Caricatures of Capital

A contribution to the "Reflections on J18" collection, originally printed as part of a debate in Undercurrent.

While claiming that critique of J18 is much needed, the author to the reply dismissed ours as a caricature. We would be the last ones to deny that there has been a lot of caricaturing going on. But the only reason why our text might give that impression, is that its object - the information we have about J18 - is itself caricaturing the world of capital. Our critique of J18 consisted of a number of related points: the fixation on finance capital and evil multinational corporations, the participation in the hype about “globalisation”, accompanied by a problematic localism, to name but the most important ones. The response evades these issues and instead repeatedly claims that the meagre basis on which we wrote our critique led us to distort the issue. However, we criticised precisely that there is nothing further than this “meagre basis” - that is a few leaflets - on which the J18 campaign/co-ordination (whatever difference that makes) is based. It is not our fault that a few small leaflets are so far all the co-ordination has published - it is the very problem. Fair enough, there have been e-mail and other discussion groups, but they are very private discussions. It is the publications made publicly available that represent a certain underlying consensus, and as such are to be taken as expressing the gist of a campaign. Otherwise, what would their purpose be? That to the present day not a single pamphlet bringing together “the multiplicity of positions and interests” has been put out underscores our claim that crucial questions are being neglected in order to keep up a superficial unity of action. Instead of engaging with our critique, the writer explains to us the thorny path of bringing together the various movements around the globe. This obviously requires not asking for “groups’ theoretical credentials”. Yet while it is apparently too arrogant “to check whether or not groups are complicit with capital”, this political indifference does not prevent the writer from claiming that ”June 18th...is rooted in a direct actionist opposition to capitalism.” This contradiction remains a mystery to us, but our main point was something else: that a mobilisation of this type avoids a critical theory of capital and consequently reproduces ideology.

Of course, we are not in any way questioning the necessity of practice and we consider many of the actions planned for the day worthwhile. However, the reply to our previous article, as well as J18 generally, considers theory at most a secondary issue. The main focus is in the ‘action’, and any critical reflection is postponed indefinitely. Even more flagrantly, the author bets on the idea that “the outcomes that result from a practice are not always the ones intended” and that “the secondary effects may be wholly unexpected”... In other words, never mind if we reproduce social-democratic ideology, it might accidentally still end in a social revolution. Not only do we find in the response to our article no refutation of the points we make, but unfortunately they seem more relevant now than before: the latest agit-leaflet is worth quoting at length to illustrate this. It claims: “Our planet is actually run by the financial markets - a giant video game in which people buy and sell blips on electronic screens, trading life for money in their search for higher profits. Yet the consequences of this frenzied game are very real: human lives, ecosystems, jobs and even entire economies [!!sic!!] are at the mercy of this reckless global system”. In reality the world is, of course, not run by the financial markets. Capital is a system of relations of production of which the financial markets are but a (necessary) offspring. To fixate the attack on them is to turn the world upon its head, resulting in such absurdities as complaining about the damages made to “jobs” and even “entire economies” which are apparently just as innocent as “ecosystems and human lives”. Since of course these “entire economies” are capitalist, this J18 statement affirms what it pretends to attack1. This feels like stating the obvious. Although no one can deny the importance of financial markets, this passage simply reasserts a view of capitalism we tried to refute in the last article. Is this the further reflection resulting from the “what is capitalism?” conference?

This misconception of finance capital was one of the points we tried to raise, and not, as the writer claims, that nothing matters except the factories. We mentioned the factories in order to attack J18’s fixation on the financial centres; a fixation that is an obstacle for a critique of production. Of course, capital forms all of social life and not just production in the factories, and reclaiming the streets is one adequate response to this. The J18 co-ordination is undeniably one between many different groups with radically opposing views. This on the one hand shows a serious lack of consensus, and a blurry amalgam of groups that don’t even necessarily have the same basic aims. On the other hand, and paradoxically, it is also the expression of a consensus: anything will do, as long as it fits with the vague anti-globalisation attitude. That, as we noted, this resentment can also be found on the political Right, e.g. the French Front National, does not seem to bother the author - instead, he claims that we suggested that J18 would like to include the Front National in its long list. Obviously, we never did, but the co-ordination is already, even without any Fascists, “scarily incoherent”. Since the author dismissed our article as mere caricature and did not engage with the points we raised, there is nothing new we can say. Except maybe that “Economies versus Financial Markets” - this latest caricature of anti-capitalism - is even worse than the stuff we had referred to in the last undercurrent. It seems our critique was not a caricature, but an understatement.

P.S. We refuse to be compared to vegans (see ‘Hitler was a Vegetarian’, uniundercurrent #6)

(1) For an analysis of how capital presents itself in such a way as to facilitate the emergence of an “anti-capitalism” that is a one-sided attack on the abstract side of capital (e.g. finance capital) while affirming the “concreteness” of labour and production, and how furthermore this “anti-capitalism” relates to anti-Semitism, see Moishe Postone, ‘Anti-Semitism and National Socialism’, in Germans and Jews since the Holocaust: the changing situation in West Germany, ed. Anson Rabinach/Jack Zipes, New York and London 1986. We do not, however, want to suggest that J18 is anti-Semitic.