Murdering the dead: Amadeo Bordiga on capitalism and other disasters - Antagonism

Murdering the dead: Amadeo Bordiga on capitalism and other disasters - Antagonism

Antagonism's introduction to a collection of articles by Amadeo Bordiga, looking at how capitalism both exacerbates, and creates, supposedly 'natural' disasters.

Capitalism and other disasters
Earthquakes in India and El Salvador; a ferry sinks off the Greek island of Paros; an airliner bursts into flame at Singapore Airport; drought in East Africa; a train and its passengers burn in a tunnel in the Austrian alps; a petrol tanker explodes in Nigeria; workers die in a factory fire in South Africa; floods in England are hailed as the harbingers of global climatic change. This small sample of disasters represents just the ones that came to our attention while we were putting together this text1.

Capitalism produces disasters almost as quickly as it produces commodities. We could follow a similar trail of the dead anytime, any place, anywhere. That is why the following texts by Amadeo Bordiga are, sadly, still relevant forty years or more after they were first written.

Bordiga for beginners
Bordiga (1889-1970) was a leading figure in what became known as the Italian Communist Left. Active in revolutionary opposition to the First World War, Bordiga went on to become the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) upon its foundation in 1921. Although active in the Bolshevik-led (Third) Communist International, Bordiga was critical of its tactics, denouncing electoral politics and the policy of working with those very socialist parties that had supported the bloodbath of 1914-1918 and the subsequent repression of revolutionary movements in Germany and elsewhere. As a result Bordiga and those who shared his views were manoeuvred out of the leadership of the CP and ultimately out of the party altogether. Bordiga did make one last stand at the 1926 Executive Committee of the Comintern, making him one of the last people to publicly criticise Stalin to his face and survive.

Bordiga was jailed by Mussolini from 1926 to 1930, while many of his comrades went into exile in France and Belgium as the “Italian Fraction of the Communist Left”. After the fall of Mussolini, some militants in Italy established the Internationalist Communist Party (ICP or, in Italian, “PCInt” to distinguish it from the Stalinist PCI), with which Bordiga was associated. The articles gathered here were first published in Battaglia comunista, the ICP’s journal, in 1951, and in Il Programma comunista, the journal of one of two rival ICPs which existed after a split in 1953 (the group responsible for Il Programma later changed its name to the International Communist Party). At this point Bordiga’s influence was minimal, especially outside of Italy, but in the past 30 years there has been an increasing interest in Bordiga’s writings on Marx, capitalism and communism, even amongst those critical of the sectarian party politics of “Bordigism” and Bordiga’s own conception of the party.

A further point we have to acknowledge here is that Bordiga would probably not have approved of publishing a collection of texts under his name. Bordiga and his comrades opposed the personality cults of Fascism, Stalinism and Trotskyism and believed that as a collective process the revolution was essentially anonymous. Bordiga did not therefore sign his articles: “it is the attribute of the bourgeois world that all commodities bear their maker’s name, all ideas are followed by their author’s signature, every party is defined by its leader’s name” (Bordiga, Sul filo del tempo, 1953). We have taken the view that there is little danger of a Bordiga personality cult 30 years after his death, and that his ideas represent a distinctive current that needs to be named in order to act as a point of reference for discussion2.

Defining disasters
What do we mean by disasters? We could say that capitalism itself is an ongoing disaster for humans and the environment, measured not just in death and destruction but in the lost potential of life subordinated to the rhythms of capital. But to narrow things down a little we could, for the sake of the argument, define disasters as massacres that take place without deliberate planning.

Even here, qualification is necessary. If, for instance, chemical factories are planned and built in India with less stringent safety than similar factories owned by the same company in the US, can we really say it is an accident if thousands end up dead, as happened when chemicals leaked from the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal in 1984? If cheap buildings are put up in poor areas at risk of earthquakes, is it just bad luck if they fall down and bury their inhabitants when the earth moves, as in Istanbul in 1999? If medical treatments are denied to those most in need of them, as in the case of HIV/AIDS in Africa is it just “one of those things”?

