Online home of Aufheben, a UK-based libertarian communist journal founded in 1992.

Submitted by libcom on September 25, 2006

The journal Aufheben was first produced in the UK in Autumn 1992. Those involved had participated in a number of struggles together - the anti-poll tax movement, the campaign against the Gulf War - and wanted to develop theory in order to participate more effectively: to understand capital and ourselves as part of the proletariat so we could attack capital more effectively. We began this task with a reading group dedicated to Marx's Capital and Grundrisse. Our influences included the Italian autonomia movement of 1969-77, the situationists, and others who took Marx's work as a basic starting point and used it to develop the communist project beyond the anti-proletarian dogmatisms of Leninism (in all its varieties) and to reflect the current state of the class struggle. We also recognized the moment of truth in versions of class struggle anarchism, the German and Italian lefts and other tendencies. In developing proletarian theory we needed to go beyond all these past movements at the same time as we developed them - just as they had done with previous revolutionary movements.

Aufheben comes out once a year (see subscription details), and to date (April 2011) there have been nineteen issues. This site contains all of the articles from previous issues and also some pamphlets. Since Aufheben is a developing project, some of our own ideas have already been superseded. We do not produce these ideas in the abstract, but, as we hope comes across in these articles, are involved in many of the struggles we write about, and develop our perspective through this experience.

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Aufheben 24

Aufheben 24 (2017)


Submitted by libcom on October 26, 2007


A number of left groups and individuals campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union in the recent referendum. We argue that the Brexit campaign, and the referendum itself, its results and its implementation, have been one with a victory of the ruling class against us. The implementation of Brexit will negatively affect solidarity among workers and radical protesters, setting back our strength and potentials to overturn capitalism. Many people in the radical left were blinded by the ideological forms of our capitalist relations, the reification of our human interactions, to the point of accepting a victory of the far right with acquiescence, or even collaborating with it.

Conspiracy theories have become more widespread in recent years. As populist explanations, they offer themselves as radical analyses of ‘the powerful’ – i.e., the operation of capital and its political expressions. One of the features that is interesting about such conspiracy theories therefore is that they reflect a critical impulse. We suggest that at least part of the reason for their upsurge (both in the past and in recent years) has to do with social conditions in which movements reflecting class struggles have declined or are seen to be defeated. We trace the rise of conspiracy theories historically and then focus on the most widespread such theory today – the idea that 9/11 was an inside job. We suggest that one factor in the sudden rise of 9/11 conspiracy theories was the failure and decline of the movement against the war in Iraq.

We argue that the transition facing China is the shift from the export of commodities to export of capital. This transition would mark a major step in transforming China from what we have termed a mere epicentre in the global economy to its establishment as a distinct second pole of within the global accumulation capital – an emerging antipode to that of the US. The group Chuǎng argue that recent Aufheben analyses are ‘too optimistic’ concerning China’s ability to maintain economic growth rates and fuel global capital accumulation. We reproduce their article as an Intake. In our response, we contend Chuǎng are unable even to recognise what we are suggesting let alone argue against it. This is because in making their analysis of the current economic situation in China, they have borrowed the spectacles of neo-liberal economics. They have thereby inadvertently adopted a myopic and ideologically circumscribed perspective that contains crucial blind-spots.

£4.00 (UK) and £6 (elsewhere), including postage - see our subscription and contact details to order a copy, or buy through Paypal below.




13 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by grupo_ruptura on December 27, 2010

Spanish Translation of issue #19:


12 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by subprole on October 31, 2011

Our class demands the immediate publication of this article as a PDF file:


Chilli Sauce

12 years 8 months ago

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Submitted by Chilli Sauce on October 31, 2011

Hey, I paid 3.75 from the bookfair, I want my postage costs back!


11 years 11 months ago

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Submitted by inter_kom on July 29, 2012

Is the next issue (#21) going to be published this year? If so then when approximately?


11 years 11 months ago

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Submitted by inter_kom on July 31, 2012


S. Artesian

10 years 7 months ago

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Submitted by S. Artesian on December 15, 2013

Aren't these the same people who not so long ago were arguing that capitalism was on the verge of a "new upswing"?


10 years 7 months ago

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Submitted by Johnny on December 15, 2013

In the conclusion to the crisis article in a previous issue, we did suggest - although tentatively - that the financial crisis might not mark the beginning of a long downswing in capital accumulation mainly on the basis of the rapid recovery in the rate of profit that has followed the crisis. We also suggested - although admittedly in footnote - that the crisis may have been the first tremor due to the tectonic shifts in global capitalism brought about by the rise of China and the 'emerging global south'.

So were we wrong? Yes and no.

Certainly for those of us in the old capitalist heartlands the last five years have been an unprecedented period of economic stagnation. For North America, Japan and much of Europe - with the notable exception of Germany and its hinterland in North and East of Europe (see our article on the euro-crisis in issue 21) - the economic recovery has been weak if not non-existent. However, this has not been the case for China and the 'emerging economies of the global south' that rapidly bounced back from the crisis of 2008. Up until the last year or so China has been growing at over 10% a year. Whereas much of the old capitalist heartlands have barely recovered pre-crisis levels of output, China's GDP is more than 50% bigger. During this time it has overtaken Japan to become the second largest economy in the world. This rapid capital accumulation in China has pulled the emerging economies behind it.

Before the crisis, the global economy was growing at between 4%-5% a year - quite a brisk pace by historical standards. In the period after the crisis the world economy has been growing at 3%-4% mainly due to China centred capital accumulation. A significant slowdown, but hardly economic stagnation. This can be seen as part of the shift in the centre of global capital accumulation towards China and the emerging global south - the moving of the tectonic plates.
Now it is true that this post-crisis period seems to be coming to end. China's economic growth has been slowed down to around 7% and this is having an impact on the emerging economies of the global south as evident in the current crisis in India that may well trigger another global financial crisis. At the same time US economic recovery seems to be gathering pace at last.
Now we must admit that we did not predict this tale of two worlds of the past five years. We underestimated China’s economic development and hence its relative autonomy from capital accumulation in the USA. We also failed to foresee the stagnation in the West.
In the article in this year’s issue, we look at the failure of the economic recovery in the West – focusing on the example of the UK. We look at how far this failure was due to what can be considered as contingent factors such as the policy response of the government and how far it was due to deeper structural factors such as the rise of China.

S. Artesian

10 years 6 months ago

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Submitted by S. Artesian on January 3, 2014

Actually, I don't think you said:

we did suggest - although tentatively - that the financial crisis might not mark the beginning of a long downswing in capital accumulation mainly on the basis of the rapid recovery in the rate of profit that has followed the crisis.

at the time. I think you said that capital was poised on the verge of a new long-term upswing. Something like that.

I think your analysis then, as your analysis now, is, to put it mildly-- superficial.


10 years 6 months ago

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Submitted by Marx-Trek on January 2, 2014

How did and how is the rest of the world, outside of the West, doing these days? Just got and started reading the new issue today. Is this thread heading into another round debating up or down-swings, China's looming dominance, etc..?


