Capitalism - the system that unites us in struggle
Some people talk about Capital as if it is outside of our everyday lives - a shadowy conspiracy, a bunch of men with fat cigars in a smoky room. Perhaps they might identify Capital as the banks, the bosses or the multinational corporations. But Capital is not something separate from our lives, it is not something we could simply smash with a stone (if we could get hold of enough stones). It’s not just about profit, not just about money, it’s the way we relate to each other and the society we are part of - in our street, at work, in our towns, cities, nationally, globally.
Capitalism isn’t the bank - the bank is just symbol of Capital. The bosses aren’t Capital, they are just the scum which floats to the top. Not multinationals, Governments or markets either, they are just the structures of Capital. Capital is more than the sum total of 'Capitalists' or Capitalist companies. Capital is a social relation. Capital is the way we live, the way we reproduce ourselves and our world - the entire organisation of society as it is today: economically, politically and socially. Capital is the reduction of everything to a commodity: us, our labour, our ideas, our lives, our loves, our children, our hopes, our dreams.
Capital condemns us to a lifetime of work - every advance in “productivity” turns out to be another opportunity to impose more work. Every aspect of society has become a function of work - even unemployment, reproduction and education. Every minute of that work is a minute worked for Capital. Of course we have to make a living - but the Capitalists are making a killing! Every profit made is a profit for the Capitalists. Every effort is a commodity to be bought and sold. Capitalism makes our “free” time into work time, lives like a parasite off the efforts of our labour and creates a world of alienation. Alienation from the things we produce, from our values, from each other, even from ourselves.
Capitalism is a society divided by class: between the elite that run society and everyone else who has to do the work that makes that society function. At its bluntest, between bosses and workers. This is one of the fundamentals of the way Capitalism works - it cannot operate any other way. We don’t create this division, Capital does. Class analysis is a tool that we can use for change: understanding our divided society doesn’t perpetuate the problem, it helps us figure out how to build a classless society. Some people say that class doesn't mean anything anymore, it’s irrelevant (although a recent MORI survey found that 68% of people in the UK said they were “working class and proud of it”). But our reply to that would be - what has changed? There are still very rich and very poor. There are still bosses and workers (even though the boss may tell you you're part of one big "team"), we still sell our labour to survive. The factory chimneys are disappearing, the mines are closing down, but the social relations of Capitalism remain the same, whether you're working behind the counter in Tesco's, in a call centre or bringing up kids. Class is not about accents, ABC1's, wages, geography or aristocrats, it’s about social, political and economic power. Class is not an object, it’s not a fixed position, or a Cosmo checklist, it’s a dynamic social relationship: it’s located in the relationship between Capital and the workers. That relationship, based as it is in the conflict between the ruling class and the working class, will always be a struggle. The middle class really are the piggies in the middle. They are the functionaries of Capitalism: they are both exploiter and exploited, they have some small privileges but no real security, they have the power to sack workers, but can also be sacked. Margaret Thatcher once said that we are all middle class now, that there was no such thing as society. She can say what the fuck she wants, but it doesn't change anything: the working class remains the class with revolutionary potential, because we are the majority class exploited by the minority, we are the ones with nothing to lose and everything to gain. In the end, it’s neither the ruling class nor the middle class that is the enemy: it’s the social relations of Capital.
Capitalism is a world of struggle. Some people will only see that struggle from Capital’s point of view, always seeing working class people as victims, ignoring the battles and victories that have been achieved by the working class, and waiting for Capitalism to collapse from its own contradictions. They see Capital as the cartoon fatcat with a whip and a cigar. We see Capital in a different way: would-be managers riding a tiger's back trying to coerce or cajole their mount along different lines of development, frequently coming within a hair's breath of falling off when the tiger rears or comes to a sudden halt, always in danger of the tiger turning around and ripping these upstarts from its back. We can carry this metaphor too far, for the working class "tiger" is actually a multitude, but the point is made - Capital struggles to hold us every day. The class struggle is not a one-way street.
Capital is a world of pain. Where children die needlessly in their thousands every day from starvation and disease. Where wars are fought for oil. Where the safety of workers comes second to the profit they produce. Where the resources of the world can be plundered and sold. Capital fosters racism and sexism to divide working class people, to build false barriers between us. For the bosses Capital means freedom, common sense and efficiency. They have all the democracy they need in the market - money talks! But their efficiency is built upon waste: the waste of lives and the waste of resources. They allow us the freedom to choose between different brands of shampoo, but we can create other choices: we have the sense to hold everything in common, to create real freedom and real democracy. To be human at last, not workers, not consumers, not commodities. Capital is not the “end of history”, it’s not inevitable, it’s not the only alternative.
anti-Capitalism - the movement of movements
The anti-Capitalist movement is the sum of all the struggles against Capital. It’s a continuum of groups and individuals with a huge range of viewpoints and politics. It’s not a coherent organisation, but a current, a circulation of struggles, a movement of movements. For us it is this diversity that is one the joys of being part of the anti-Capitalist movement. The diffuse nature of the movement means there can be no fixed positions, no leader and no monolith to follow (although some have tried!). We are united by our opposition to Capital, not by the direction we are all headed in.
Some people don’t like this diversity. They worry that grounding ourselves in negativity stifles the positive aspect of anti-Capitalism: we are after all trying to build a better world, a world without hunger, without war. A world of genuine democracy and freedom. They think that focussing on what’s bad about Capital might make us look bad. But we don’t need to crush our diversity to change the world. There are as many alternatives as there are anti-Capitalists. The networks of resistance are our strength. The power of the anti-Capitalist movement is its potential to build a real (not just ideological) political struggle of the world’s working class against global Capital.
But local work in communities or workplaces is at a very low level, and that which does take place has no clear reference to being part of a greater whole or global movement. Many activities are purely self-referential (and only of interest to other “activists”). There is a sense of detachment from everyday life and from struggle, leaving activities isolated from cultural and political reference points. Many working class people feel the anti-Capitalist movement is “nothing to do with me”. There is no obvious way for people to make connections with the anti-Capitalist movement or to see their own struggles in the context of that movement. Many people’s implicit anti-Capitalist struggles are not recognised as part of the movement, either by themselves or the rest of the movement.
There are many pressing problems:
How we can translate anti-Capitalist action into our everyday lives - at work, at home, in our communities? How can we celebrate everyday struggles as anti-Capitalist struggles? How can we build communities of resistance that relate to local, national and international issues? How can we work together while respecting our differences? How can we build links that span the world? How can we progress from a protest movement into a social movement?
It’s crucial that the tentative international links that exist between anti-Capitalists are strengthened into real connections: not just of solidarity and support, but in the exchange of ideas and information. Whatever is done, it must be relevant and inclusive. Anti-Capitalists need to be part of working class struggle, not apart from it.