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(en) UK, Why do we call ourselves anti-capitalists? - talk Given at the Brighton Anti-G8 Organising Gathering, February 2004

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 18 Mar 2004 15:39:27 +0100 (CET)


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Over the last few years – essentially the last five years since the
Birmingham G8 summit in 1998 – a movement has grown up
that has been called - and has called itself – anti-capitalist.
So the direct action movement in this country – and probably
some of the people in this room – can fairly claim a little of the
credit for having created this movement, which has spread across
the world and has particularly taken to the streets in big
demonstrations outside the summit meetings of the WTO, IMF,
World Bank, G8, EU, NATO, FTAA, NAFTA etc.

Coming 10 years after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the
capitalist triumphalism that came with it, the self-description of
this new movement as anti-capitalist seemed like a big advance
and proof that capitalist society was not now unchallengeable and
unquestionable.

Suddenly there were millions of people all saying capitalist society
was a disaster and should be dismantled.

This was clearly a huge step forward and inspired and excited
people all over the world. Hope and possibility are always
infectious. And winning especially is infectious – after the
perceived victory of Seattle in 1999 the movement really took off.

But with this exciting new movement also came confusion.

The inspiring nature of these new mobilisations has attracted and
involved all sorts of different people with many different ideas
– and different ideas of what ‘anti-capitalism’ is.

Often people say that ‘diversity is our strength’, and
without wishing to deny that, it is clearly important for people
involved in anti-capitalism to discuss and share their different
ideas of what capitalism is and what anti-capitalism is.

So I’ve been asked to say a little bit to kick off a discussion
along the lines of – ‘why do we define ourselves as
anti-capitalist?’ I was asked at fairly short notice, so if these
thoughts are a bit rambling and incoherent, then please bear with
me.

***

It seems to me, that particularly in the context of the summit
demonstrations that have been the most visible public face of
anti-capitalism, that there is one key issue we need to think about.
This is the tendency to identify these large transnational
institutions like the World Bank, IMF and G8, and, by extension,
transnational corporations and other especially obvious and
powerful institutions as constituting ‘capitalism’.
Capitalism is not just about George Bush and McDonalds.

What we think capitalism is shapes what we think being
anti-capitalist means and what alternatives we try and create to
capitalist society.

And so, unsurprisingly, people defining the institutions of
globalisation or neo-liberalism as being the whole of capitalism
then leads them into putting forward a range of supposed
‘alternatives’ to capitalism.

Because capitalism is often identified only with massive global
institutions, therefore anti-capitalism becomes about promoting
localism and small scale ‘alternatives’. Or because large
financial institutions are seen as being what capitalism is about,
therefore we get ‘fair’ trade and proposals for new taxes
on financial speculation as an anti-capitalist programme. Or
because the transnational institutions that people identify as being
capitalism in some respects go beyond nation states,
anti-capitalism then becomes about giving new powers to nation
states to resist these transnational institutions.

The problem with all these ideas is that none of them go beyond
capitalism – they are all just different alternative forms of
capitalism. And so they all end up being merely reformism and
playing into the hands of the powerful.

People grasp just one aspect of capitalism and take it for the
whole. They then propose ‘alternatives’ which are merely
one other aspect of capitalist society.

So particularly when there is no shortage of self-appointed gurus
(George Monbiot, Naomi Klein, George Soros, Noreena Hertz etc.
etc.) stepping forward to provide ready-made manifestos for the
anti-capitalist movement, it pays us to think clearly about what
capitalism and anti-capitalism are.

***

So to clear up some of this confusion, it is necessary to say
something quite simple – that capitalism is a form of society.
And therefore it is not embodied only in a few particularly big
corporations or transnational institutions, but in the whole of
society.

Capitalism is a social relation between people – it’s about
how people interact with each other and how we live our lives. So
it’s not the case that society is basically OK but the wrong
people are in charge, or that if we just get rid of the WTO then
everything will be alright.

The basic thing about capitalism is that it’s about exchange
– so much of this being worth so much of that and everything
in the world being given an abstract value that makes it
exchangeable. Capitalism is about everything in the world
becoming a commodity – something that is bought and sold.

So – animals, land, ideas – everything becomes a
commodity.