10 years 2 months ago

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Submitted by Cuadernos on May 18, 2014

In the upcoming #9 of our publication, Cuadernos de Negación (, and in the #10 and #11 also, we'll be developing a critique of the economy. In #9 there is a section called "Myths of the economist" that tries to show why such concepts as interest, barter, robinsonadas (as the spansh translation of marx called it), economicist essence and the uniqueness and universality of value, are historical constructions of the dominant class and nothing else. And by utilizing these myths, the dominant ideology forces on us a very particular and historically specific view of world.
In that section we have used some quotations from David Graeber's book. We have enjoyed Graeber's book but we're aware of the deviations that both the author and the book have. We have read some criticism, both in spanish and in english, to the book, but we believe, as we are big fans since we've first read aufheben six or seven years ago, that this one will be of qualitative importance.
So, we are asking if you can send us this particular text via mail at (cuadernosdenegacion at hotmail dot com) because it would be very good to discuss your positions here with our comrades. The new issue of our publication will be issued in 1-2 months so the timing will be important here. It would be very good to read your article and include some of your thoughts here (by reading many of your texts we're trusting more in more in your analysis and when we learn that an issue is close we anxiously expect it).
So, in case the pdf is not available soon, please send us that particular text via mail so we can enjoy and include your positions in our publication. We don't have paypal or credit card and with the change of currency and the low salaries here, the 15 pounds for the 3 issues transform to about 1/10 of our monthly wage. We're sure you'll understand this.
Thanks in advance and congratulations for the ongoing effort.


9 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Marx-Trek on October 21, 2014

when is issue 23 coming? Any topics decided?

Joseph Kay

9 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Joseph Kay on October 21, 2014

We now anticipate going to press some time in January.
We will have articles on Obama's pivot from the Middle East to China, workers' experience and enquiry, and disaster communism.
Aufheben, October 2014


9 years 5 months ago

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Submitted by Steven. on February 17, 2015

Did this get printed in January, or is it still not done yet?

Joseph Kay

9 years 5 months ago

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Submitted by Joseph Kay on February 17, 2015

I haven't heard anything, assume it's not out yet. The unemployed centre is getting evicted in a couple of weeks by the Trot bosses who stole half a million quid from it. Should do something for news on that actually.


9 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by Marx-Trek on February 28, 2015

hoping to see an issue take on the Rojava issue.


9 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by jahbread on February 28, 2015

Dead Sea Scroll anyone?


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by GerryK on October 6, 2015

At about 6pm October 6th 2015 UK time this was no.4 on the list of "recent posts"; scroll down and you see the last post is Feb 28 23.30. Clearly someone posted to this page and did not realise that almost everything referring to Aufheben in a critical way is automatically censored by libcomatose without any admission that it has been. This has happened several times. This post will obviously be censored too....Rocking the boat is forbidden, even when it is The Titanic.........


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Fleur on October 6, 2015

Or it might have been that the newest edition has been added to the files, the one just published, the one the picture up top references, thus updating the thread, cunningly alluded to when the little red letters nest the thread said "updated." Bloody hell, makes you think....


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by GerryK on October 6, 2015

The word "updated" in "little red letters" must have been written so little that to my eyes they are as invisible as the credibility of this site.

S. Artesian

8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by S. Artesian on October 6, 2015

right. it says "new" in red, the sly bastards. And then that graphic, showing an issue with the date 2015-2016.... censors at work, no doubt.

I mean, censors might be at work, but that's hardly the evidence, is it? Unless the work includes long snoozes, periods of inattention, and general slackness.... hey, can I get that gig?

And then there is that whole exchange about issue 23, scheduled to appear in October 2014. So... only a year late. Hell, with a schedule like that Aufheben could be Insurgent Notes.


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Pennoid on October 6, 2015

ayyyyyyy lmao


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Khawaga on October 6, 2015

GerryK, you're a fucking idiot. Really.


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Fleur on October 6, 2015

It's awful cover art, by the way. Why are there ducks swimming on the bottom half of the bisected ballerina? Or is she half woman, half mushroom?


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Steven. on October 6, 2015


At about 6pm October 6th 2015 UK time this was no.4 on the list of "recent posts"; scroll down and you see the last post is Feb 28 23.30. Clearly someone posted to this page and did not realise that almost everything referring to Aufheben in a critical way is automatically censored by libcomatose without any admission that it has been. This has happened several times. This post will obviously be censored too....Rocking the boat is forbidden, even when it is The Titanic.........

lolz. As others have pointed out your conspiraloon theory is a bit off. This post was updated because the new issue has changed. This is a screenshot of the admin panel:

As you will be well aware, we were the ones who published the initial critiques of Aufheben, and we continue to host those articles as well as forum discussions containing probably hundreds of posts of people criticising Aufheben.

What we do have, however, are rules against derailing, off topic posts and comments which belong on other threads. As you are well aware, as it is the only thing you ever talk about, there are many other threads and posts on libcom where you can talk about this subject. So if you really want to keep going on about it you are welcome to do so there. However we will not have you derailing any other threads. This is a final warning, as it has been years and you keep doing it.

Some of the derailing comments have been unpublished. However I'm going to leave yours and this here until you have had time to see it, then they will be unpublished, as will this.

PS "libcomatose" that's a pretty poor effort. Seriously you have had a few years now I would have thought you could have come up with something better than that… What does it even mean?


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by GerryK on October 7, 2015

Last night I replied to Khawaga's blatant flaming - and the reply has been deleted (even though there was no flaming in it whatsoever). Now Steven, playing the typical manipulative role he invariably plays, totally falsifies the history of Johnny and Aufheben and libcom and my posts and even this thread in every detail. But I shall not waste time any further on this complacent mutual congratulation society (sighs of relief all round).


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Khawaga on October 7, 2015

Not flaming, Gerry K. I only posted facts. And in light of you last post, I think my comment was warranted. Really, for all the fucking very correct critiques you have of Dr. Crowd control, the way you go about it, making it out to be some massive conspiracy theory makes you look like a fucking idiot.


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by GerryK on October 7, 2015

I might well have been wrong about the particular case of censorship here (though none of the red "new" or "updated" words appear on my version of this webpage) but

you're a fucking idiot.

if you think that critiquing the gang-like obsessional censorship mentality of libcoma admin (see , for instance the way Steven reacted to some comments - now disappeared, in reaction to the libcom sycophant Rob Ray's comments on the Michael Schmidt thread) amounts to

some massive conspiracy theory

. Here you reproduce the dominant societys very convenient dismissal of any recognition of the commonality of interest amongst the ruling class as the mentality of "conspiracy nutters" on the small scale of a critique of the libcoma gang.

The problem with professional intellectuals like you (however proletarianised you might well be) is that you are so stuck in your heads as to be incapable of recognising anger, let alone making decisions, as an essential contribution to subverting your own complacency towards this society and to those like libcoma who are complicit with it. For you it is enough to have a merely "theoretical " critique divorced from emotions or genuine attack.



8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Fleur on October 7, 2015

(though none of the red "new" or "updated" words appear on my version of this webpage)

No, it doesn't after you've clicked on it the first time. It's no longer new or a version which has been updated once you've looked at it. If it doesn't show up at all on any of threads, then it's something to do with the browser you're using.


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Khawaga on October 7, 2015

The problem with professional intellectuals like you (however proletarianised you might well be) is that you are so stuck in your heads as to be incapable of recognising anger, let alone making decisions, as an essential contribution to subverting your own complacency towards this society and to those like libcoma who are complicit with it. For you it is enough to have a merely "theoretical " critique divorced from emotions or genuine attack.

Damn, what app are you using to detect my emotional states? And that I am apparently complacent towards society. And not just now, apparently over several years even. Or do you have some inhuman superpower? That's really impressive!

S. Artesian

8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by S. Artesian on October 7, 2015

What I think is just too precious for words, and says all that needs to be said is that we can all talk about censorship and conspiracies , but nobody apparently has the time to comment on this kind of crap:

In this article we consider the unfolding of civil war following the demise of the Arab Spring and then place this complex conflict in the context of the overarching imperatives of US foreign policy. As we shall argue, contrary to the common view on the left and in the anti-war movement, far from being hell bent on war against Syria and Iran, the Obama administrations approach to the Syrian conflict has been determined by the ultimate aims of establishing a rapprochement with Iran in order to secure stability in the Middle East, permit the opening up of the Iranian and Iraqi oil and allow for a major shift in emphasis of US foreign policy towards the rise of China and Asia.

