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The Social Re-Forum of Aotearoa

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From Class Struggle 52, September/October 2003

The Social Forum Aotearoa is meeting in November at Porirua to gather together those ‘social movements’ in NZ that are broadly anti-globalist and anti-capitalist.  The fundamental problem with these WSF currents is that they are reformist, believing it possible to overcome the defects of capitalism internationally without overthrowing it. The reason for this is that the gurus who dominate the WSF like Naomi Klein, George Monbiot, Noam Chomsky and Walden Bello, say that capitalist exploitation is caused by unequal exchange driven by powerful elites who can be replaced by more powerful masses.  We agree that a ‘A New World Is Possible’. But this must not be the old world order in new clothes, but a new socialist world.
The purpose of this article is to explain why this understanding of capitalism is wrong and why it leads to such disastrous consequences. Some anti-globalists like Monbiot argue that globalisation can only be resisted by an international civil society developing out of the institutions like the UN. This tendency is theorised in the book Empire by Hardt and Negri. Others seek to reclaim national sovereignty from these globalising forces. In NZ, ARENA, the Alliance, some Greens, and academics like Jane Kelsey, take this position (see article on Trade Wars).  These two positions overlap considerably, but can become somewhat antagonistic at the extremes.
We shall show that logically both of these approaches are two sides of a false coin which wrongly mistakes globalisation for a ‘transnationalisation’ of the location of power and wealth.  That is, international capitalism has centralised its power by undermining and then transcending the power of nation states. The question then becomes how to match this global power on an international level, and/or how to fight to reclaim national sovereignty at the local level?
Both strategies result from a common conception that the capitalists use their power to enforce unequal exchange between capital and labour. This inequality can be corrected at either global or local level by mobilising the counter-power of the masses to take over the capitalist state. For example, the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement adopts the strategy of attacking the global headquarters of multinational capital, while others favour the strategy of organising and linking local resistances to globalisation.  
Market fetishism
The key to understanding the different currents of the WSF is to see where they go wrong in their theory of capitalism.  They misunderstand the nature of capitalist political power. They see capital as exploitative because capitalists use their power to extract surplus from producers by underpaying them for their labour during the process of exchange. For them what is wrong with capitalism is the unequal exchange in the market that robs the producers and enriches the bosses.  Therefore exploitation can be resisted by workers mobilising their power and struggling until wages become equal to their value, and by nationalising the wealth accumulated from their past unpaid wages. This is political logic of the exchange theory of David Ricardo the foremost classical political economist critiqued by Marx in Capital.
The problem with Ricardo’s theory of capitalism was that he took the exchange relations of capitalism to be the basis of exploitation.  He equated capitalism with the market rather than with a set of historically unique social relations. 
For Marx, what distinguished the capitalist market from the earlier development of the market was the way it turned everything into commodities which exchanged more or less at their values (the socially-necessary-labour-time –SNLT, or the normal hours of workers using typical machines –required to produce them).
However, Ricardo could not explain why the value of one ‘commodity’, labour, which he agreed created the value in commodities, was paid less than this value. As Marx pointed out, Ricardo failed to understand that capitalism had created a new form of exploitation by making labour-power into a commodity. The capitalist bought the worker’s labour-power in order to create value. Labour-power was the only commodity capable of producing more value than its own value. Its own value was the socially necessary labour-time (SNLT) required to produce the commodities workers needed to consume to replenish their labour-power (i.e. the workers consumption). Because Labour was equal to the value of the product of labour-power the two could not be equated.
By forcing workers off the land and into industry capitalists could buy this labour-power at its value, produced by workers during part of the working day –necessary labour time –but also force workers to work for a longer period –surplus labour time –to extract surplus value and hence profits.  (Marx said if capitalists actually paid workers the full value produced by their labour they were idiots and would soon go out of business.)
Marx discovered this because he used a method of analysis that looked beneath the level of market exchange to the underlying social relations of production. For Marx then, it was necessary to explain how capitalism falsely presents production relations as exchange relations so that workers could become conscious of the need to revolutionise the relations of production.
Marx’s theory therefore reveals to workers how production relations come to be fetishised (re-appear falsely in another guise) as exchange relations. This happens because workers do not see the underlying mechanism of surplus-value production and assume that profits are deducted from wages.   This fetishised ideology of the marketplace where individuals appear as actors exchanging their commodities is the material base of the bourgeois ideology of the state representing individual citizens who can mobilise electoral majorities and reform exchange relations. 
From this ideology flows the concept of class exploitation at the level of exchange, of workers participation in parliamentary politics in popular fronts (all those who are in some way exploited by unequal exchange including small capitalists and even national capitalists) and reformist policies of wealth ‘re-appropriation’ or ‘redistribution’ back to the producers as the property or income of all those ‘exploited’ by capital – e.g. the rationale for Hardt and Negri to replace class with ‘multitude’ i.e. all those exploited by unequal exchange.
But more than this, neo-Ricardian theory becomes a practical application of bourgeois ideology when it is actively used by the petty bourgeois agents of capital as social democracy or reformism. This political doctrine tries to eliminate the risk of revolution by putting ‘socialism’ on the ‘installment plan’. Socialism becomes achievable in easy, progressive stages of equalising exchange, first by means of exhausting the potential of the bourgeois state for reforms such as land reform, nationalisation, social welfare etc. so that at some indeterminate point in the future these reforms  will compound into full-blown socialism. But in effect all that is being ‘revolutionised’ here is the fetishised form of capitalist production relations – exchange relations.  Thus even this reformist agenda pre-supposes getting and using state power step by step to defeat the capitalists.
The problem is that capitalist state power is only incidentally a means of determining the value of wages. That is overwhelmingly the role of the labour market. The state’s real purpose is to organise the interests of the ruling class as a state force to guard against any threat to capitalist productive relations.  The ruling class will not concede any state power if it results in their expropriation.
Therefore capitalist state power has to be taken by force and replaced by workers state power to transform capitalist social relations into socialist relations.  But as long as reformists and their exchange theory socialism continue to dominate the labour movement capitalist state power and capitalist social relations will not be challenged and overthrown. Or worse, any challenge will be defeated because workers are not prepared to take power. 
Global anti-capitalism