The massacres here are unplanned only in the sense that no date was set in advance, or orders given to shoot. In this sense disasters are different from wars. Yet the possibility of catastrophe is planned for whenever unnecessary risks are knowingly taken in the planning of new buildings, industrial processes or machines, or when environmental or biological processes are left to take their course without intervention that could prevent them or minimise their impact.

Disasters come in different forms. There are slow-motion disasters, an accumulation of deaths in ones and twos that add up to mass carnage. In the US, “more auto workers were killed and injured each year on the job than soldiers were killed and injured during any year of the Vietnam war”3. Then there are sudden accidents resulting in mass casualties caused by technical failures of machines or buildings, such as train and plane crashes. Finally there are so called natural disasters featuring environmental factors such as floods and droughts, but often with social causes.

In the following essays, Bordiga considers a number of disasters from the 1950s and early 1960s. “Weird and Wonderful Tales of Modern Social Decadence” deals with both the sinking of the liner Andrea Doria in July 1956, with 51 deaths, and the Ribolla mining disaster, which claimed 42 victims. “The Filling and Bursting of Bourgeois Civilisation” and “Murder of the Dead” take as their starting point the 1957 flooding of the Po valley, while “The Legend of the Piave” deals with another flooding disaster in Italy in 1963.

Profit before safety
Bordiga looks in detail at some of the technical factors in each of these disasters, an approach that perhaps reflects his interests and knowledge as an engineer, but he is clear that “In the inhuman system of capital, every technical problem boils down to an economic one, that of the prize to be won by cutting costs and boosting returns”. He contrasts this unfavourably with “The old pre-bourgeois societies [that] had some residual time to think about safety and general interests” (“The Legend of the Piave”).

That capitalism puts profit before safety is perhaps no great revelation, but for Bordiga it is not simply a question of the sloppy, cost cutting operation of complex machinery. The design of technology is in itself seen to be shaped by the society that produces it.

In the case of the Andrea Doria which sank after colliding with another ship, The MV Stockholm, near Nantucket, Massachusetts, Bordiga shows that since “the mania of modern technology is oriented towards economising on the structure”, ship design reduces the dimensions of the hull and dangerously increases that of the superstructure so as to maximise income-generating accommodation: “more or less vulgar luxury or the safety of the human lives on board, this is the anti- thesis... Too many saloons, swimming pools, playing areas, too many decks above the waterline... too much weight and space put into the superstructure, that is that half skyscraper which stands above the waves, full of windows flooding out light where the luxury class has a good time. This all at the expense of the quickwork, the part in contact with the water, whose size and strength provide stability, flotation, course correction after wandering, resistance to attacks by the sea, collisions with mountains of ice, and those with ships” (“Weird and Wonderful Tales of Modern Social Decadence”).

A capitalist ship is therefore capitalist not just because it is operated for profit and staffed by wage slaves, but in its very design. This simple fact continues to have disastrous consequences, testified to by the dead on the Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge in 1987, or in the Greek ferry at Paros in 2000.

Is anybody at the controls?
The attempt by the ruling class to find a scapegoat for disasters - the train driver who fell asleep or the ship’s drunken captain - is mirrored by the radical leftist search for a scapegoat from amongst the ranks of the bourgeoisie, typically the fat cat capitalist. Bordiga’s prognosis is more realistic but also more frightening, suggesting that the ruling class is incapable of preventing disasters even where it might have the will to do so: “when the ship goes down, so too do the first class passengers... The ruling class, for its part incapable of struggling against the devil of business activity, superproduction and superconstruction for its own skin, thus demonstrates the end of its control over society, and it is foolish to expect that, in the name of a progress with its trail indicated by bloodstains, it can produce safer ships than those of the past.” (“Weird...”).

Disasters are shown to arise from the innermost logic of capitalist society, not just from the negligence or malice of individuals (or individual corporations). Bordiga uses Marx’s theory of rent to explain why capitalism will squeeze the last drop out of less productive mines whatever the risk to the miners: “The lignite seams of Ribolla are among the least productive, while those of anthracite in Belgium are the most productive, and where there is no differential rent capitalism can never invest in more expensive installations to increase production and safeguard miners’ lives, unlike in the best mines in France, the Netherlands, England, Germany and America”. Fatally, at the same time “the theory of rent prohibits leaving the last, the most dangerous, mine closed” (ibid)4.