Yeah right, that's the ticket. Sorry, it doesn't matter what capitalism wants-- rapprochement with this or that regime-- "stability" is simply out of the question. And that stuff about "opening up of Iranian an Iraqi oil...." excuse me, as Ripley said, "did IQs drop sharply while I was away?" Anybody paying attention to the overproduction in the oil industry? That US production although down a bit is at its second highest level in what? 35 years? 40 years? That Russia is pumping at a rate last seen before the fSU collapsed? That the Saudis have ramped up production above 10 million b.o.e/day? That the US had every opportunity to "open up" Iraqi oil when it governed, if you can call it that, Iraq, and when it came time to bid on the leases and licenses, the US oil companies quite simply had almost zero interest?

The pivot to confront China? No one it would ever guess it has anything to do with overproduction, right? That it has anything to do with slowing growth in world trade, and all those other things that run counter to the so-called "inflection point" for a new capitalist upsurge?

Chilli Sauce

8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Chilli Sauce on October 8, 2015

Nah, "libcomatose" was the best part of that post!

Rob Ray

8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Rob Ray on October 8, 2015

It's mildly amusing that I tick you off so much you feel it necessary to slate me on threads I've nothing to do with Gerry, though I'm sorry to say I can't reciprocate your obsession as you're entirely uninteresting. Tbh usually whenever I see you've involved yourself in some thread or other it just makes me feel a bit libcomatose.


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by GerryK on October 8, 2015

I wrote:

the libcom sycophant Rob Ray's comments on the Michael Schmidt thread

Rob Ray wrote:

you feel it necessary to slate me on threads I've nothing to do with

So these have nothing to do with Rob Ray:
In which case there are at least 2 possiblities:
1. Someone has hacked into Rob Rays libcom account.
2. Rob Ray is indeed in such a libcoma he does not know what he said or where.

Rob Ray will undoubtedly find some Third Position unless his declared lack of interest .in anything I say prevents him from responding this time.


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by GerryK on October 8, 2015

And, yes, S.Artesian has shown that even in the safe sphere of an analysis of objective developments in political economy in which it has hoped to display its specialism, Aufheben has shown itself to be devoid of the slightest intelligence.

Rob Ray

8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Rob Ray on October 8, 2015

This thread Gerry. I know it's hard for you but do try and keep up.


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by petey on October 8, 2015


The word "updated" in "little red letters" must have been written so little that to my eyes they are as invisible as the credibility of this site.

Chilli Sauce

8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Chilli Sauce on October 8, 2015

Gerry, this is just getting a bit sad, man.


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Pennoid on October 8, 2015

Not trying to be smarmy, s. Artesian but are you suggesting that military action in Midwest is to slow production of oil? Just trying to make sure I understand your criticism. I've heard other people say similar things that it's about CONTROLLING production of oil not simply "getting it."

Of course we have to disentangle the general systemic or total trends from those particular struggles which drive the total trends, in some ways right?

S. Artesian

8 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by S. Artesian on October 8, 2015

I think that the cause of the invasion of Iraq was the decline in oil prices, first in 1998, brought about by overproduction, and then again in 2002.

The war in the Mideast drove the price of oil to spectacular, in every sense of the word, highs and with that price change, massive profits were siphoned into the industry. There followed, as there always follows the implosion. However, over the long term, this brought the rate of profit in the industry more in line with that of the average rate of profit, whereas before, in the period 1986-1991 (until the first invasion of Iraq) and then again from 1997-1999 rates of profit in the industry were generally lower than average, which makes sense given the enormous concentration of "dead value" accumulated in the means of production.

So yeah, the US "oil men" were quite vociferous, and specific, in complaining about Iraqi production which had reach 3 million barrels/day. Bush and Cheney did exactly what they were paid to do.


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by GerryK on October 8, 2015

Petey: now that you've provided me with glasses I can see the sense of Aufheben - TOZ3LPED4PECFD5EDFCZP6.

And yes Chilli Sauce, man, everything on libcom, man, has been getting sad for a long long time, man, and it is sad that there are still a few intelligent people, man, who think it worth contributing to this sad site for sore eyes, man (an example of sadness is Rob Ray who complains that I slate him on threads he has nothing to do with and yet does the very same thing on the Michael Schmidt thread - slating someone, in a totally spurious manner, who not only had nothing to do with with that thread but has had nothing to do with libcom for years). And - yes - it is sad for me to bother to go on writing this kind of stuff. Consequently I shall never write anything on libcom ever again and you can go back to being happy.

Chilli Sauce

8 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on October 8, 2015

Well, put your money where your mouth is then. Man.


8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Pennoid on October 8, 2015

Good points S. Artesian, any book recommendations or is this from following the press through the period?

Rob Ray

8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Rob Ray on October 8, 2015

Oh I'm not complaining Gerry, as I say I found it mildly amusing that you're clearly so upset by me when I have so little interest in you. As for mentioning Samotnaf, that was a contextual aside based on saying I didn't think the Schmidt thing came from the same place as a similar sort of event in libcom's past - direct comparison, as opposed to unrelated whinge.

Having said this, I can see you trying to slide the thread back onto your favourite topic, you naughty old goat, so I think I'll stop the derailing here. Have a lovely time throwing your endless tantrums ;).

S. Artesian

8 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by S. Artesian on October 8, 2015

Mostly from following the press, and the stats from the US Energy Information Agency, which used to produce a great "Appendix B" to their annual reports-- called Financial Performance-- but dropped it when the Congress cut all the money (among other things, those cuts eliminated the Dept. of Commerce's Annual Statistical Abstract. Now, I believe the data is farmed out to some private group that publishes something almost, but not quite official, and I think for 2 or 3 times what the US GPO used to charge).

For books, I recommend Cyris Bina The Economics of the Oil Crisis, and Gorelick's Oil Panic and Global Crisis


8 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Hieronymous on October 8, 2015

S. Artesian

For books, I recommend Cyris Bina The Economics of the Oil Crisis

Great book and excellent recommendation. But his given name is Cyrus.

Could you suggest any book about the coal industry?

S. Artesian

8 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by S. Artesian on October 9, 2015

Right. My misspelling. Thanks.

Actually, I haven't read anything about the coal industry in years. My bad. Not even about the Powder River Basin, which was the "great coming thing" back when I first hired out on the railroad in 1972.

S. Artesian

8 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by S. Artesian on October 9, 2015

Hey Hieronymous,

Given that some trolls have an axe to grind, every time someone down votes your posts, I will up vote them. Even, and particularly, when, the post is disagreeing with me. It's the very least I can do to counter the facebook-ization of Libcom.


8 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Hieronymous on October 9, 2015

S. Artesian

Hey Hieronymous,

Given that some trolls have an axe to grind, every time someone down votes your posts, I will up vote them. Even, and particularly, when, the post is disagreeing with me. It's the very least I can do to counter the facebook-ization of Libcom.

Thanks comrade.

S. Artesian

8 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by S. Artesian on October 9, 2015

S. Artesian

Right. My misspelling. Thanks.

Actually, I haven't read anything about the coal industry in years. My bad. Not even about the Powder River Basin, which was the "great coming thing" back when I first hired out on the railroad in 1972.

