Comments on MayDay 2000 - Some MayDay Marxists
An internationalist dimension to left-wing anti-capitalist opposition has been seen in recent protests against such transnational organisations or groupings as the World Bank, IMF, WTO, Davos conference, G7 summit etc. This opposition has taken the form of direct action. Such direct action has been conducted in a number of different areas of the globe; from London to Seattle, from Buenos Aires to Nigeria. We maintain that left-wing anti-capitalists must recognise that the struggle to liberate humanity from a 'late capitalist' world in which transnational corporations and the large imperial states (US, Japan, EU) rule the globe, can only be conducted on an international basis or it will fail.
With respect to MayDay, the internationalist make up of the protest illustrated the potential for the concrete linking of struggles; leftist revolutionary groups around the world - especially from some of the ‘semi-peripheral' countries i.e. Turkey, Iran, Iraq - mixed with revolutionaries from the 'metropolitan centres' of the world capitalist system to participate in the events. This brief link, forged through direct action... must be must be further encouraged and strengthened. Historically there have been chinks of light in this regard; practical links were forged, for example, during the 1970s between left-wing revolutionary Palestinians and revolutionaries engaged in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism in the industrially advanced capitalist countries. Such concrete links are the basis of a genuinely internationalist opposition.
The key factor which seems to link left-wing revolutionaries - irrespective of the specific type of Marxist or anarchist theory they subscribe to - is direct action. The emerging left-wing anti-capitalist movement exists as a force to the extent to which it bases itself around direct action ... During the MayDay protest - and this also took place during the J18 protest - few slogans were shouted; rather, people gathered, marched off, danced and confronted capitalist property and the state.
At this point the question arises: just what kind of force is the nascent left-wing anti-capitalist movement? We believe that this emerging movement constitutes at the present time a propagandistic force .... We must emphasise that we are not setting up a simple dualism between constructive and destructive acts, but instead, seek to explore the necessary interaction of these elements for this propagandistic force to be effective.
The direct action which took place on MayDay involved, in part, the destruction of the property of transnational corporations; that is the McDonalds ‘restaurant: in Whitehall. McDonalds has become a worldwide symbol of the evils of global capitalism: it exploits its workers, its customers and the environment. Consequently, the destruction of the property of this symbol of global capitalism showed a wider audience that there is an emerging movement fighting for the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production...
The destructive features of the direct action were propagandistic in that they ensured that the anti-capitalist protest was reported in the bourgeois press. The reason for this? The news values of the bourgeois mass media are such that violence and destruction are central to their reporting agenda. Firstly they believe it sells newspapers or increases the numbers watching television thus increasing the profits for the news corporations. Secondly, they specifically focus on reporting the violence of an action/demo in an attempt to portray the anti-capitalist struggle in a negative light. Dialectically speaking the bourgeois mass media plays with fire when it attempts to discredit the left-wing anti-capitalist struggle through labelling propagandistic action as `mindless thuggery'. To those disaffected proletarians - who are not presently part of this emerging movement - it shows that there are others who are disaffected with the capitalist system and are prepared to actively oppose it.
A part of the direct action of MayDay involved a guerrilla gardening action which attempted to show that the creation of an alternative to capitalism is possible. In Parliament Square turf was dug up and the old lawn destroyed to pave the way for the construction of something new ... In addition to this, a spontaneous ‘guerrilla art' action occurred; a piece of turf was placed on the head of Churchill's statue to give him a green mohican! This turned a symbol of the old world upside down... It constituted, as the Situationists would say, an act of detournement (see Ken Knabb (ed.), Situationist International Anthology, Bureau of Public Secrets, p8-14). With these actions a section of the urban environment, was temporarily turned into a liberated autonomous zone where people could briefly come to life and where the possibility of creating a revolutionary alternative to capitalism could be glimpsed.
As discussed above, the creation of a liberated space in Parliament Square involved destructive elements. The essential point is that this constructive direct action - which pointed to the possibility of building an alternative to capitalism - involved destructive elements and without these destructive elements this autonomous space could not have been created...
It was only following the attack on McDonalds that there was confrontation with the police as they tried to prevent the destruction of this capitalist corporation's property. This showed explicitly that the police are mere instruments of capital; whilst capital is the puppet master, the police are the marionettes. In this regard, we maintain that the direct action on future demonstrations should, if possible, initially concentrate its attacks on easily identifiable symbols of global capitalism rather than just seek out confrontations with the state.