In the case of the Piave floods, where dam building was a major factor in the disaster, Bordiga blames not just “the sacrosanct need for low costs” but “the modern capitalist superstition of the division of labour” and “the most idiotic of modern cults, the cult of specialisation. Not only is it inhuman to hunt down the scapegoat, but also vain, since one has allowed this stupid productive society to arise, made of separate sections. No one is guilty because, if someone takes off the blindfold for a moment, he can say that he gave advice requested by the next section, that he was the expert, the specialist, the competent person” (“The Legend...”).

Communism will abolish the fragmented, specialist view of social and technological problems: “The science and skill of producing and especially of building will, in the future society which will kill the monster of economic return, of surplus-value production, be unitary and indivisible. Not a man’s head, but a social brain above ridiculous separated sections will see without those useful blindfolds the immensity of each problem” (ibid).

Capitalist science is criticised for embodying this division of labour, but also for attempting to apply “perennially valid formulae” to complex local situations when “constructing things fixed to the Earth’s crust”. “The geological problem is not one for the smoking saloon or the test tank. It is one of lengthy human experience based on the proofs of historical building” (ibid).

A positive aspect of these texts is that Bordiga takes disasters as a starting point to advance a critique of capitalist progress quite at odds with marxist orthodoxy in the period in which he was writing. He talks of the “thousands of Italian corpses” carried out to sea by the river Piave having been sacrificed to the bloodlust of “modern bourgeois and patriotic capitalist civilisation and above all to the adorers of its science and technology”. He describes “Progress” as “the lying myth which makes the poor in spirit and the starved wretches bend their backs to it, ready to swear loyalty to this Moloch which every so often and a little bit each day crushes them under the wheels of its obscene carriage” (ibid).

Despite (or maybe because of) technological advances since these texts were written, the world is in many ways a more dangerous place. As Bordiga himself argued: “If it is true that the industrial and economic potential of the capitalist world is increasing and not diminishing, it is equally true that the more virulent it is, the worse the living conditions of the human mass are in regards to natural and historical cataclysms” (“The Filling and Bursting...”).

Bordiga’s suggestion that this is partly due to “a worldwide decline of technology” (Weird and Wonderful Tales of Modern Social Decadence) does not though seem accurate. Rather as the situationist Encyclopedia des Nuisances observed after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster: “no doubt one could find other ruling classes in history who, having lost all historical perspective beyond that of their own survival, sank into a suicidal irresponsibility; but never in the past has a ruling class been able to press such vast means into the service of such a total contempt for life” 5.

Bordiga shows how capitalist social relations impact on technological developments and on the wider environment. But to understand disasters it is not enough to advance a critique of capitalist technology, even if there is a technical element to most disasters. When 58 Chinese refugees suffocated in the back of a lorry recently while trying to enter Britain, what mattered was not the technical details such as the lack of ventilation in the vehicle. The real issue is what forces led them into the lorry: poverty, dispossession and immigration and asylum laws. Similarly most of those killed or injured in train crashes are making journeys to and from places of work dictated by the needs of the capitalist economy.

It’s not natural
“Earthquakes are inevitable, but death in an earthquake is not. Ground tremors do not kill: collapsing buildings do the killing... People died in El Salvador on January 13 [2000] and Gujarat on January 26 because modern buildings - even modern hospitals - fell flat, one floor pancaking on to another as reinforced concrete slabs collapsed like a house of cards. They died because walls that should have been tied to floors fell outwards, removing all structural support, and bringing the roof down. They died because tall buildings swayed in resonance and shook themselves to bits as the ground danced beneath them. People died because they lived on or near unstable hillsides; they died because gas pipes burst, and petrol stations caught fire, because water supplies failed and sewage flooded their basements” (Tim Radford, “Lessons from Past Disasters go Unheaded”, Guardian, 29 January 2001).