But... I will note, that as of last month, there is no longer a single unionized coal mine in Kentucky (I think).


8 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Hieronymous on October 10, 2015

S. Artesian

S. Artesian

Right. My misspelling. Thanks.

Actually, I haven't read anything about the coal industry in years. My bad. Not even about the Powder River Basin, which was the "great coming thing" back when I first hired out on the railroad in 1972.

But... I will note, that as of last month, there is no longer a single unionized coal mine in Kentucky (I think).

You're right. Here's the story I saw about it last month: "No union mines left in Kentucky, where labor wars once raged."

About Aufheben

A brief introduction to the Aufheben group and magazine.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 25, 2006

Aufheben: (past tense: hob auf; past participle: aufgehoben; noun: Aufhebung)

There is no adequate English equivalent to the German word Aufheben. In German it can mean "to pick up", "to raise", "to keep", "to preserve", but also "to end", "to abolish", "to annul". Hegel exploited this duality of meaning to describe the dialectical process whereby a higher form of thought or being supersedes a lower form, while at the same time "preserving" its "moments of truth". The proletariat's revolutionary negation of capitalism, communism, is an instance of this dialectical movement of supersession, as is the theoretical expression of this movement in the method of critique developed by Marx.

The journal Aufheben was first produced in the UK in Autumn 1992. Those involved had participated in a number of struggles together - the anti-poll tax movement, the campaign against the Gulf War - and wanted to develop theory in order to participate more effectively: to understand capital and ourselves as part of the proletariat so we could attack capital more effectively. We began this task with a reading group dedicated to Marx's Capital and Grundrisse. Our influences included the Italian autonomia movement of 1969-77, the situationists, and others who took Marx's work as a basic starting point and used it to develop the communist project beyond the anti-proletarian dogmatisms of Leninism (in all its varieties) and to reflect the current state of the class struggle. We also recognized the moment of truth in versions of class struggle anarchism, the German and Italian lefts and other tendencies. In developing proletarian theory we needed to go beyond all these past movements at the same time as we developed them - just as they had done with previous revolutionary movements.

Aufheben comes out once a year (see subscription details), and to date (September 2006) there have been fourteen issues. This site contains all of the articles from these fourteen issues and also some pamphlets. Since Aufheben is a developing project, some of our own ideas have already been superseded. We do not produce these ideas in the abstract, but, as we hope comes across in these articles, are involved in many of the struggles we write about, and develop our perspective through this experience.

This page contains the editorial from the first issue (Autumn 1992), which expands on some of these points.

"Theoretical criticism and practical overthrow are ... inseparable activities, not in any abstract sense but as a concrete and real alteration of the concrete and real world of bourgeois society." (Karl Korsch.)

We are living in troubled and confusing times. The Bourgeois triumphalism that followed the collapse of Eastern Bloc has given way to fear and incomprehension at the return of war, nationalism and fascism to Europe. The tumultuous events of the last four years have shattered the certainties of the Cold War period. Yet for all the momentous changes that have followed on from the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, it would seem that, after more than thirteen years of Thatcherism and designer socialism, that the prospect of revolutionary change is more remote than ever. Indeed in the Cold War period the very petrified state of geo-politics actually allowed the projection of total social revolution - a real leap beyond capitalism in its Eastern and Western varieties - as the only possibility beyond the status quo. Now, however, we see the real dangers of fundamental changes and ruptures within the parameters of continuing capitalist development. Within these dangers there does lie the real possibility of the further development of the social revolutionary project. But to recognise and seize the opportunities the changing situation offers we need to arm ourselves theoretically and practically. The theoretical side of this requires a preservation and superseding of the revolutionary theory that has preceded us.

Capitalism creates its own negation in the proletariat, but the success of the proletariat in abolishing itself and capital requires theory. At the time of the first world war the theory and praxis of the classical workers' movement came close to smashing the capital relation. But it was defeated by capital using both Stalinism and social democracy. The domination of the workers movement by Stalinism and social democracy that followed was an expression of this defeat of both the theory and practice of the proletariat.

The first stirrings from the long slumber began in the fifties following the death of Stalin and with the revolts against Stalinism by East German and Hungarian workers. This rediscovery of autonomous practice by the proletariat was accompanied by a rediscovery of the high points of the theory of the classical workers movement. In particular the German and Italian left communist critiques of the Soviet Marxism, the seminal work of Lukacs and Korsch in the critique of the objectivism of Second International Marxism which Leninism has failed to go beyond.

The New Left that emerged from this process was in a sense the reemergence of a whole series of theoretical currents - council communism, class struggle and liberal versions of anarchism, Trotskyism - that had largely been submerged by Stalinism. But while a number of groups that sprung up to a large extent just regurgitated as ideology the theories they were discovering, there were some real attempts to go beyond these positions, to actually develop theory adequate to the modern conditions. The period is marked by an explosion of new ideas and possibilities. The situationists and the autonomists represent high points in this process of reflecting and expressing the needs of the movement.

The rediscovery of the proletariat's theory happened in a symbiotic relation with the rediscovery of proletarian revolutionary practice. The wildcat strikes and general refusal of work, the near revolution in France in '68, the 'counter cultural' creation of new needs by the proletariat, in total a successful attack on the Keynesian settlement that had maintained social peace since the war. But with capital's successful use of crisis to undermine the gains of the proletarian offensive began a crisis in the ideas of the movement. The crisis was a result of the attacks on practice. We can see a number of directions in the collapse of the New Left.

One was a reformist turn: Under the mistaken notion that they were taking the struggles further - marching through the institutions - many comrades entered the Western social democratic parties. This move did not act to unify and organise the mass movements and grassroots struggles but rather encouraged and covered up the decline of these social movements. Those who avoided the mistake of being incorporated into the system fell into twin errors. On the one hand many embroiled themselves in frantic party-building. They were persuaded that the problem with the movement so far was the lack of an organisation to attack capital and the state. While they built their party the movementwas breaking up. They were blind to the history of Trotskyism as the 'loyal opposition' to Stalinism.

On the other hand many of those who recognised the bankruptcy of Leninism fell into a libertarian swamp of lifestylism and total absorption in 'identity politics' etc. Meanwhile from Academia came a sophisticated attack on radical theory in the guise of radical theory. The libertarian critique of Leninism - that it is an attempt to replace one set of rulers with another set - was transformed into an attack on the very project of social revolution. While appearing in their discourse to be exceptionally radical, the political implications of the postmodernists and poststructuralists amount to at best a wet liberalism, while at worst a justification for nationalism and wars.

The collapse of the new left parallelled the retreat of the proletariat as a whole before the onslaught of capitalist restructuring. In Britain we had the debilitating affect of the 'social contract' under Labour and the exceptionally important defeat of the miners strike. Elsewhere the crushing of the Italian movement and so on.

This brings us to the present situation. The connection between the movement and ideas has been undermined. Theory and practice are split. Those who think do not act, and those who act do not think. In the universities where student struggles forced the opening of space for radical thought that space is under attack. The few decent academic Marxists are besieged in their ivory tower by the poststructuralist shock troops of neo-liberalism. Although decent work has been done in areas such as the state derivation debate there has been no real attempt apply any insights in the real world. Meanwhile out in the woods of practical politics, though we have had some notable victories recently, ideas are lacking. Many comrades, especially in Britain, are afflicted with a virulent anti-intellectualism that creates the ludicrous impression that the Trots are the ones with a grasp of theory. Others pass off conspiracy theories as a substitute for serious analysis.

We publish this journal as a contribution to the reuniting of theory and practice. Aufheben is a space for critical investigation which has the practical purpose of overthrowing capitalist society.