This is why those who adopt the strategy of global reforms to take power and equalise exchange are wrong. Hardt and Negri are a good example. They say that the enemy is no longer organised into national capitalist classes, but is united into one global Empire. The bosses’ power is now concentrated in global institutions like the IMF, WB, WTO and the big multinational firms. Since these are no longer located within any one nation state, then the anti-global and anti-capitalist forces must also be organised ‘transnationally’. The struggle that results will allow the ‘multitude’ (or the ‘new proletariat’) to become global citizens, win a ‘social wage’ (i.e. a guaranteed income) and assert its right to re-appropriate’ of capital.
S11 and the war on terrorism proves this theory wrong. The enemy is still imperialism organised on a national basis. US imperialism is based on US national territory and its government and military are violently advancing its interests with the war on terrorism and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Hardt and Negri have been forced to explain the post-S11 imperialist war and growing rivalry between US and EU as a regression of US imperialism back to nationalistic politics. But instead of seeing that this is neither a regression nor something confined to the US alone, they pronounced EU multilateralism as a more progressive stage of transnational capitalism, or Empire, and the UN as the body that represents the reformist potential of transnational government that can made to deliver on the masses’ demand for global citizenship, social wage and re-appropriation.
S11 has therefore knocked down, along with the twin towers, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, the reformist illusion that transnational capital is no longer located in rival imperialist powers. On the contrary, the conflict between the US and EU was not about the US breaking from its multinational obligations, but rather the naked re-emergence of rivalry between US and EU imperialism for control of territory, resources and markets.  Far from reflecting a victory of the ‘new proletariat’ in Europe to pressure Empire to concede its demands, EU imperialism is busy driving down workers living standards, cutting their social wage and ‘re-appropriating’ the gains of past workers struggles.
Therefore if there is no transnational location of power which determines production of surplus, there can be no transnational location of resistance to take power and reclaim the surplus.  This leaves the global anti-capitalists in their millions, reading Monbiot, marching without direction on the streets, incapable of organising anti-imperialist movements to defeat the military power of the imperialist states, and incapable of forming military blocs with oppressed states under attack from imperialism.  Worse, they are diverted from the elementary task of rebuilding independent organisations capable of mobilising workers to combat the deadly popular fronts of the reformist left with the bourgeoisie, religious extremists etc in the name of ‘civil society’. So maybe those who say that the better strategy to fight globalisation is that of reclaiming national sovereignty have a point?
National anti-capitalism
The nationalists at least recognise that power is not globally located outside national borders. Therefore they are usually on the side of oppressed countries against imperialism. But they make the same mistake of fetishising the power of nation states (as opposed to transnational states) to overcome unequal exchange. They think that reclaiming political sovereignty at the national level will allow them to regain control over their economies and the distribution of wealth.
To refute the nationalist position all we need to do is point to the history of social democracy. Whenever mass social democratic parties have become the government and attempted to use state power to radically redistribute wealth or equalise exchange by nationalisation etc, they have been overthrown by imperialist-backed coups or imperialist invasions. The high point of post WW2 social democracy was the 1970s when Chile, Portugal and Nicaragua all attempted to introduce radical social democratic reforms and were all overthrown by right wing coups.
After such defeats, including the fall of the Soviet Bloc, social democracy retreated a long way to the right and adopted neo-liberal policies imposing the costs of imperialism’s crises on the backs of workers and peasants. Where social democrats have won elections, as today in Latin America, not only can they not roll back neo-liberalism and win any substantial reforms, they are forced to attack their working class supporters. For example, Lula’s Workers Party in Brazil, the most left wing party in power in Latin America, is forced to govern in a popular front with the big boss party of Alencar and implement the World Bank’s policies. Lula is now busy suppressing rising opposition within his ranks.
This means that the same state power that the reformists claim can be taken over to win back sovereignty and protect the economy, is inevitably used against them by international capital. The state is the agency of imperialisms’ crisis policies and the means of repressing all challenges to its rule. The reformists dream turns into the workers’ nightmare.
The only power that can win control over the economy is the workers’ power used to overthrow the state and to impose a workers government and socialist plan. And that will not happen unless the domination of the labour movement by reformists in the WSF is exposed as grounded in a petty-bourgeois neo-Ricardian theory of unequal exchange. Not until revolutionary Marxists in the workers movement can build a class conscious vanguard party with a genuinely revolutionary theory and program to leader the masses will the prospect of workers power become real.
As we have seen,  the problem with the global and local strategies being debated in the WSF movement is not that one fights at a global level and the other at a national level, but that both are incapable of winning state power and taking control of, and planning,  the international economy.  This is because they fail to understand to real nature of capitalist production and the capitalist state.
By taking the fetishised forms of capital as real, the anti-globalisation strategy of the internationalists becomes a diversion from the real struggles that must initially be located within nation states. S11 has shown that faith in building an international social democracy on the basis of the UN or even the EU is utopian and dangerous.  It deludes those layers of workers and youth who are idealistically opposed to the effects of imperialism into the dead end of de-territorialised and directionless struggle against a non-existent transnational state. Instead these kids get beaten or shot by US, Italian or German cops and military.
On the other hand, while the nationalists are at least fighting on the ground where the worst effects of globalising imperialism are felt, their strategy is to sow illusions in social democrats winning state power from the capitalists without an armed struggle. As the history of Latin America demonstrates and today again shows, state power will not be conceded to the workers. It has to be taken by force and used by the masses to create workers governments that can take control of the national economies and begin to build federations of socialist republics and economic cooperation between countries.
The task of revolutionaries is to explain to those who are attracted to the WSF solution to capitalist imperialism that it is an adaptation to imperialism not a solution. We say that the WSF is a forum for the promotion of a reformist politics grounded in a fetishised ideology of capitalism. We say the leadership of the WSF hides their reformist politics behind a façade of ‘democracy’ that in effect denies workers’ democracy. The WSF leadership refuses to allow political parties to affiliate because it knows that this would invite serious debates leading to exposure and challenge of their reformist agenda.
As revolutionaries we want to break the rank and file participants in the WSF from its reformist agenda. The way to do this is to demand freedom of speech and organisation within the WSF. In this way those who see the necessity to expose and defeat the reformist agenda can challenge the WSF to take positions on the important questions of our time – the defence of Iraq against imperialism; against Lula’s popular front in Brazil; for workers occupation and control –without compensation –of factories like in Argentina etc.  CWG will do so on the basis of the 21 principles contained in the document calling for a conference of principled Trotskyists and revolutionary workers. As we say in that document, our urgent task is to refound a new world party of socialism that can unite the theory and practice of revolutionary Marxism in a program to overthrow capitalism and build socialism.