Today even many believers have stopped believing that disasters like floods and droughts are simply acts of nature, let alone God. In the aftermath of the Orissa cyclone that killed 10,000 people in eastern Indian in 1999, and the drought in the horn of Africa (2000), the charity Christian Aid argues “that is wrong to call these catastrophes natural now that we are aware of the creeping menace of global warming which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels”. 6

Bordiga is prescient in his understanding of the links between (capitalist) human intervention and so-called natural disasters, stressing the role of “the disastrous deforestation of the mountains” in the flooding of the Po, which forced 100,000 people to flee their homes.

Capitalism cannot save us from disasters because its short term economic interests are what drives it, not the long term conditions of life on the planet: “No capital will be invested for the good of our great-grandchildren”. So since “high growing trees... always require a very long period before yielding a useful product” (100 years or more for oak trees), there is little incentive to plant them. Likewise today, catastrophic global climatic change in the near future is not a sufficient reason to reduce carbon emissions and present day profitability.

It is not just because preventing disasters is expensive that capitalism fails to invest. Bordiga shows that capitalism is driven by “the ravenous hunger for catastrophe and ruin”, that it needs destruction. While disasters can destroy capitalist property, “The wealth that disappeared was that of past, ages-old labour. To eliminate the effect of the catastrophe, a huge mass of present-day, living labour is required” (“Murder of the Dead”).

For Marx, “Capital is dead labour, which, vampire like, lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.” Bordiga goes a step further and shows that “To exploit living labour, capital must destroy dead labour which is still useful. Loving to suck warm young blood, it kills corpses”. Hence “capitalism, oppressor of the living, is the murderer also of the dead” (ibid).

This somewhat gothic imagery is used to make a fundamental point. Buildings, bridges, roads, like consumer goods, are the products of “past crystallised labour”, dead labour. The big profits are made when they are built, but they are only built once - unless they are destroyed and need to be built again. Thus “Modern capital... has a great interest in letting the products of dead labour fall into disuse as soon as possible so as to impose their renewal with living labour, the only type from which it ‘sucks’ profit. That is why it is in seventh heaven when war breaks out and that is why it is so well trained for the practice of disasters” (ibid). The principle is the same as with the built-in obsolescence of consumer goods, a point Bordiga emphasises in relation to the motor industry: “Car production in America is massive, but all, or nearly all, families have a car, so demand might be exhausted. So then it is better that the cars last only a short time” (ibid).

In the case of the Po valley floods, it might have been the case that “the maintenance of the Po embankments for ten kilometres requires human labour costing, let us say, one million a year” but “it suits capitalism better to rebuild them all spending one billion”. Disasters are good for business: “high incomes thrive where high levels of destruction occur, big business deals being based on them”. It is the working class who lose “everything in the disaster, but unfortunately not their chains” (ibid).

The spectacularisation of disasters
Nothing exposes the reality of class society more than a disaster, yet disasters are frequently the occasion for the political/media orchestration of a national spectacle of mourning, in which all social divisions are supposed to be dissolved in tears. The spectacularisation of disasters has become more sophisticated in the years since Bordiga wrote, with events immediately framed as disaster movies, and each new bout of media saturation tending to erase the memory of its predecessor.

But the basic format remains the same: “Commodity society... fogs the issue with enquiries, funeral masses, the bonds of fraternity in which one can discern only the fraternity of the chain gang, crocodile tears and promises of legislation and administration to attract others ‘without reserves’ to ask to take their places in the funereal lift cages - hats off to technology!” (“Weird...”).

In the aftermath of the Po floods, “It was too late to pull the homeless out of the flooding Po, but good play was made of MPs and ministers paddling about in their wellies after setting up cameras and microphones for a world-wide broadcast of their lamentations” (“Murder of the Dead”). Bordiga’s description here recalls the antics of modern ambulance chasers, possibly most disgusting of all Margaret Thatcher in her unwanted hospital visit to the Hillsborough survivors after the massacre of 95 football fans in Sheffield in 1989, crushed while fenced in by cages and cops7.

Like the Italian monarchy, today’s rulers are “great in knowing to rush not to the dance (Pordenone), but to where people are dying of cholera (Naples), or to the ruins of Reggio and Messina, raised to the ground by the earthquakes of 1908” (“Murder of the Dead”).