Aufheben editorial group would like to receive articles from contributors for our 'Intake' pages. Whilst we would not publish something with which we substantively disagreed, we would try to find a way to include material with which we did not agree fully should it raise issues which we consider important to debate. We would also appreciate letters. A letters page can serve as a valuable forum for debate, and would go some way towards breaking down the division between writers and readers. Artwork would also be gratefully received.

Aufheben can be obtained by subscription. It would be of great help to us if as many readers as possible subscribed. This would not only provide valuable financial resources in advance of printing, but would also reduce the amount lost as profit to the bookshops.



11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Reddebrek on September 16, 2012

"There is no adequate English equivalent to the German word Aufheben. In German it can mean "to pick up", "to raise", "to keep", "to preserve", but also "to end", "to abolish", "to annul".

Now my Deutsch is very basic but wouldn't this duel meaning make the word liberation an effective substitution? To truly Liberate means to raise up the downtrodden and preserve their existence, and it does this by abolishing the forces that suppress the newly picked up.

Just a thought.

Jason Cortez

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Jason Cortez on September 17, 2012

Actually there is reasonable equivalent sublate/sublation.

Aufheben #01 (Autumn 1992)

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 25, 2006

Aufheben Issue #1. Contents listed below:


Aufheben01.pdf (6.33 MB)



5 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Fozzie on January 28, 2019

[issue resolved]

Aufheben #1 Editorial

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 26, 2006

Aufheben #1 Editorial: "Theoretical criticism and practical overthrow are ... inseparable activities, not in any abstract sense but as a concrete and real alteration of the concrete and real world of bourgeois society." (Karl Korsch.)

We are living in troubled and confusing times. The Bourgeois triumphalism that followed the collapse of Eastern Bloc has given way to fear and incomprehension at the return of war, nationalism and fascism to Europe. The tumultuous events of the last four years have shattered the certainties of the Cold War period. Yet for all the momentous changes that have followed on from the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, it would seem that, after more than thirteen years of Thatcherism and designer socialism, that the prospect of revolutionary change is more remote than ever. Indeed in the Cold War period the very petrified state of geo-politics actually allowed the projection of total social revolution - a real leap beyond capitalism in its Eastern and Western varieties - as the only possibility beyond the status quo. Now, however, we see the real dangers of fundamental changes and ruptures within the parameters of continuing capitalist development. Within these dangers there does lie the real possibility of the further development of the social revolutionary project. But to recognise and seize the opportunities the changing situation offers we need to arm ourselves theoretically and practically. The theoretical side of this requires a preservation and superseding of the revolutionary theory that has preceded us.

Capitalism creates its own negation in the proletariat, but the success of the proletariat in abolishing itself and capital requires theory. At the time of the first world war the theory and praxis of the classical workers' movement came close to smashing the capital relation. But it was defeated by capital using both Stalinism and social democracy. The domination of the workers movement by Stalinism and social democracy that followed was an expression of this defeat of both the theory and practice of the proletariat.

The first stirrings from the long slumber began in the fifties following the death of Stalin and with the revolts against Stalinism by East German and Hungarian workers. This rediscovery of autonomous practice by the proletariat was accompanied by a rediscovery of the high points of the theory of the classical workers movement. In particular the German and Italian left communist critiques of the Soviet Marxism, the seminal work of Lukacs and Korsch in the critique of the objectivism of Second International Marxism which Leninism has failed to go beyond.

The New Left that emerged from this process was in a sense the reemergence of a whole series of theoretical currents - council communism, class struggle and liberal versions of anarchism, Trotskyism - that had largely been submerged by Stalinism. But while a number of groups that sprung up to a large extent just regurgitated as ideology the theories they were discovering, there were some real attempts to go beyond these positions, to actually develop theory adequate to the modern conditions. The period is marked by an explosion of new ideas and possibilities. The situationists and the autonomists represent high points in this process of reflecting and expressing the needs of the movement.

The rediscovery of the proletariat's theory happened in a symbiotic relation with the rediscovery of proletarian revolutionary practice. The wildcat strikes and general refusal of work, the near revolution in France in '68, the 'counter cultural' creation of new needs by the proletariat, in total a successful attack on the Keynesian settlement that had maintained social peace since the war. But with capital's successful use of crisis to undermine the gains of the proletarian offensive began a crisis in the ideas of the movement. The crisis was a result of the attacks on practice. We can see a number of directions in the collapse of the New Left.

One was a reformist turn: Under the mistaken notion that they were taking the struggles further - marching through the institutions - many comrades entered the Western social democratic parties. This move did not act to unify and organise the mass movements and grassroots struggles but rather encouraged and covered up the decline of these social movements. Those who avoided the mistake of being incorporated into the system fell into twin errors. On the one hand many embroiled themselves in frantic party-building. They were persuaded that the problem with the movement so far was the lack of an organisation to attack capital and the state. While they built their party the movementwas breaking up. They were blind to the history of Trotskyism as the 'loyal opposition' to Stalinism.

On the other hand many of those who recognised the bankruptcy of Leninism fell into a libertarian swamp of lifestylism and total absorption in 'identity politics' etc. Meanwhile from Academia came a sophisticated attack on radical theory in the guise of radical theory. The libertarian critique of Leninism - that it is an attempt to replace one set of rulers with another set - was transformed into an attack on the very project of social revolution. While appearing in their discourse to be exceptionally radical, the political implications of the postmodernists and poststructuralists amount to at best a wet liberalism, while at worst a justification for nationalism and wars.

The collapse of the new left parallelled the retreat of the proletariat as a whole before the onslaught of capitalist restructuring. In Britain we had the debilitating affect of the 'social contract' under Labour and the exceptionally important defeat of the miners strike. Elsewhere the crushing of the Italian movement and so on.

This brings us to the present situation. The connection between the movement and ideas has been undermined. Theory and practice are split. Those who think do not act, and those who act do not think. In the universities where student struggles forced the opening of space for radical thought that space is under attack. The few decent academic Marxists are besieged in their ivory tower by the poststructuralist shock troops of neo-liberalism. Although decent work has been done in areas such as the state derivation debate there has been no real attempt apply any insights in the real world. Meanwhile out in the woods of practical politics, though we have had some notable victories recently, ideas are lacking. Many comrades, especially in Britain, are afflicted with a virulent anti-intellectualism that creates the ludicrous impression that the Trots are the ones with a grasp of theory. Others pass off conspiracy theories as a substitute for serious analysis.

We publish this journal as a contribution to the reuniting of theory and practice. Aufheben is a space for critical investigation which has the practical purpose of overthrowing capitalist society.


LA '92: The context of a proletarian uprising

Distorted by the bourgeois press, reduced to a mere 'race riot' by many on the left, the L.A. rebellion was the most serious urban uprising this century. This article seeks to grasp the full significance of these events by relating them to their context of class re-composition and capitalist restructuring.

Submitted by libcom on January 7, 2006

April 29th, 1992, Los Angeles exploded in the most serious urban uprising in America this century. It took the federal army, the national guard and police from throughout the country five days to restore order, by which time residents of L.A. had appropriated millions of dollars worth of goods and destroyed a billion dollars of capitalist property. Most readers will be familiar with many of the details of the rebellion. This article will attempt to make sense of the uprising by putting the events into the context of the present state of class relations in Los Angeles and America in order to see where this new militancy in the class struggle may lead.