From a revolutionary left-wing anti-capitalist perspective, the goal of the emerging movement should be the creation of a libertarian communist world (i.e. a world with direct democracy / generalised self-management democratic economic planning). To attain this goal we must stress that an element of destruction is necessary. But when we talk of destruction we are specifically referring to the overthrow of capitalism. In other words, anti-capitalist protestors must recognise that a truly libertarian society can only be constructed upon the gains of the old and not after the destruction of urban civilisation as some ecologists advocate! That is capitalism (in its advanced form anyway) has provided the material affluence from which we can construct a truly libertarian communist world.
The fact that the emerging left-wing anti-capitalist movement is based around direct action reveals - given present conditions - that the movement is voluntaristic. The non-voluntaristic mindset of the authoritarian leftists which stems from an over-emphasis on objective - usually economic factors (i.e. waiting for the next 1930s style economic crash or inter-imperialist war) - should (as it appears to be already) be rejected by the movement... To adhere to a non-voluntaristic stance would mean that the movement would condemn itself to putting off action until the supposed correct historical moment in effect; this would mean the movement would stagnate as it would shift from the politics of revolution to the politics of reformism (witness the Socialist Workers Party and other authoritarian ‘left-wing' sects). ... it is in this sense that we declare that the voluntaristic stance of the movement must be retained or the recent upsurge of interest in revolutionary left-wing anti-capitalism will wane.
The revolutionary subject
This nascent movement, at present, consists of a loose association of revolutionary activists; it is not an association of activists based specifically in the sphere of production and distribution or in the universities. In the past student militants or militant proletarians engaged in anti-capitalist propagandistic action in an attempt to draw larger sections of the working class into the struggle against capitalism. Today, for various reasons, students are quiescent and workers rarely go on strike ... In other words, the militancy of leftist anti-capitalists is to be found outside of the workplace or the university.
At present the majority of the proletariat in the advanced capitalist countries is provisionally integrated into the capitalist system; this provisional integration has been brought about through a system of mass consumption. (... Having said this we recognise that increasing job insecurity and the existence of an increasing number of people receiving low pay means that we now have - given the return of economic crises in the early 1970s - a smaller majority of the proletariat who are provisionally integrated into capitalism ...)
Provisionally integrated proletarians are mesmerised by consumerism due to the promotion of false needs via advertising. Such false needs generate dissatisfaction which leads proletarians to purchase more and more consumer goods. Eventually however such dissatisfaction can lead to boredom with the consumerist system as the proletariat's real needs cannot be realised through consumerism. It is amongst those who are bored with their role as consumers that we shall find proletarians who are potentially willing to participate in the revolutionary struggle against capitalism.
Revolutionary activists should, we believe, engage in propagandistic direct action in an attempt to draw sections of the provisionally integrated proletariat into the revolutionary struggle against capitalism... Other groupings of people who could also engage in (propagandistic) anti-capitalist direct action may be found amongst those sections of the proletariat which are not provisionally integrated into the system; for example the unemployed and refugees. We must stress that we are not simply suggesting that revolutionary activists and marginalised groups can, on their own, bring about the downfall of capitalism. Rather, such groups may be able to act as catalysts to bring about revolutionary change.
In sum, we think that this nascent left-wing anti-capitalist movement should ... attempt to draw increasing sections of the provisionally integrated majority of the proletariat into the revolutionary struggle against capitalism; in this respect the movement must try to act as a catalyst. Secondly, this emerging movement must try to construct concrete links with leftist revolutionary struggles taking place in other parts of the globe... The fact that these 'third world' revolutionary groups participated in the direct action in Parliament Square, Whitehall, etc, rather than attend the politically irrelevant MayDay gatherings called by the trade unions bureaucrats we see as not only encouraging but of political significance for the future development of this movement. We must build upon this brief link - forged through direct action - and go forward to construct concrete links with 'third world' left-wing revolutionary groups who maintain a presence in Britain. In other words, internationalism needs to become more than just an empty slogan, as it too often is on the revolutionary left, in order that our resistance can truly become as transnational as capital.