Disasters and class struggle
If capitalism is incapable of preventing disasters - and indeed actually produces them - it is equally unable to clear up the mess afterwards. True, disasters are often the occasion for military mobilisation, but the first priority of such efforts is always to “safeguard public order” and guard private property.

Emma Goldman described the shooting of looters after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906: “A man was instantly shot as he walked out of a saloon with his arms full of champagne bottles, and another was shot for carrying off a sack of coffee”8. Similar scenes are replayed whenever the state’s infrastructure of control threatens to break down as a result of disaster.

In Luoyang (China) relatives of hundreds of people killed in a recent disco fire blocked traffic and were promptly charged by police. An official said: “The most important thing at present is to maintain stability and keep social order.” There had been no such prompt action to respond to warnings about conditions in the shopping mall where the party took place, a building declared to be one of the most dangerous in Henan province three years previously (Guardian, 29 December 2000).

One aspect which Bordiga does not consider in these articles is that the working class is not simply the victims of disasters, but is capable of responding to them to advance its own needs. This neglect is undoubtedly related to Bordiga’s underestimation of the role of working class self-activity in general.

Disasters are not just the site of destruction but of class struggle. As Harry Cleaver has shown for the Mexican earthquake in 1985 “the movement of the earth sparked movements of people using the devastation in property and the cracks opened in the structures of political power to break through oppressive social relations and to improve their lives”.

For instance, “When landlords and lawyers arrived on the scene the very day of the quake, the people in the community quickly realized that the greatest threat to them would come from these owners trying to take advantage of the situation by tearing down their homes and rebuilding more expensive, higher rent properties from which the former tenants would be excluded”. Anticipating such actions, thousands of tenants organised themselves against this possibility.9

After the earthquake in southern Italy in 1980, it was noted that “The main function of the Army has been conceived and operated as one of social control. Relief came a long way behind, as a social priority.” Radical workers and students linked to the Autonomia movement set up a first aid centre and canteen in one of the worst hit areas near Conza as well as exposing the misappropriation of relief funds by a local colonel, for which some of them were arrested and sent back to Rome accused of “causing dissension among the population”.10

In Bhopal (India), where 200,000 are still living with the chronic effects of the 1984 disaster, there has been continuing struggle down to the present day; at the time of writing women were blocking traffic in the city, burning effigies and shouting “Death to Union Carbide”.11

There are also plenty of examples of collective action to prevent the risks of disaster, in particular strikes over health and safety issues. A major recent example was the lengthy strike at the Hema Chemical Industries plant in Vadodara, Gujerat (India) where workers were suffering the side effects of working with chromium.12 Concern over safety has been one of the issues in strikes by London Underground workers in the UK. The struggles to prevent deforestation in various parts of the world also have a disaster prevention aspect.

No logo: Capitalism without corporations?
The past few years have seen the emergence of a significant international “anti-capitalist movement”, focused particularly on international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We have seen mass demonstrations and riots in the City of London, Seattle, Prague, Quebec, Gothenburg, Genoa and elsewhere. Within this movement there is an awareness of the links between disasters and capitalism, particularly in relation to climate change. This was most explicit in the actions against the UN Climate Convention in the Hague, Netherlands (November 2000) which highlighted the floods in Mozambique earlier in the year.13

Within this movement too there is a contradictory and fluctuating mix of those desiring a radically different society and those asking our rulers to take better charge of the situation. Even within the former category, there is still confusion about what capitalism actually is. We believe that the other texts by Bordiga collected in this volume - “The Spirit of Horse Power” and “The Doctrine of the Body Possessed by the Devil” - provide some useful pointers.

A good example of some of the misconceptions around capitalism is to be found in Naomi Klein’s influential No Logo.14 This book includes some very good descriptions of processes at work in the global economy - the relentless expansion of corporations into all areas of social life, the disappearance of unmarketed space, “branding” as spectacular production, the relocation of work from the west to “export processing zones”, casualisation and so on.

Using Bordiga’s (and Marx’s) analysis we can say that these features of modern capitalism are significant but ultimately superficial. We could imagine a world without Nike, Coca Cola or the Gap where daily life still continued much as before - indeed we need only to look at the former USSR to see that this is the case.