Before the rebellion, there were two basic attitudes on the state of class struggle in America. The pessimistic view is that the American working class has been decisively defeated. This view has held that the U.S. is - in terms of the topography of the global class struggle - little more than a desert. The more optimistic view held, that despite the weakness of the traditional working class against the massive cuts in wages, what we see in the domination of the American left by single issue campaigns and "Politically Correct" discourse is actually evidence of the vitality of the autonomous struggles of sections of the working class. The explosion of class struggle in L.A. shows the need to go beyond these one-sided views.


1. Beyond the Image

2. Race and Class Composition

3. Class Composition And Capitalist Restructuring

4. A Note on Architecture and the Postmodernists

5. Gangs

6. The Political Ideas of the Gangs

7. Conclusion


1. Beyond the Image

As most of our information about the rioting has come through the capitalist media, it is necessary to deal with the distorted perspective it has given. Just as in the Gulf War, the media presented an appearance of full immersion in what happened while actually constructing a falsified view of the events. While in the Gulf there was a concrete effort to disinform, in L.A. the distortion was a product not so much of censorship as much as of the total incomprehension of the bourgeois media when faced with proletarian insurrection. As Mike Davis points out, most reporters, "merely lip-synched suburban cliches as they tramped through the ruins of lives they had no desire to understand. A violent kaleidoscope of bewildering complexity was flattened into a single, categorical scenario: legitimate black anger over the King decision hijacked by hard-core street criminals and transformed into a maddened assault on their own community." Such a picture is far from the truth.

The beating of Rodney King in 1991 was no isolated incident and, but for the chance filming of the event, would have passed unnoticed into the pattern of racist police repression of the inner cities that characterizes the present form of capitalist domination in America. But, because of the insertion of this everyday event into general public awareness the incident became emblematic. While the mainstream television audience forgot the event through the interminable court proceedings, the eyes of the residents of South Central L.A. and other inner cities remained fixed on a case that had become a focus for their anger towards the system King's beating was typical of. Across the country, but especially in L.A., there was the feeling and preparation that, whatever the result of the trial, the authorities were going to experience people's anger. For the residents of South Central, the King incident was just a trigger. They ignored his televised appeals for an end to the uprising because it wasn't about him. The rebellion was against the constant racism on the streets and about the systematic oppression of the inner cities; it was against the everyday reality of racist American capitalism.

One of the media's set responses to similar situations has been to label them as "race riots". Such a compartmentalisation broke down very quickly in L.A. as indicated in Newsweek's reports of the rebellion: "Instead of enraged young black men shouting `Kill Whitey', Hispanics and even some whites - men, women and children - mingled with African-Americans. The mob's primary lust appeared to be for property, not blood. In a fiesta mood, looters grabbed for expensive consumer goods that had suddenly become `free'. Better-off black as well as white and Asian-American business people all got burned." Newsweek turned to an "expert" - an urban sociologist - who told them, "This wasn't a race riot. It was a class riot." (Newsweek, May 11th, 1992).

Perhaps uncomfortable with this analysis they turned to "Richard Cunningham, 19", "a clerk with a neat goatee": "They don't care for anything. Right now they're just on a spree. They want to live the lifestyle they see people on TV living. They see people with big old houses, nice cars, all the stereo equipment they want, and now that it's free, they're gonna get it." As the sociologist told them - a class riot.

In L.A., Hispanics, blacks and some whites united against the police; the composition of the riot reflected the composition of the area. Of the first 5,000 arrests, 52 per cent were poor Latinos, 10 per cent whites and only 38 per cent blacks.

Faced with such facts, the media found it impossible to make the label "race riot" stick. They were more successful, however, in presenting what happened as random violence and as a senseless attack by people on their own community. It is not that there was no pattern to the violence, it is that the media did not like the pattern it took. Common targets were journalists and photographers, including black and Hispanic ones. Why should the rioters target the media? - 1) these scavengers gathering around the story offer a real danger of identifying participants by their photos and reports. 2) The uncomprehending deluge of coverage of the rebellion follows years of total neglect of the people of South Central except their representation as criminals and drug addicts. In South Central, reporters are now being called "image looters".

But the three fundamental aspects to the rebellion were the refusal of representation, direct appropriation of wealth and attacks on property; the participants went about all three thoroughly.

Refusal of Representation

While the rebellion in '65 had been limited to the Watts district, in '92 the rioters circulated their struggle very effectively. Their first task was to bypass their "representatives". The black leadership - from local government politicians through church organizations and civil rights bureaucracy - failed in its task of controlling its community. Elsewhere in the States this strata did to a large extent succeed in channelling people's anger away from the direct action of L.A., managing to stop the spread of the rebellion. The struggle was circulated, but we can only imagine the crisis that would have ensued if the actions in other cities had reached L.A.'s intensity. Still, in L.A. both the self-appointed and elected representatives were by-passed. They cannot deliver. The rioters showed the same disrespect for their "leaders" as did their Watts counterparts. Years of advancement by a section of blacks, their intersection of themselves as mediators between "their" community and US capital and state, was shown as irrelevant. While community leaders tried to restrain the residents, "gang leaders brandishing pipes, sticks and baseball bats whipped up hotheads, urging them not to trash their own neighborhoods but to attack the richer turf to the west".

"It was too dangerous for the police to go on to the streets" (Observer, May 3rd 1992).

Attacks on Property

The insurgents used portable phones to monitor the police. The freeways that have done so much to divide the communities of L.A. were used by the insurgents to spread their struggle. Cars of blacks and Hispanics moved throughout a large part of the city burning their targets - commercial premises, the sites of capitalist exploitation - while at other points traffic jams formed outside malls as their contents were liberated. As well as being the first multiethnic riot in American history, it was its first car-borne riot. The police were totally overwhelmed by the creativity and ingenuity of the rioters.

Direct Appropriations

"Looting, which instantly destroys the commodity as such, also discloses what the commodity ultimately implies: The army, the police and the other specialized detachments of the state's monopoly of armed violence."

Once the rioters had got the police off the streets looting was clearly an overwhelming aspect of the insurrection. The rebellion in Los Angeles was an explosion of anger against capitalism but also an eruption of what could take its place: creativity, initiative, joy.

A middle-aged woman said: "Stealing is a sin, but this is more like a television gameshow where everyone in the audience gets to win." Davis article in The Nation, June 1st.

"Looters of all races owned the streets, storefronts and malls. Blond kids loaded their Volkswagon with stereo gear... Filipinos in a banged up old clunker stocked up on baseball mitts and sneakers. Hispanic mothers with children browsed the gaping chain drug marts and clothing stores. A few Asians were spotted as well. Where the looting at Watts had been desperate, angry, mean, the mood this time was closer to a maniac fiesta".

The direct appropriation of wealth (pejoratively labelled "looting") breaks the circuit of capital (Work-Wage-Consumption) and such a struggle is just as unacceptable to capital as a strike. However it is also true that, for a large section of the L.A. working class, rebellion at the level of production is impossible. From the constant awareness of a "good life" out of reach - commodities they cannot have - to the contradiction of the simplest commodity, the use-values they need are all stamped with a price tag; they experience the contradictions of capital not at the level of alienated production but at the level of alienated consumption, not at the level of labor but at the level of the commodity.

"A lot of people feel that it's reparations. It's what already belongs to us." Will M., former gang member, on the "looting". (International Herald Tribune May 8th)

It is important to grasp the importance of direct appropriation, especially for subjects such as those in L.A. who are relatively marginalized from production. This "involves an ability to understand working-class behavior as tending to bring about, in opposition to the law of value, a direct relationship with the social wealth that is produced. Capitalist development itself, having reached this level of class struggle, destroys the `objective' parameters of social exchange. The proletariat can thus only recompose itself, within this level, through a material will to reappropriate to itself in real terms the relation to social wealth that capital has formally redimensioned".