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Two members of the SWO recently attacked the CWG position on the Western anti-capitalist movement. They were referring to the article we wrote in Class Struggle # 40 (August-September) titled “From Genoa to Salta” where we criticised the lack of an organised, working class base to the ACM and compared it to the real life and death struggles of workers in Salta. By contrast the SWO approach is to ‘include’ as anti-capitalist anybody who doesn’t like McDonalds food or GE. For them opposition to GE has become the NZ expression of anti-capitalism. After S11 it became clear that it has the same opportunist approach to the US imperialist war. The SWO didn’t want the war identified as a ‘US’ war because that would frighten off pacifists.

What is anti-capitalism?

There is a debate about what this movement actually is and how to build it. We have joined in that debate ‘constructively’ by arguing in our article in Class Struggle #40 that the ACM is based on a wrong tactic – a premature, and therefore adventurist, confrontation with the state forces. It seems however that our criticism of the ACM was taken to be ‘destructive’ by the SWO.

“Like most radicals and revolutionaries, the SWO regards the anti-capitalist movement of both North and South as ‘the biggest challenge to capitalism since the 1960s’ “.

It is true that 100.000’s of young leftists regard themselves as part of the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement. But what is this movement and where it is going? And if it is “the biggest challenge to capitalism since the 1960’s” we think it is too early to say. But in its present form of street marches against world leaders, much bigger challenges to capitalism have taken place in the last 30 years.

The first was the survival of the Soviet Union until 1991. That was a much bigger challenge than the ACM so far. It was such a big challenge that the ‘West’ mounted something called a ‘Cold War’ against it. The reason for this was that the Soviet Union still represented a post-capitalist society that was, despite the rule of the Stalinist dictatorship over the workers, a massive historical leap ahead of capitalism that acted as a beacon for the world’s workers.

But then the SWO would know all about that having been apologists for Stalin in their earlier history as the Communist Party of NZ until they abandoned the SU as ‘imperialist’ to back the Chinese, only to then abandon the Chinese to back the Albanians. When asked in the late 1980’s why the CPNZ regarded Albania as the ‘socialist fatherland’ the CP would reply: “because the workers are armed”.

In 1991 when the Albanian Stalinist regime was brought down by a popular uprising, the CPNZ covered its tracks and looked around for a suitable replacement. They found the SWP in Britain, who had the infamous distinction of refusing to defend the SU because they said it was ‘state capitalist’ from 1929.

The SWO is now part of this current that refused to defend the SU only 12 years after the 1917 revolution and 70 years before the final restoration of capitalism. The SWO combines a rotten record of responsibility for the Stalinist betrayals of the world revolution the most critical being in Germany in 1933 when Stalin split the labour movement and allowed Hitler to survive, with its betrayal of the degenerated workers’ states. If you can’t defend a revolution you cannot make one either.

Then there are the massive struggles for independence such as the liberation of the Portuguese Colonies in Africa and the end of dictatorships in Portugal, Greece and parts of Latin America. The most important was the victory of the Vietnamese over the US in 1975. These were struggles that actually involved armed struggles and seizures of power.

Then there were the strikes in the 1970’s and early 1980’s such as the Miners’ strike in Britain in 1984. The problem was that these huge struggles were defeated by the social democrats who introduced austerity policies in the 1970’s, and then the neo-liberal offensive of the 1980’s and 1990’s. On top of this was the victory of imperialism over the degenerated workers states in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and currently, China and Vietnam.

“In stark contrast, the CWG …totally write off the western anti-capitalist movement in an extremely sectarian manner. The CWG’s magazine says the western anti-capitalist movement is a “symptom” of all the past “defeats” of workers, and claims it has “no class base”.

Let’s look at both of these points. The ACM IS a ‘symptom’ of past defeats of workers. If it were not the case then the ACM would have built itself on top of victorious struggles from the 1970’s to the 1990’s and have successfully defended the degenerate workers states from the restoration of capitalism. Such an ACM would look very different. It would be led by strong communist currents capable of creating the preconditions of workers power – namely an armed and independent working class headed by a revolutionary Bolshevik party. What do we see instead?

