify them, must be one in which alll the structures of capitalist society, including states, are destroyed.

Revolutionary anarchists and Marxians envision social power exercised through a wide variety of local social forms (such as general assemblies of people living together in a neighborhood, or workplace assemblies or councils of people working together on a specific project of social production), organized horizontally rather than hierarchically into larger citywide, regional (even bioregional), or larger groupings. They propose forms of direct democracy to replace the bogus representational "democracy" so beloved of statists. To protect themselves from domination and exploitation people need to keep power in their own hands. When evenly distributed in this way power loses its power of coercion, while retaining its power of constructive application to all the many tasks and problems of our planetary life.

The Movement Didn't Start in Seattle

Because of the narrow range of political discourse permitted by capitalism these radical, genuine solutions just don't get a hearing. The whole subject is taboo. The corporate control of the mass media exercises an overwhelming suppressive influence on the free expression of ideas. Schools and universities train students to conform, not to think critically. Perhaps most crucially, we are conditioned from the cradle to accept capitalism as it presents itself, the pinnacle of human freedom. So, for most people who, for whatever reason, remain unable to buy into the big lie completely, it is extremely difficult to break out of the mystifications maintained by Left and Right alike. They can't see past the screen of what is deemed "possible" to what is actually necessary. And the special irony is that what is necessary is indeed possible.

Repeatedly in human history people have organized themselves to throw off the yoke of domination by exploitative classes or states. The history of our struggles for lives of equality and fellowship simply isn't taught in schools or shown in Hollywood movies. But numerous examples exist of successful resistance to predation and plunder from above or abroad. Some of the more notable and recent periods and places of real freedom were the Paris Commune of 1871; the early years of the Russian Revolution before the Bolsheviks eliminated all internal opposition (especially in the Ukraine where Makhno's anarchist army fought off the Reds, the Germans, and the Whites simultaneously, in Kronstadt, and among the Greens of the Tambov forests); revolutionary Morelos liberated by Emiliano Zapata's indigenous irregulars; and Catalonia and Aragon in 1936-37 where workers organized to defend themselves against the Spanish colonial army led by the fascist Franco, and proceeded to run factories and farms without bosses, priests and in many places, money. In all these cases people took the opportunities presented to them by an unpredictable, sudden decrease in the repressive forces maintained by the state, due to conditions of a wider war. Paris proclaimed its liberty as the Germans under Bismarck were conquering the rest of France. The Russian Revolution broke out as the Tsar's armies bogged down on the eastern front in World War I. Zapata's successful years-long liberation of Morelos and surrounding areas south of Mexico City was possible because the Mexican army had its hands full elsewhere. And the Spanish Civil War provided the opening for an anarchist-inspired society to flower into existence for a considerable length of time. Why was this so, and do we have to wait and hope for war to present us our chance?

States have always had to rely on their armies, police, prisons and work camps to keep revolution at bay. Until the 20th Century, they didn't have much other than religion as a form of psychological control. Most countries through the 19th Century had largely peasant (or "family farm") populations engaged in the straightforward process of producing their own sustenance and other material needs without engaging in the mystifications of wage work. Peasants or small farmers, or city workers recently displaced from their lands, have a very clear understanding of the role of capitalism and the state in seeking to rob them of what independence they possess, and have had an ineradicable predilection to resist. They have generally existed as intransigent, unpersuadable populations. When, unexpectedly, the power of states to keep them down has declined (usually because of the outbreak of war), people have frequently organized themselves rapidly into genuinely liberated areas. The states then have had to crush them when they could return to business as usual; the salient feature of these "reactions" has been their extraordinary savagery, followed by silence. But with the recent development, especially since World War II, of sophisticated mind-control techniques such as radio, television, and other forms of the mass media, and the steady penetration worldwide of enclosures and the stripping of peasants and farmers from their lands, the dynamic of resistance has changed.

We're Mad As Hell and We're Not Going to Take It Anymore

The events of May and June, 1968 in France show that war is not a necessary precondition for the power and authority of the state and capital to crumble and dissolve. There wasn't even a recession. People, led first by students, then factory workers, and finally as a mass, just woke up to the empty misery of their lives and said all together, "We've had enough!" For two months the country was paralyzed; DeGaulle and his racket were laughed at and ignored, and even the Communist Party was exposed as the prop of property. People set up barricades in cities all over France; held massive general assemblies to decide how to proceed; and began to talk to one another in ways previously unthinkable. It all happened as the taboos against analysis and discussion of the capitalist nightmare fell away. The sleepers awoke in the light of a new day and saw the hideous true face of their master, who, like the Wizard of Oz, was desperately pulling levers and belching smoke, intoning over and over "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." And, eventually, it worked; the smoke and fog, the mirrors and mystifications gathered around so thickly that people lost their way and returned to docile obedience and mutterings under the breath.

A very similar process of awakening is now underway, only instead of France the entire world is in ferment. Capitalism and the state are undergoing the anguish of delegitimation across the planet. As the profit crisis of capitalism has deepened since the seventies, the rate of exploitation has been raised cruelly worldwide. The misery of the late sixties pales in comparison to the situation we face today. Our backs are to the wall everywhere, and we're fighting back, or starting to, everywhere as well. And the illusions the Capital-State requires, the fetishes of authority, hierarchy, patriarchy, money, market, and servility are collapsing all over the globe. A revolutionary current is gathering and growing stronger despite the obstacles and barriers repeatedly erected to stem it.