2. Race and Class Composition

So even Newsweek, a voice of the American bourgeoisie, conceded that what happened was not a "race riot" but a "class riot". But in identifying the events as a class rebellion we do not have to deny they had "racial" elements. The overwhelming importance of the riots was the extent to which the racial divisions in the American working class were transcended in the act of rebellion; but it would be ludicrous to say that race was absent as an issue. There were "racial" incidents: what we need to do is see how these elements are an expression of the underlying class conflict. Some of the crowd who initiated the rebellion at the Normandie and Florence intersection went on to attack a white truck driver, Reginald Oliver Denny. The media latched on to the beating, transmitting it live to confirm suburban white fear of urban blacks. But how representative was this incident? An analysis of the deaths during the uprising shows it was not.

Still, we need to see how the class war is articulated in "racial" ways.

In America generally, the ruling class has always promoted and manipulated racism, from the genocide of native Americans, through slavery, to the continuing use of ethnicity to divide the labor force. The black working class experience is to a large extent that of being pushed out of occupations by succeeding waves of immigrants. While most groups in American society on arrival at the bottom of the labor market gradually move up, blacks have constantly been leapfrogged. Moreover, the racism this involves has been a damper on the development of class consciousness on the part of white workers.

In L.A. specifically, the inhabitants of South Central constitute some of the most excluded sectors of the working class. Capital's strategy with regards these sectors is one of repression carried out by the police - a class issue. However the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is predominantly white and its victims massively black and Hispanic (or as P.C. discourse would have it, people of color). Unlike in other cities, where the racist nature of the split between the included and excluded sectors is blurred by the state's success in co-opting large numbers of blacks on to the police force, in L.A. capital's racist strategy of division and containment is revealed in every encounter between the LAPD and the population - a race issue.

When the blacks and Hispanics of L.A. have been marginalized and oppressed according to their skin color, it is not surprising that in their explosion of class anger against their oppressors they will use skin color as a racial shorthand in identifying the enemy, just as it has been used against them. So even if the uprising had been a "race riot", it would still have been a class riot. It is also important to recognize the extent to which the participants went beyond racial stereotypes. While the attacks on the police, the acts of appropriation and attacks on property were seen as proper and necessary by nearly everyone involved, there is evidence that acts of violence against individuals on the basis of their skin color were neither typical of the rebellion nor widely supported. In the context of the racist nature of L.A. class oppression, it would have been surprising if there had not been a racial element to some of the rebellion. What is surprising and gratifying is the overwhelming extent to which this was not the case, the extent to which the insurgents by-passed capital's racist strategies of control.

"A lot of people feel that in order to come together we have to sacrifice the neighborhood." Will M., former gang member, on the destruction of businesses. (International Herald Tribune May 8th, 1992.)

One form the rebellion took was a systematic assault on Korean businesses. The Koreans are on the front-line of the confrontation between capital and the residents of central L.A. - they are the face of capital for these communities. Relations between the black community and the Koreans had collapsed following the Harlins incident and its judicial result. In an argument over a $1.79 bottle of orange juice, Latasha Harlins, a 15-year old black girl, was shot in the back of the head by a Korean grocer - Soon Ja Du - who was then let off with a $500 fine and some community service. While the American State packs its Gulags with poor blacks for just trying to survive, it allows a shopkeeper to kill their children. But though this event had a strong effect on the blacks of South Central, their attack on Korean property cannot be reduced to vengeance for one incident - it was directed against the whole system of exchange. The uprising attacked capital in its form of property, not any property but the property of businesses - the institutions of exploitation; and in the black and Hispanic areas, most of these properties and businesses were owned by Koreans. But though we should understand the resentment towards the Koreans as class-based, it is necessary to put this in the context of the overall situation. In L.A., the black working-class's position deteriorated in the late 1970s with the closure of heavy industry, whereas at the end of the 60s they had started to be employed in large numbers. This was part of the internationalization of L.A.'s economy, its insertion into the Pacific Rim center of accumulation which also involved an influx of mainly Japanese capital into downtown redevelopment, immigration of over a million Latin Americans to take the new low-wage manufacturing jobs that replaced the jobs blacks had been employed in, and the influx of South Koreans into L.A.'s mercantile economy. Thus while Latinos offered competition for jobs, the Koreans came to represent capital to blacks. However, these racial divisions are totally contingent. Within the overall restructuring, the jobs removed from L.A. blacks were relocated to other parts of the Pacific Rim such as South Korea. The combativity of these South Korean workers shows that the petty-bourgeois role Koreans take in L.A. is but part of a wider picture in which class conflict crosses all national and ethnic divides as global finance capital dances around trying to escape its nemesis but always recreating it.

3. Class Composition and Capitalist Restructuring

The American working class is divided between waged and unwaged, blue and white collar, immigrant and citizen labor, guaranteed and unguaranteed; but as well as this, and often synonymous with these distinctions, it is divided along ethnic lines. Moreover, these divisions are real divisions in terms of power and expectations. We cannot just cover them up with a call for class unity or fatalistically believe that, until the class is united behind a Leninist party or other such vanguard, it will not be able to take on capital. In terms of the American situation as well as with other areas of the global class conflict it is necessary to use the dynamic notion of class composition rather than a static notion of social classes.

"When Bush visited the area security was massive. TV networks were asked not to broadcast any of Mr Bush's visit live to keep from giving away his exact location in the area." (International Herald Tribune, May 8th, 1992.)

The rebellion in South Central Los Angeles and the associated actions across the United States showed the presence of an antagonistic proletarian subject within American capitalism. This presence had been occluded by a double process: on the one hand, a sizeable section of American workers have had their consciousness of being proletarian - of being in antagonism to capital - obscured in a widespread identification with the idea of being "middle-class"; and on the other, for a sizeable minority, perhaps a quarter of the population, there has being their recomposition as marginalized sub-workers excluded from consideration as a part of society by the label "underclass". The material basis for such sociological categorizations is that, on the one hand there is the increased access to "luxury" consumption for certain "higher" strata, while on the other there is the exclusion from anything but "subsistence" consumption by those "lower" strata consigned to unemployment or badly paid part-time or irregular work.

This strategy of capital's carries risks, for while the included sector is generally kept in line by the brute force of economic relations, redoubled by the fear of falling into the excluded sector, the excluded themselves, for whom the American dream has been revealed as a nightmare, must be kept down by sheer police repression. In this repression, the war on drugs has acted as a cover for measures that increasingly contradict the "civil rights" which bourgeois society, especially in America, has prided itself on bringing into the world.

Part of the U.S. capital's response to the Watts and other 60s rebellions was to give ground. To a large section of the working class revolting because its needs were not being met, capital responded with money - the form of mediation par excellence - trying to meet some of that pressure within the limits of capitalist control. This was not maintained into the 80s. For example, federal aid to cities fell from $47.2 billion in 1980 to $21.7 billion in 1992. The pattern is that of the global response to the proletarian offensives of the 60s and 70s: first give way - allowing wage increases, increasing welfare spending (i.e. meeting the social needs of the proletariat) - then, when capital has consolidated its forces, the second part - restructure accumulation on a different basis - destructure knots of working class militancy, create unemployment.

In America, this strategy was on the surface more successful than in Europe. The American bourgeoisie had managed to halt the general rise in wages by selectively allowing some sectors of the working class to maintain or increase their living standards while others had their's massively reduced. One sector in particular has felt the brunt of this strategy: the residents of the inner city who are largely black and Hispanic. The average yearly income of black high school graduates fell by 44% between 1973 and 1990, there have been severe cutbacks in social programs and massive disinvestment. With the uprising, the American working class has shown that capital's success in isolating and screwing this section has been temporary.