The ACM is made up of a loose coalition of unionised workers, petty bourgeois bureaucrats, anarchists and some left bourgeoisie NGO’s and celebrities. That is what we mean by “no class base”. The workers in the organisations are mixed up with petty bourgeois and bourgeois. There is no base founded on independent working class organisations. Instead the workers who are involved are either under the domination of union bureaucrats or members of left parties like the SWO that are not organised like the Bolsheviks around democratic centralism but in a loose federation headed by more bureaucrats.

The character of the ACM at the moment unfortunately reflects this lack of a working class base and its dominated by the adventurist tactics of petty bourgeois radicals who have little conception of the nature of capitalism. So the ACM is in fact at this stage very much a ‘symptom’ of the weakness and disorganisation of the left after a period of twenty years of defeats. To pretend that it is anything else is to create false sense of optimism that will only lead to huge disappointment and disillusionment among young people.

“According to the CWG, the western anti-capitalist movement shouldn’t be “taking on the bosses’ state”, making the claim that such direct actions mean the movement “opens itself to state penetration”. The CWG patronise and undermine anti-capitalists “sucked into” the massive Genoa mobilisation, saying they must “stop and think”. The CWG insist that the western anti-capitalist movement must retreat into “defensive struggles”. The CWG declare that only the global South, not the West, contains “real” anti-capitalist movements.”

Such a weak movement should be starting from the ground up, rebuilding the base organisations of the class by supporting defensive struggles against all the attempts to de-unionise, casualise, genderise and racialize the labour movement. At this early stage of rebuilding it is madness to indulge in the adventurist tactic of taking on the heavily armed and prepared bosses state when there is no possibility of defeating the armed power of that state. In its lack of organisation and preparedness the ACM does indeed ‘open itself to state penetration’.

This is not to say that workers never take on the state, or run the risk of being penetrated by the enemy, just that if you make it easy for the bosses to attack you, you are no friend of the working class. While students can go home or back to university, the working class will pay for this adventurism when the state introduces more repressive measures to hamper the rebuilding of its base organisations such as unions.

Is it patronising to tell the left to “stop and think”? No, its patronising to tell the world’s workers that all their struggles over the last 40 years were insignificant compared to the youthful New Left of the 1960’s and the equally youthful New New Left of the 2000’s. In fact its more that patronising, its imperialistic because it puts the sporadic backward politics of Western youth who are against ‘globalisation’ ahead of the much more advanced and ongoing struggles of workers and peasants in the colonial and semi-colonial world. So, yes, ‘stop and think’. That’s why we make the direct comparison between today’s New New Left and that of yesterday that at its best developed into a militant anti-Vietnam war movement.

Only those who think that the ACM is an ‘offensive struggle’ can see ‘defensive struggles’ as a retreat. It is delusional to claim that a few street battles between 1000’s of youth and 1000’s of cops in Western cities are offensive struggles. Such terms have a scientific meaning for Marxists. They relate to the balance of class forces. In a period of upsurge of worker militancy offensive struggles are possible.

But the ACM is not such an upsurge. It may be the beginning of one if it develops strong links to emergent labour organisations. But before it can become one workers have to win the battle on the factory front. It is the strength of labour in controlling production by means of strong unions and victorious strikes that are the indicators of an offensive not street battles away from the site of production. Such battles can never be decisive while the bosses control production.

It is the degree to which the battles in the semi-colonial world are over control of production that allows us to say that they are ‘real’. When thousands of Korean car workers go on strike and occupy a plant that is a ‘real’ struggle for workers control of production. When thousands of youth hire a train to go to Genoa to march up against barricades and unavoidably confront the police that is not a ‘real’ battle for class power since it avoids challenging the bosses’ control of industry.

This is not to say that the ACM cannot turn into such a ‘real’ battle if it reorients towards the working class base. That is the point of our criticism and for that reason it is the opposite of being sectarian.

“And those activists in the western anti-capitalist movement who don’t belong to unions are ardent opponents of the dictatorship of corporate elites and their state backers. In other words, they strongly identify with the liberation struggles of grassroots people. Many are so committed that they’re prepared to put their own bodies on the line in confrontations with the police.”

This is hype to keep the barricade euphoria going between summits. What is an activist unless someone rooted in the working class and militantly fighting to defend jobs, living standards, and basic rights? Any other sort of activist is a classless person without any weight in the class struggle at best, or at worst a provacateur who weakens the labour movement.

What does ‘identifying with grass roots people’ mean? Any common liberal can do this. Is this a qualification for being in the ACM? Putting your body on the line in confrontation with police can mean anything from courage to stupidity, and in any case it is counter-productive unless it is part of a deliberate and organised offensive such as the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917.

“… the Bolsheviks’ retreat from confrontation with the capitalist state in July 1917 was a special case dictated by the very closeness of victorious revolution. Yet the CWG generalise the July 1917 special case to today’s western anti-capitalist movement, which is (sadly) still far from overthrowing capitalism. This sectarian interpretation of the Bolshevik legacy shows that the CWG know little of the dynamics of class struggle.”

Grant Morgan just doesn’t understand the point of the reference in our article to the ‘July Days’ of 1917. The situation in Russia before 1917 was very different to that in which the ACM operates now yet quite similar to that in the semi-colonial world today. That is, workers were engaged in desperate defensive struggles during a reactionary period.

Of course Lenin supported all defensive struggles of workers and peasants against the Tsar and the bosses – just as we support the Korean workers, the Salta picqueteros, and PNG students etc today. In a revolutionary situation as in Russia in July 1917, the Bosheviks tried to stop the workers from prematurely going on the ‘offensive’ against the state.

So today, in Korea, Salta, PNG, Russia etc we are for workers arming themselves, and for campaigning for a general strike to turn defensive struggles into offensive struggles. But we are not for offensive mass mobilisations of workers against the state BEFORE they have already created a power base in their own independent institutions.

