Aufheben #8 Editorial

For the first time in more than half a century, the main Western powers have been conducting a war in Europe. The tragedy of the Kosovo war was the sheer absence of an adequate internationalist response.

The war itself and the paucity of opposition can both be understood in terms of the current state of the class struggle. For bourgeois ideologues, the 'defeat of socialism' (in actual fact the retreat of social democracy and the collapse of Stalinism) was supposed to usher in a new golden age of free trade and economic growth. Yet only just over a year ago the financial crisis originating from the Far East sparked fears among the bourgeoisie that a world slump and even the collapse of the world financial system was in the offing. The crisis spread, but the US economy has so far proved able to withstand the pressures. Indeed, since then, with the continued recession in Japan and with Germany still in the doldrums, it is only the strong growth in the USA that has kept the rest of the world economy afloat.
A world financial crisis would have seen a return to austerity and mass unemployment in the USA and Britain. But the fading of the imminent threat of crisis has instead allowed the continued implementation of 'Third Way' policies in Britain and America, and their 'new reformist' equivalents in Europe. As we discuss in our latest article on the retreat of social democracy, at the heart of the Third Way is a relatively expensive ideological offensive intended to drive into the labour-market many categories of people that have hitherto subsisted outside it. This form of re-imposing work is different from the old social democratic 'concession' of full employment. Unlike the 'gains' of social democracy, the policies of the Third Way and the new reformism reflect the weakness rather than the strength of the working class.
The limits of the opposition to the war can likewise be attributed to the retreat of social democracy and the chronic weakness of the working class. Whereas in the past a broad anti-war movement could have been be expected in Britain, on this occasion many of the kind of people that would have comprised such a movement - 'Old Labour' socialists, pacifists, CND-types etc. - have lined up behind the New Labour Government. Sharing Third Way and new reformist values of 'fairness' and 'justice', the NATO nations' expressed rationale for the bombing was 'humanitarian intervention'. In the absence of any obvious vested material interest to explain the war, the only choice that disillusioned leftists and confused liberals could therefore recognize was between the Third Way and barbarism. Of course, as the war proves, the Third Way simply is barbarism: it has served to legitimize a war in a way that traditional appeals to 'the national interest' would have found impossible.
However, the absence of an adequate opposition to the war does not reflect a general acquiescence, an absence of overt antagonism. Only a few weeks after the war ended, London witnessed the most impressive outbreak of mass 'public disorder' since the 1990 poll tax riot. Despite the eclecticism and the one-sided equation of capital with the financial markets in the June 18th publicity, the event itself was uncompromising. It provided a superb opportunity for antagonistic tendencies to express themselves - which they did in exemplary fashion by smashing the properties of the financial centre and bricking the cops. The resistance simply asserted itself without permission or mediation from anyone. Those 'revolutionary' critiques of June 18th which focus only on its literature and prior ideology miss the point; criticisms of the ideas might be correct in themselves, but they are only at the level of ideas.[1] The action was considerably more eloquent and articulate than the leaflets in its critique of capital.
Thus June 18th was far beyond the imagination of the depressing and leftist-dominated national demonstrations against the war. Yet if the war was a function of the current state of the class struggle, why didn't those involved in the 'carnival' turn their energies towards fighting the war? No doubt most of those at the June 18th event in London felt opposed to the war, but it is apparent that few of them regarded the war as the central and most pressing crisis of the moment.[2] We must acknowledge and welcome the fact that this co-ordination strove for a greater coherence than past anti-car Reclaim the Streets events by turning its attention to what it understands as the source: capital. But there is an issue of what capital is. If we are fighting 'capital' then we must constitute ourselves as the proletariat. From a proletarian perspective, the war should have been the central concern rather than one issue amongst others.
While the triumph of social democracy demobilized the working class as the agent embodying and linking struggles over bread-and-butter issues (such as wages) with 'utopian' desires (such as revolution), the decline of social democracy has seen no organic re-linking of the different moments of resistance to capital in a single practical critique: no re-born proletarian movement. The antagonistic tendencies remain fragmented. June 18th at least offered a forum for unity through shared practical opposition to the G8 and capital. Yet it was a formal unity which pre-supposed the existing fragmentation of the struggle against capital into different 'issues'.
A recurrent theme in both our articles on the retreat of social democracy and our series on the nature of the USSR, is that it is not markets that define capitalism, but wage-labour: markets only realize value; they do not produce it. Yet, of course, capital, as self-expanding value, seeks to extend and realize itself; it seeks markets even where state-forms and class struggle restricts it. War and G8 summits are both means of achieving this extension and realization. Capital is not a thing but a social relationship that develops and takes different forms. Recognizing capital and its moments is to recognize ourselves as the proletariat.
September 1999

[1] See the two critical articles in Uniundercurrents 6 and 7 (c/o Sussex Autonomous Society, Falmer House, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 8DN) and the article 'Wrong direction: On reclaiming a one-way street' by George Forrestier in the forthcoming Reflections on June 18th.
[2] See 'War is the health of the state: An open letter to the UK direct action movement' In Do or Die 8 (c/o 6 Tilbury Place, Brighton, BN2 2GY).