Most importantly, people become commodities, the same as
everything else.

Because the fundamental thing about capitalism is that it is about
work. It is about accumulating enough money to be able to set
people to work in order to make more money for you.

So in capitalist society, everyone has to work to generate profits for
those who own and control the capital. You have to sell yourself
like a commodity to get the money to buy the commodities you
need that you can’t get any other way – like food and
clothing, or a roof over your head. These things, which you buy,
have of course all been produced by other people selling
themselves, doing exactly the same thing in order to get the
commodities they need to live.

The point of all this is to expand. Every business must expand or
die and capitalism as a whole must expand or die.

Capitalism is about setting people to work to create profits to
expand and set more and more people to work. And so this empire
expands across the world, destroying all other forms of society,
turning everyone and everything into commodities and sources of
profit. We see this quite clearly every day as new things are
commodified – water is privatised in the Third World, and
what was free suddenly costs money; or new patents on life make
genetic material and seeds into someone’s property where
they were previously free for all. And we can see the process of
expansion and setting new people to work as the poor are driven
off the land across the Third World and herded into the cities to
work in industry.

Therefore we can see that capitalism is not just about the WTO,
the IMF or the World Bank – it existed for hundreds of years
before they came along. Neither is capitalism just about Nike,
Starbucks, Exxon, the Gap and Microsoft.

Every big corporation started off as a small one and every small
company wants to be a big one. Whether it’s ‘fair’
trade or unfair trade, big companies or small ones, the weird
‘casino’ world of international finance or the regular
everyday world of firms making physical products, we can see all
these things are part of the same system – they all obey the
same rules and have the same essential structure.

It should also be clear from this that we cannot follow the path of
the old Left – the Socialists, Communists and Marxists who
proposed various modified and altered forms of capitalism and
spent the entire Twentieth Century in a blind alley pursuing them.

It should be obvious to us sitting here in a gathering to organise
against a meeting of the eight most powerful nation states on earth
that the state is no alternative to capitalism as those who still stick
to the ideas of the Left would have us believe. As is obvious from
the key role that nation states like the G8 play in pushing the
expansion of capitalism, the state is part of capitalism and cannot
be part of an alternative to it.

So any real alternative to capitalism has to be about building
non-hierarchical networks of those across the globe who are
oppressed and used, who want something better than a world
where the monetary value of the land, animals and people is all
that matters and their actual value matters not at all.

And the aim has to be a form of society beyond capitalism, beyond
the state, beyond a world of commodities and exchange.

That means being against the big transnational institutions, but
also against nation states too. Against big corporations, for sure,
but also the little ones. Not just for fair trade, but against all trade.

As one way of moving towards that goal and building those
networks, we are all here today to talk about taking action against
the G8.

Because, although capitalism is not only about these big
institutions, it is clearly a hierarchical society with a wealthy and
powerful few who benefit at the expense of many others.
Therefore it is appropriate that we target the powerful, our rulers.

Also, although much of the confusion in the anti-capitalist
movement has come out of muddling capitalism itself with
globalisation or neo-liberalism, which is merely its latest
manifestation (as the name ‘neo-liberalism’ indicates
– ‘neo’ meaning ‘new’ and liberalism being
the main ideology of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century
capitalism), nevertheless globalisation and the transnational
institutions pushing it are real things. Every day we can see more
clearly that globalisation is the defining historical process of our
age and that people in the future will look back and see this and
the fight against it as the key battle over the direction the future
will take.

The new anti-capitalist movement and the summit
demonstrations that have been its main obvious form have had a
massive effect. The public face of globalisation – these
gatherings of the powerful – no longer go uncontested, where
they once did. They have been defeated. In Seattle, the WTO
summit was abandoned and subsequent summits have been
forced into being held in remote locations on islands and up
mountains. The movement has inspired people all over the world
and has shown people they have unknown allies in other countries
– other people who feel like they do. This is another reason to
take action against the G8 – it’s a way to build inspiration
and to help build the networks and the links that may help us
move beyond summit demonstrations. Taking action against the
G8 is the first step to not only get rid of the G8, but ultimately to
totally change society. Because we must remember that ultimately
it is the form of society that has to change. That it is capitalist
society that created the G8 and not the other way around.


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