This is not the time to put our energies into microscopic piecemeal reforms. The capitalist class and its servants running the repressive apparatus have wagered everything on one last desperate attempt to construct an indestructible fortress of domination, and they're losing their gamble. Our chance is now. We have little time to prevent global ecological devastation and preserve a world worth living in. It's time to raise the cry again, "We've had enough!" Neither slave nor master!


After 9/11: On War and Revolution

After the catastrophic loss of life in New York City and Washington DC on September 11, we are told, "nothing will ever be the same". The media say this over and over, ostensibly to suggest that once and for all the nave innocence of America has been shattered by an evil previously beyond its imagining. Now unhappily the country must detour for a long while from the happy, normal paths of life it treasures, and "rid the world of evil doers". The subtext here, and the real news, is the assault now to be unleashed on privacy and political expression. Nothing will ever be the same in the new police state being erected before our eyes.

The overwhelming carnage and the instantaneous assault of the US government and the corporate media on the social psyche have disoriented many people. In a time of intense crisis, however, it is more important than ever to think clearly. We can compound the damage and greatly aid our enemies if we lose our nerve or our ability to adapt to changing circumstances. We have to be realistic, we have to understand our situation and the forces we are up against. A good first question to ask is who are the beneficiaries and who the victims of the attacks in New York City and Washington DC?

The beneficiaries seem very few and the victims potentially numberless. The Bush administration and the US state obviously benefit tremendously, as does Sharon's regime in Israel and Palestine. Both of these states are now freer than before to attack, kill, arrest, imprison and torture anyone they want to, without let or hindrance, or even criticism. (An obvious and plausible inference is that the attack on September 11 was a Mossad operation, employing "holy warriors" of the Islamic Jihad or related groups as they have in numerous such operations in the past, and enabled by some secret arm of the Bush apparatus. Many unexplained facts fit into such a hypothesis.)

Among the losers, beyond the Palestinians, the Afghans and Muslims in the US, are the "anti-globalization" and anti-capitalist activists, so recently setting a global agenda, having survived the fascists of Genoa and emerged stronger than ever, ready to press forward in DC at the end of September. Already movement activists are being branded "terrorists" by government officials and media mouthpieces, in preparation for a no-holds-barred war to "rid the world of the evil" of political dissent and action. As Starhawk so accurately said shortly after Genoa, they will be coming for us individually in the night. Starhawk, in her very real wisdom, for which we must be thankful, saw further and sooner than most. But now the truth she expressed is plain for all to see. Behind their barricades the Sickos in Genoa put the final touches on their battleplan. War is our future.

But now remember something else. As indicated above, war has been the opportunity for genuine social revolution repeatedly down through history. When states wage war, unexpected things happen: all bets are off. As the violent state crackdown in Genoa showed, and the massive preparations for "global war" against an unstated enemy now prove, our masters are desperate and ready to risk all. We simply need to prove to them what poor gamblers they are. Don't lose your nerve, and keep your wits about you.

Further Reading

On reformism vs revolution: Paul Mattick, "Reform and Revolution", chapter in Marxism: Last Refuge of the Bourgeosie?

On the historical beginnings of capitalism: Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism; "History or Technological Determinism?", chapter in Democracy Against Capitalism

On social character: the work of Erich Fromm, especially Escape From Freedom and The Sane Society; Fredy Perlman, "The Reproduction of Daily Life"; Eugene Victor Wolfenstein, Psychoanalytic-Marxism: Groundwork

On Marx's critique of capitalism and utopian vision: Capital, vol. I; The Grundrisse; Maximilien Rubel, Rubel on Karl Marx

On state capitalism: Adam Buick and John Crump, State Capitalism: the Wages System Under New Management; Paul Mattick, "Bolshevism and Stalinism", in Anti-Bolshevik Communism

On the state: Peter Kropotkin, "The State: its Historic Role", in P. A. Kropotkin, Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution, Martin A. Miller, ed.; Randolph Bourne, "The State", in The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918, ed. by Olaf Hansen

On the Paris Commune: Stewart Edwards, The Paris Commune 1871; Eugene Schulkind, ed., The Paris Commune of 1871

On the Russian Revolution: Voline, The Unknown Revolution 1917-1921; Israel Getzler, Kronstadt 1917-1921; Peter Arshinov, History of the Makhnovist Movement 1918-1921; Oliver Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: a Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov Region,1920-1921

On Zapata and Morelos: John Womack, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution; Samuel Brunk, Emiliano Zapata

On the Spanish Revolution: George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia; Vernon Richards, Lessons of the Spanish Revolution; Gaston Leval, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution; Jose Peirats, Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution

On France, May-June 1968: R. Gregoire and F. Perlman, "Worker-Student Action Committees, France May '68"; Murray Bookchin, "The May-June Events in France" in Post-Scarcity Anarchism; Vladimir Fisera, Writing on the Wall; Andrew Feenberg and Jim Freedman, When Poetry Ruled the Streets

On war and capitalism: Paul Mattick, "The United States and Indochina", in Root & Branch, ed., Root & Branch: the Rise of the Workers' Movements

(first posted on Indymedia, September 28, 2001)

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