In the former Soviet Union there was little “branding” or any of the other trappings of corporate culture that Klein takes as being characteristic of capitalism. The state, far from being marginalised, was at the centre of the economy. Did this make it any less capitalist? Bordiga is clear that the answer is no. He polemicised against those who held that society was radically different in the USSR because of the state’s role in the economy. The critique is aimed both at Stalinists who argued that “the social programme is enacted when individual property becomes state property, when the factory is nationalised” (“Doctrine of the Body Possessed by the Devil”) and at those who criticised the USSR but saw it as a new form of class society or, like Trotskyists, as a “degenerated workers’ state”.

The example of the USSR shows that capitalism can survive not only without advertising but without the individual capitalist or even the corporation. Despite the high-profile Chief Executives of many modern corporations, the role of the individual capitalist, the top-hatted factory owner of old socialist propaganda, has been diminishing since the dawn of capitalism: “The physical person of the individual master is thus not required, and bit by bit he disappears into the pores of share capital, of management boards, of state-run boards, of the political state, which has become (since a long time ago) entrepreneur and manufacturer, and into the very latest vile form of the state which pretends to be ‘the workers themselves’ and thus is able to tie them to the feet of the sinister steel automatons.” (“The Spirit of Horse Power”).

What characterises capital is its life cycle which “consists only in its movement as value perpetually set in motion so as to multiply itself” (“Doctrine...”). Whether the profit generated in production is reinvested by shareholders, or is used by the state to expand production, the process is essentially the same. The same too is the result for the majority of the population - forced to sell their labour in order to survive and to buy back the products of their and others’ labour through the market (even if that market is controlled by the state).

The State
In one of her most revealingly reformist passages Klein argues: “Political solutions - accountable to people and enforceable by their elected representatives - deserve another shot before we throw in the towel and settle for corporate codes, independent monitors and the privatisation of our collective rights”.

The call for the state to save us from the ravages of capitalism has parallels with those who called in Bordiga’s day for the state to organise public works to prevent disasters. Of course the state could mobilise more resources in disaster management, but we can be sure it would not do so at the expense of capital. We can more easily imagine with Encyclopedia des Nuisances a future global crisis state, legitimising repression and austerity on the basis of saving the planet, “a regime of militarised survival” able to “justify its existence by invoking the need for protection from catastrophes of its own making”.15

The bottom line is that the state is not independent of capital, but the guarantor of it. Capitalism is premised on private property - where “fixed capital” in the form of buildings, factories, land, can belong exclusively to individuals, companies or states rather than being at the disposal of society as a whole for the interests of all. If this were not the case, the situations described so well by Klein would be unthinkable. If it weren’t for private property, workers in garment factories could take the clothes they made home with them and give them to their friends rather than them being exported to western high streets. Or the community could decide to do something else entirely with the factory. Or close it down.

But, as Bordiga points out, a fundamental principle of capitalism “is that the right of the productive enterprise to dispose of the products and the sales proceeds... is unimpaired and unimpairable. What guards this central right in contemporary society is from the outset a class monopoly, it is a structure of power, and the state, the judiciary and police punish whoever breaks this norm” (“Doctrine...”).

Without the state to enforce property relations there can be no capitalism: “Property is a term which does not indicate a purely economic relationship, but also a legal one and brings into discussion not just the productive forces, but also the relations of production. Private property means private right sanctified by bourgeois legal codes: it brings us to the state and to power, a matter of force and violence in the hands of a class... in order to overcome the capitalist economy, the juridicial and state structure corresponding to it must also be overcome” (ibid).

Capitalism is not confined to the workings of corporations to which the rest of society, including the state, stands in some kind of exterior relation. Bordiga anticipates autonomist notions of the “social factory” when he argues that “The economy is the entire social field in which production and distribution occur” with the state merely “a specific organisation acting in the social field” with “the function of policeman and protector of the interests of a class and a type of production corresponding historically with this class” (ibid).