We most certainly don’t abandon this caution in situations today that bear no resemblance to the spontaneous defensive struggles of peasants and workers in the period up to 1917, where instead street demonstrations detached from the working class base substitute themselves for actual class struggle. If we would not advocate offensive attacks on the state in a revolutionary situation that is still unripe, we most certainly don’t advocate such attacks by raw and disorganised street marchers in what is still not yet a pre-revolutionary situation. That, Mr Morgan, is the point.

“The CWG suggest that the only anti-capitalist movements worthy of the name are to be found in armed insurrections in the global South. This is a sectarian glorification of the gun regardless of the actual conditions existing within each country and region.”

Sectarian ‘glorifcation of the gun’

This statement is stupid. The “global South” is a totally un-Maxist concept which obliterates the “actual conditions existing within each country and region”. On the contrary we carefully consider the character of countries, their class structure and their political development. We are against guerrillaism as a tactic either in the countryside or in cities. But we defend guerrillas against the bosses. We are opposed to armed adventurism with sticks and placards or AK 47’s. But we give unconditional support to armed struggles against oppression such as Palestine, and we certainly critically support the arming of workers and peasant movements in defensive struggles against state forces such as that in Salta. But more importantly, we called for the redirection of the ACM into a movement against imperialist wars already being fought in the former Balkans and in Latin America. Such anti-war movements would be very worthy of the name ACM.

“Real-life activists in both South and North say it’s critically important to build anti-capitalist movements in all countries, including the West. They all say that every movement strengthens all the others. The Zapatistas in Mexico, the unemployed road-blockaders in Argentina, the anti-IMF students in Papua New Guinea, both inspire and are inspired by the western anti-capitalist movement. When the CWG try to set the movement in the South against that of the North, they act as splitters, regardless of their motivation.”

This is more SWO hype to build the barricade euphoria at the expense of the facts. Why doesn’t Morgan talk about workers? He talks about activists, movements etc as if the label ‘anti-capitalist’ confers working class ‘real life’ status on everyone. Let us inform him that the picqueteros of Salta do not look for inspiration to the ACM in the ‘north’ but to the Palestinians! The workers of South Africa are having general strikes. What motivates them is not the ACM but the oppressive conditions they face. They too have taken the Palestinian cause as their inspiration, a point reinforced by the walkout of the US and Israel from the UN conference against Racism in Durban.

If the ACM has delusions of grandeur it is because they are fuelled by groups like the SWO and people like Morgan whose politics are nothing more than the current version of leftwing imperialism. They fool themselves that they are taking on the ‘heart of the beast’ i.e. imperialism. But to take on the heart of the beast means bringing imperialism to a halt by taking control of production and disarming the imperialist war machine. The ACM’s potential to turn into an anti-war movement at home to defend Palestine, Argentina, PNG, Russia, East Timor Macedonia etc against imperialism will only develop if the current delusions about the ACM such as the SWO promote are smashed.

“Possibly the CWG’s most insane claim is that the western anti-capitalist movement is just a “symptom” of past working class “defeats”. This claim is so sick that it will, I believe, haunt the CWG for the remainder of its existence. All the evidence, of which there is plenty, points in the opposite direction to the CWG’s pessimism. The western anti-capitalist movement is part of an explosion of grassroots anger on a global scale. There’s a generalisation from the “single issue” campaigns that, in the past period of demoralisation, were the highest possible form of struggle. Now people are linking “single issues” with a fight against the whole capitalist system. Such political generalisation is an expression of growing optimism, unity and organisation at the grassroots. Certainly, the ruling elites consider the western anti-capitalist movement to be a very real threat to their class interests. That’s why the next World Trade Organisation summit is being held in the isolated dictatorship of Qatar, and the next G8 big powers’ summit in the remote Canadian rockies, as far away from mass protests as they can get. Many among the ruling elites themselves admit they’re losing the battle for legitimacy in the wake of huge anti-capitalist mobilisations in the West. The rulers of the world have been pushed onto the defensive for the first time in decades.”

To proclaim that we are living in a period of offensive struggles based on street demonstrations that have forced world leaders to retreat to the desert or the mountains is ridiculous. The phrase ‘losing the battle for legitimacy’ fools no one. The legitimacy of capitalist rule is not challenged by intermittent street protests but by general strikes. To turn these disorganised street battles into proof that the bosses are on the run is plain stupid.

If the rulers of the world are on the defensive, why are they crowing about China joining the WTO? Why are they backing the US push for the FTAA and the dollarisation of Latin America? If they are on the run why do the Israelis bomb a few more Hamas leaders and threaten to kill Arafat? Why get ready to buy up Japan and why launch a new star wars program?

In a bureaucratic organisation like the IST such illusions become insulated from challenge. The SWO’s own former sister organisation in the USA the ISO has been kicked out of the IST for being ‘sectarian’ because it expressed perfectly reasonable doubts that the ACM represented a new period of offensive upsurge.

‘Yet, claim the CWG, the western anti-capitalist movement is a failure, and to get anywhere it must follow the CWG’s prescription of retreat into “defensive struggles”. In other words, the CWG want the movement to retreat back to the past era of despair and demoralisation, when only “defensive struggles” were possible, and give up the confident and generalised attack on the whole system of global capitalism. The CWG are so far off the ball, they’re playing another game altogether.’

Its not case of what we want. If we could have what we ‘want’ we would be living under socialism. It is a case of what is real and what is necessary right now. We do not claim that the ACM is a failure. We say that it needs to ‘grow up’. There is a difference. As with small children you help them grow up. You don’t condemn them for not being adults.

