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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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 naïve 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.
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:
On Marx's critique of capitalism and utopian vision: Capital,
vol. I; The Grundrisse; Maximilien Rubel, Rubel on Karl
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
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'
(first posted on Indymedia, September 28, 2001)