Like many liberal critics of “globalisation”, Klein wants to tame capital rather than abolish it. In relation to sponsorship for instance, she derides talk of some “utopian commercial-free future” and pines for a more “balanced relationship” in which capital knows its place. One hundred and fifty years ago, Marx and Engels demonstrated in The Communist Manifesto that capital knows no place, that ceaseless expansion is its very essence: “uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones... All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind”.

The unwillingness of many in the “anti-capitalist” movement to face the implications of this leaves them unable to go beyond a negative critique and pose a different society. Like Marx, Bordiga understood that ultimately only communism can abolish capitalism - the abolition of classes, private property and the state in the formation of a world human community. No one should underestimate the task of creating such a society, but if this seems unrealistic, it is less so than believing that capitalism can be restrained from its disastrous course by protests, guilt or government action.

This volume was produced, and the introduction was written, by an anonymous collective in the period August 2000 to September 2001. The translations here are based on those originally made by David Brown. Taken from the Antagonism website.

  • 1. The disasters in question occurred in late 2000 and early 2001.
  • 2. For more on Bordiga, see: Communism is the material human community by Loren Goldner in Critique no.23, 1991; The Italian Communist Left 1926-45 (International Communist Current, 1992); Earlene Craver, The Third Generation: the Young Socialists in Italy, 1907-1915, Canadian Journal of History, no. 31, August 1996, pp. 199-226; and “Note on Pannekoek and Bordiga” in Gilles Dauve and Francois Martin, Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement (Antagonism Press, 1997). Bordiga’s conception of the party is discussed in Bordiga versus Pannekoek from Antagonism Press. For a critical discussion of Bordiga and anonymity see Jacques Camatte, “Statements and Citations” 1973, reprinted in This world we must leave and other essays (Autonomedia, 1995).
  • 3. Detroit: I do mind dying, Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin (New York, 1975).
  • 4. Marx sets out his theory of rent in Volume 3 of Capital, demonstrating that the market price of the produce of the land (whether foodstuffs or coal) is established on the basis of the least productive land (absolute rent) allowing the owners of more productive land to make more profit (differential rent).
  • 5. Encyclopedia of Nuisances, volume one No. 8, Paris, 1989 - Abyss (the Chernobyl issue).
  • 6. Christian Aid, Unnatural disasters, May 2000. For a critique of the “naturalness” of 19th century droughts see Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts (London, 2000).
  • 7. See: “Hillsborough - Police Massacre”, Wildcat no.13, Summer/Autumn 1989.
  • 8. Emma Goldman, in Mother Earth no. 1 (May 1906). Thanks to the Shaping San Francisco project for finding this.
  • 9. Harry Cleaver, “The Uses of an Earthquake”, Midnight Notes, No.9, May 1988.
  • 10. “Interview with Two Autonomists”, in Red Notes, Italy 1980-81: After Marx, Jail! - the attempted destruction of a communist movement (London, 1981). Similar practical solidaritywas undertaken in relation to an earthquake in Ancona and floods in Calabria, 1970-71 (Laura F. personal communication).
  • 11. Schnews, 10 November 2000. For reflections on the disaster see George Bradford, “We all live in Bhopal”, Fifth Estate, Winter 1985. Also reprinted in Questioning Technology: a critical anthology (London, Freedom Press, 1988).
  • 12. “Workers in India Strike Over Health and Safety”, Socialist Action, August 1999.
  • 13. See: Green Pepper (Amsterdam), Climate Change Issue, Autumn 2000. The best ongoing source of reports and discussion on Prague, Seattle and the rest is the journal Do or Die ( ).
  • 14. Naomi Klein, No Logo, London, New York, Harper Collins, 2000.
  • 15. Encyclopaedia of Nuisances, volume one No. 8, Paris, 1989 - Abyss.


Dan Radnika
Dec 27 2012 21:12

Just have to point out that the painting used as the cover illustration (above) is called "Age of Catastrophe" (Malcolm Morley, 1976). That's why it was used!

Dec 29 2012 10:14

Very interesting article,the essence of which I have been thinking of recently in that Famine and starvation in Africa is not a natural calamity but deaf to mass murder by the rich and capitalist morality in action.Wall street and the City and the political functionaries of the State know that the result of their economics is mass suffering and starvation.Economic terrorism in action!