Where the children are being badly misled by disoriented and authoritarian adults however, we reserve the right to tell them they are wrong. It is wrong to mislead Western youth into thinking they are the new vanguard because they are against the capitalist ‘system’ as if the worker and peasant struggles in the semi-colonial world are not already in the vanguard. To acknowledge defeat is not to be demoralised it is to confront the causes so they can be overcome. On the contrary to fear defeat and refuse to acknowledge it means you cannot distinguish between victory and defeat and avoid the road to more defeats.

We know what game show the SWO is on. Its called ‘Opportunism Knocks’. It is hosted by the British SWP and fronted by Alex Callinicos who decided that after Seattle the world has entered a new period of history. Recently Callinicos argued that the ACM represents a new period because a significant minority now see the ‘capitalist system’ as the cause of all the world’s problems. (See our review of his “ACM and Revolutionary socialism” in the next issue of CS).

But this is self-evidently not the case otherwise the ACM would be attacking the heart and not the head of capitalism. It would be organising the working class to take over production rather than attacking the bosses for doing what all bosses do, exploit workers. A new period will only arise when the working class makes a transition from defensive struggles over jobs, wages and rights to offensive struggles for control over production and for state power.

SWO on Imperialist War?

To prove our point that we are in a period of democratic counter-revolution where workers’ struggles are still defensive rather than offensive, the new US ruling class’s war drive to smash terrorism finds the SWO disoriented. This war proves that the US ruling class and its allies can mobilise nationalism and racism to dragoon the large majority of Western workers behind the drive for war. Many of those who are against the ‘capitalist system’ find that they are against ‘terrorism’ more.

It is an open admission that this is the case in the US and Europe that the IST has opted for an opportunist approach to build broad cross class opposition to the war. Everywhere anti-war groups are being set up the IST opposes anti-imperialist fronts or even fronts that specify that it is a US war drive that has to be opposed. Yet in their own propaganda they talk about imperialist war and raise the slogan STOP AMERICA’s WAR

What’s going on here? On the one hand the IST calls for a popular front with pacifists. On the other its own line is to stop ‘America’s’ war. In reality there is no difference. ‘America’s war’ does not mean the war promoted by the US ruling class, but the war promoted by Bush and his right wing clique. It is a slogan that fits with the Greens, Chomsky, and the democratic left in general, which is that the ‘war’ is not a symptom of US imperialism, but a symptom of an evil aberration in US capitalism which can be corrected by mobilising a radical democratic majority to convict the military industrial elite of war crimes.

In other words the IST has completely exposed its opportunist anti-capitalist position by its stand on the US imperialist war plans.

While it was obvious to us that the ISTs anti-capitalism did not seriously challenge the radical democratic program to reform capitalism, their advocacy of the Stop the War position means that they are prepared to allow the pacifists to lead the anti-war movement.

As self-professed ‘trotskyists’ they should know that popular fronts are death traps for workers because they prevent them from taking an independent class line on imperialist war. A cross-class anti-war movement will remain dominated by petty bourgeois pacifists who role is to divert worker mobilisation for direct industrial action against the ruling class and it military machine back towards parliamentary solutions.

There is only one way to fight an imperialist war and that is on an anti-imperialist platform that mobilises the working class to confront the class enemy at home. Anti-imperialists are not in favour of Stopping the War. The war will stop if the victims of imperialism are defeated. To prevent that we have to wage war against imperialism. That is why we say that program of revolutionaries is to turn imperialist war into civil war!

Down with vacillators and opportunists!

Down with petty bourgeois pacifists!

Victory to workers in the class war!

Class Struggle No 41 October-November 2001

Written by raved

August 28, 2007 at 9:08 pm


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The reports that have flooded in from Genoa demonstrate what we have said since Seattle. There is no class base or organisation to this form of protest. Genoa proved this when 250,000 mainly workers were upstaged by battles between a few hundred anarchists and the cops causing the death of Carlo Giuliani. The revolutionary socialists that allowed themselves to be sucked into this protest need to stop and think. What we need is a strategic redirection of revolutionary youth in support the real anti-capitalist struggles developing all around the world such as those in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Korea, South Africa and Argentina.

The problem with the ACM is that it is an expression of the weakness of the working class in the current period. In the last 20 years the workers’ movement has suffered major setbacks. Not only have the unions and the social democratic parties in the imperialist world been typically replaced by Blairite liberal parties and non-unionised, casualised workplaces, but the defeat of the USSR and EE DWS’s has brought about a world-historic defeat for workers everywhere.

The ACM is a symptom of these defeats. It is based on a non-class mainly youth ‘movementism’ with few organic connections to the surviving labour movement. Instead of rebuilding the labour movement to take power in the workplace, the ACM movement aims for the highly protected and armed state machine whose very purpose is to repel attacks on bourgeois class rule. Instead of real class politics, the ACM indulges in staging televised street battles that are not strategically or tactically capable of building a working class seizure of power. Quite the opposite.

Events at Genoa show that the bourgeois state is prepared to use force to protect the interests of the ruling class. Therefore taking on the bosses’ states is not a smart tactic. Attacking its armed head is not the way to destroy the beast. Rather it is an invitation to the bosses to destroy the most advanced layers of young workers in isolation of the masses of workers. The ACM opens itself to state penetration and exposes new layers of young communists to the repressive forces isolated from the massed working class. Genoa showed that 100,000s of well-organised protestors could be disorganised and exposed to police attacks by the action of a few hard-core anarchists. Those links between anti-capitalist youth and the unions in the imperialist countries, and with the anti-capitalist struggles in the semi-colonial world are undermined by this lack of discipline.

The youth vanguard of the new new left needs a strong dose of Bolshevism. The Bolsheviks did not call for suicidal attacks on the state machine. Even when workers spontaneously rebelled during the July days in 1917, the Bolsheviks knew that they were not yet strong enough to take power and called on workers to pull back. Only when they had prepared the ground by creating ‘dual power’ where the workers had their own mass forces and militia, did they embark on an open attack on the state.

Such ‘dual power’ meant that workers had established control of industry, had formed workers’ militia and had won over crucial sections of the army. This meant that the working class had the capacity to challenge the ruling class state power and by defeating that power create a workers’ state.

Such a necessary development is lacking in the imperialist countries but it is emerging rapidly in the semi-colonial world where basic defensive struggles for jobs, welfare, workers rights and living standards come up against not only imperialist financial domination but also military repression. Such is the situation in South Korea, in Russia, in Papua New Guinea and in Argentina right now.

These struggles are not based upon adventurist attacks on the state. Rather they are actions that arise from demands for fundamental rights and conditions destroyed by imperialist super-exploitation. When imperialism forces the semi-colonial states in Korea, Russia and Argentina to cut jobs, wages and welfare, workers protests bring state repression. In each case workers strikes are met with state violence. In Korea and Russia police violence has driven the union leaders underground or face arrest. In Papua New Guinea when the police shot three students protesting at IMF austerity measures, elements of the armed forces joined the protest. In Salta, Argentina when police attempted to break up street barricades they were met with armed defence.

In all of these situations the necessary defensive struggles of organised workers and students leads to them taking steps to arm themselves against the state forces. The logic of these actions is the general strike and the formation of workers militia. In this event imperialism will launch military attacks and back the local state forces in suppressing workers uprisings. In Argentina, the fear that the insurrection in Salta will spread has led the President de La Rua to call for US military exercises in the region. Already in Colombia and Bolivia, US troops and intelligence forces are active in suppressing popular peasant insurrections. These military operations are crudely disguised as anti-narcotic ‘plans’ such as in Colombia or ‘peacekeeping exercises’ in Argentina. However they are dressed up they can only take place because the anti-capitalist movement in the imperialist countries is too weak to prevent them!

That is why the ACM in the North needs to become united with the ACM in the South in actual struggle. It is not sufficient to demand that debts be forgiven when already the imperialist military are deployed to enforce debt repayment!

It is not sufficient to demand respect for human rights when already the imperialists have broken up and ‘recolonised’ most of Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, and terrorised the populations of Iraq and Palestine! The so-called ‘peaceful’ settlements in Palestine, South Africa and Ireland have all broken down because in the semi-colonial world, imperialism cannot continue to make super-profits and meet even the most fundamental democratic rights at the same time. The ACM in the North needs to grow up quickly and learn some basic lessons from the 1970’s when the anti-war movement physically tried to stop the US military from fighting in Vietnam.

The ACM will come of age when it succeeds in uniting workers, unemployed and poor peasants in an armed struggle to repel imperialism both in the semi-colonies and in the heartlands. To do so it has to refrain from adventurist attacks on the state and rebuild defensive struggles around the heart of capitalist production. That is the first step in creating workers power. Only when workers control industry, have built self-defence organisations and can win over rank and file conscripts in the armed forces, will they be the position to make the final assault on the head of the beast.

Class Struggle No 40, August-September 2001

Written by raved

August 28, 2007 at 8:53 pm


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Mass protests against the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec in April continued the upsurge of the anti-globalisation coalition around the world. The target this time was the re-colonisation or ‘dollarisation’ of Latin America. We assess the prospects for turning this rising populist protest into a revolutionary movement.

Seattle, Washington, Davos, Prague, Melbourne, Nice, Quebecand the list goes on to Barcelona, Genoa and beyond. These are the locations of past or future anti-capitalist protests of meetings of the world’s rich organisations and clubs such as the WTO, IMF, and World Economic Forum. At every protest a coalition of left groups, greens, anarchists, populists, and NGO’s have joined forces with some elements of the unions to physically confront and attempt to prevent these meetings of the rich going ahead.

Quebec was the most recent. So what happened in Quebec that made a difference? The authorities put up a wire fence and succeeded in keeping the protesters away from the venue. But the media focused upon the protesters and not the agenda of the rich club. We learned that the purpose of the meeting of all the Finance Ministers of North and South America (except Cuba which does not meet the US definition of ‘democracy’) was to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas or FTAA.

The FTAA is modeled on NAFTA which was set up in 1992 to link Mexico, Canada and the US in one common market. Since 1992 the effects of NAFTA are clear. Mexico and Canada have been re-colonised by the US. NAFTA allows US firms to take Mexican and Canadian Governments to court if they pass legislation that limits profits. For example Metalclad Corporation got US$16 million from the Mexican Government because it was not allowed to dispose of waste and cause a public health hazard! FTAA will be the same only more. Today the US has a 75% share of the economy of the Americas. Under the FTAA it will gain an even larger share. The whole of the America’s will now become “Amerika”.

This means that as the US turns of the screws by re-colonising the America’s the class struggle will also become united across “Amerika”. Workers in the North and South will now fight alongside one another in one big class, rather than be divided by nationalist politics which weakens and destroys all progessive movements.

Already there are numerous examples of the formation of anti-free trade union and NGO alliances in the Americas. The first Summit of the Peoples of the Americas was held in Santiago Chile in April 1998. Since then many networks and coalitions have been built. Recently a top level coalition the Hemispheric Social Alliance was formed. However, these forces are still mainly international alliances of national organisations.

This is the legacy of the nationalist reformist politics of the post-war period. On the Left the legacy has been to tail bourgeois nationalism. That is why the deadly patriotic front tradition of Stalinism, Maoism, and Guerillaism that accompanied the nationalist politics of the post-war period must now be countered by an increasingly internationalist struggle that has always at the centre of the Trotskyist movement. For not only is the FTAA an instrument for re-colonising the America, under the WTO, World Bank and other agreements, globalisation brings the same free trade regimes to Asia and Africa. The potential for a global anti-capitalist movement to fight to unite workers in many countries is now a real prospect.

This is a big happening. Most of the left has become caught up in the enthusiasm of this struggle. The SWP thinks it’s the biggest thing to hit the class struggle since the Vietnam War. The SWP has split from its sister organisation the ISO in the US because it claims the ISO does not recognise the importance of the anti-capitalist phenomenon.

The SWP thinks that this “new, new left” opens up the opportunity for a rapid regroupment of the left. To prove this is possible the SWP is having talks with the LCR in France, part of the International Secretariat, the main ‘Trotskyist tendency’. Both are prepared to ‘sideline’ their differences over the defence of the former SU and focus on the main tasks of today.

However, neither of these tendencies has a record of struggle that gives us confidence in their leadership of a new regroupment of the revolutionary left. They both have a history of jumping onto bandwagons and calling them new ‘vanguards’ to replace the traditional labour movement. The current bandwagon of the anti-capitalist movement is a ‘youth bandwagon’, which has come around several times before in the post-war period. Each time youth were backed as more revolutionary than workers. The most famous was the ‘new left’ of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The ‘new left’ was more liberal than Marxist. Arising out of the post 1956 de-Stalinization it was a pacifist, humanist socialism, based mainly in the educated youth of the US and Europe. It protested the Vietnam War and rampant consumer capitalism, but it never joined forces with the conservative, established labour movement. Neither survived the austerity of the 1970’s nor the neo-liberal attacks of the 1980’s and 1990’s as a force for change. Some of the more colourful leaders of the new left became establishment figures but most dropped out of left politics.

If the new left failed to unite with workers and build a revolutionary party at a time when labour was relatively strong, what will the new new left achieve at a time when labour is weak, and the power of the US hegemonic apparatus is on the rise? The weakness of the old new left will be compounded by the absence of any strong labour movement and left politics to graft onto the new generation of youth who have no history of class struggle. As Trotsky said of the late 1930’s the crisis of capitalism is the crisis of revolutionary leadership. Today the crisis of capitalist globalisation is even more acutely the crisis of revolutionary leadership.

The class basis of resistance has to be re-created from the base up. The anti-capitalist bandwagon cannot side step rebuilding the labour unions by taking a cyberspace detour. Without the unions there is no ‘school for revolution’ (Trotsky). This is because only by fighting capital in the space of production is it possible to bring workers’ power to bear on capital.

Taking on the state machine on the streets and barricades can only win when workers control the military and state forces. This will not happen until workers build militia to defend their workplaces from strike breaking and state repression. Hyperreal fictions that reality is anywhere but production are scenarios for disaster.

So today as never before, the anti-capitalist movement needs revolutionary Marxist theory and practice. The new generations need to learn the lessons of successful revolutions and failed revolutions. That is why we have no confidence in the SWP or LCR as a new leadership. Both tendencies never learnt the lessons of the Bolsheviks and liquidated themselves as vanguard parties in the post-war period. The SWP rejected the defence of the SU the supreme test of Bolshevism. The IS rejected the working class vanguard for a number of non-worker vanguards. Neither can claim to even recognise the roots of their problems. So they cannot learn from their mistakes.

The basic lessons are:

class agency; class independence; and the democratic centralist party. Lets briefly define each of these.

  • Class Agency: only the working class can lead an anti-capitalist revolution. This is because the working class produces surplus-value and can use its power to stop production. Thus workers must build workplace organisations and united unions across international borders to control production.
  • Class Independence: the working class must lead all other oppressed classes (e.g. peasants) and groups (poor, unemployed, gay etc) in the struggle for socialism without making any concessions to the bourgeoisie or other hostile classes. The united front is counter-posed to the popular front.
  • Democratic centralist Party: the working class becomes an agency for revolution only when it is led by a revolutionary vanguard party organised on a democratic centralist basis. Democratic centralism in Lenin’s view allows the party to unite theory and practice in the struggle and constantly test its program for revolution.
  • Each of these lessons/principles of Bolshevism can be applied to the anti-capitalist movement today in the following way:

  • Class Agency: Many in the anti-capitalist movement do not see capitalism as about classes. They see it as a coalition of social movements that cut across classes. (e.g. the famous reference to the Zapatistas being viewed as gay, feminist, union, indigenous, black etc depending upon which aspect is identified with by any given social movement.) This pluralist concept of oppression/social movements has be critiqued by class analysis and a coalition built based upon working class leadership.
  • Class Independence: Working class independence becomes the basis for building the movement. Instead of confronting MNC capital at conventions and on the streets, workers should unite internationally to fight capitalism on the job. The target of free trade can then be replaced by the target of the MNC’s plants in a number of countries. Instead of entering popular or patriotic fronts (eg Mexico) to fight ‘free trade’ (which is only a symptom of the weakness of workers to reject low wages and conditions) international united fronts to win concessions from MNC’s in every country can be formed.
  • Democratic Centralist Party: Within the united fronts in which workers organisations take the lead, there has to be a no holds barred fight among revolutionary tendencies to create a revolutionary party on the model of the Bolshevik party. Patriotic frontists, reformists, nationalists, opportunists, ultralefts etc. have to be confronted and defeated in the struggles in the same way the Bolsheviks defeated the Mensheviks and ultralefts.
  • Turn the anti-capitalist movement into a
    Revolutionary Communist International!
    From Class Struggle, No 39 June-July 2001