The re-emergence of an active proletarian subject shows the importance, when considering the strategies of capital, of not forgetting that its restructuring is a response to working class power. The working class is not just an object within capital's process. It is a subject (or plurality of subjects), and, at the level of political class composition reached by the proletariat in the 60s, it undermined the process. Capital's restructuring was an attack on this class composition, an attempt to transform the subject back into an object, into labor-power.

Capitalist restructuring tried to introduce fragmentation and hierarchy into a class subject which was tending towards unity (a unity that respected multilaterality). It moved production to other parts of the world (only, as in Korea, to export class struggle as well); it tried to break the strength of the "mass worker" by breaking up the labor force within factories into teams and by spreading the factory to lots of small enterprises; it has also turned many wage-laborers into self-employed to make people internalise capital's dictates. In America, the fragmentation also occurred along the lines of ethnicity. Black blue-collar workers have been a driving force in working class militancy as recorded by C.L.R. James and others. For a large number of blacks and others, the new plan involved their relegation to Third World poverty levels. But as Negri puts it, "marginalization is as far as capital can go in excluding people from the circuits of production - expulsion is impossible. Isolation within the circuit of production - this is the most that capital's action of restructuration can hope to achieve." When recognizing the power of capital's restructuring it is necessary to affirm the fundamental place of working class struggles as the motor force of capital's development. Capital attacks a certain level of political class composition and a new level is recomposed; but this is not the creation of the perfect, pliable working class - it is only ever a provisional recomposition of the class on the basis of its previously attained level.

Capitalist restructuring has taken the form in Los Angeles of its insertion into the Pacific Rim pole of accumulation. Metal banging and transport industry jobs, which blacks only started moving into in the tail end of the boom in late 60s and the early 70s, have left the city, while about one million Latino immigrants have arrived, taking jobs in low-wage manufacturing and labor-intensive services. The effect on the Los Angeles black community has not been homogeneous; while a sizeable section has attained guaranteed status through white-collar jobs in the public sector, the majority who were employed in the private sector in traditional working class jobs have become unemployed. It is working class youth who have fared worse, with unemployment rates of 45% in South Central.

But the recomposition of the L.A. working class has not been entirely a victory of capitalist restructuring. Capital would like this section of society to work. It would like its progressive undermining of the welfare system to make the "underclass" go and search for jobs, any jobs anywhere. Instead, many residents survive by "Aid to Families With Dependent Children", forcing the cost of reproducing labor power on to the state, which is particularly irksome when the labor power produced is so unruly. The present consensus among bourgeois commentators is that the problem is the "decline of the family and its values." Capital's imperative is to re-impose its model of the family as a model of work discipline and form of reproduction (make the proles take on the cost of reproduction themselves).

4. A Note on Architecture and the Postmodernist

Los Angeles, as we know, is the "city of the future". In the 30s the progressive vision of business interests prevailed and the L.A. streetcars - one of the best public transport systems in America - were ripped up; freeways followed. It was in Los Angeles that Adorno & Horkheimer first painted their melancholy picture of consciousness subsumed by capitalism and where Marcuse later pronounced man "One Dimensional". More recently, Los Angeles has been the inspiration for fashionable post-theory. Baudrillard, Derrida and other postmodernist, post-structuralist scum have all visited and performed in the city. Baudrillard even found here "utopia achieved".

The "postmodern" celebrators of capitalism love the architecture of Los Angeles, its endless freeways and the redeveloped downtown. They write eulogies to the sublime space within the $200 a night Bonaventura hotel, but miss the destruction of public space outside. The postmodernists, though happy to extend a term from architecture to the whole of society, and even the epoch, are reluctant to extend their analysis of the architecture just an inch beneath the surface. The "postmodern" buildings of Los Angeles have been built with an influx of mainly Japanese capital into the city. Downtown L.A. is now second only to Tokyo as a financial center for the Pacific Rim. But the redevelopment has been at the expense of the residents of the inner city. Tom Bradley, an ex-cop and Mayor since 1975, has been a perfect black figurehead for capital's restructuring of L.A.. He has supported the massive redevelopment of downtown L.A., which has been exclusively for the benefit of business. In 1987, at the request of the Central City East Association of Businesses, he ordered the destruction of the makeshift pavement camps of the homeless; there are an estimated 50,000 homeless in L.A., 10,000 of them children. Elsewhere, city planning has involved the destruction of people's homes and of working class work opportunities to make way for business development funded by Pacific Rim capital - a siege by international capital of working class Los Angeles.

But the postmodernists did not even have to look at this behind-the-scenes movement, for the violent nature of the development is apparent from a look at the constructions themselves. The architecture of Los Angeles is characterised by militarization. City planning in Los Angeles is essentially a matter for the police. An overwhelming feature of the L.A. environment is the presence of security barriers, surveillance technology - the policing of space. Buildings in public use like the inner city malls and a public library are built like fortresses, surrounded by giant security walls and dotted with surveillance cameras.

In Los Angeles, "on the bad edge of postmodernity, one observes an unprecedented tendency to merge urban design, architecture and the police apparatus in a single comprehensive security effort." (Davis, City of Quartz p. 224) Just as Haussman redesigned Paris after the revolutions of 1848, building boulevards to give clear lines of fire, L.A. architects and city planners have remade L.A. since the Watts rebellion. Public space is closed, the attempt is made to kill the street as a means of killing the crowd. Such a strategy is not unique to Los Angeles, but here it has reached absurd levels: the police are so desperate to "kill the crowd" that they have taken the unprecedented step of killing the toilet. Around office developments "public" art buildings and landscaped garden "microparks" are designed into the parking structures to allow office workers to move from car to office or shop without being exposed to the dangers of the street. The public spaces that remain are militarized, from "bum-proof" bus shelter benches to automatic sprinklers in the parks to stop people sleeping there. White middle class areas are surrounded by walls and private security. During the riots, the residents of these enclaves either fled or armed themselves and nervously waited.

We see, then, that in the States, but especially in L.A., architecture is not merely a question of aesthetics, it is used along with the police to separate the included and the excluded sections of capitalist society. But this phenomenon is by no means unique to America. Across the advanced capitalist countries we see attempts to redevelop away urban areas that have been sites of contestation. In Paris, for example, we have seen, under the flag of "culture", the Pompidou centre built on a old working class area, as a celebration of the defeat of the '68 movement. Here in Britain the whole of Docklands was taken over by a private development corporation to redevelop the area - for a while yuppie flats sprang up at ridiculous prices and the long-standing residents felt besieged in their estates by armies of private security guards. Still, we saw how that ended... Now in Germany, the urban areas previously marginalized by the Wall, such as Kreuzberg and the Potzdamer Platz, have become battlegrounds over who's needs the new Berlin will satisfy.

Of course, such observations and criticisms of the "bad edge of postmodernity", if they fail to see the antagonism to the process and allow themselves to be captivated by capital's dialectic, by its creation of our dystopia, could fall into mirroring the postmodernists' celebration of it. There is no need for pessimism - what the rebellion showed was that capital has not killed the crowd. Space is still contested. Just as Haussman's plans did not stop the Paris Commune, L.A. redevelopment did not stop the 1992 rebellion.

5. Gangs

"In June 1988 the police easily won Police Commission approval for the issuing of flesh-ripping hollow-point ammunition: precisely the same `dum-dum' bullets banned in warfare by the Geneva Conventions." (Mike Davis, 1990, City of Quartz, p. 290.)

We cannot deny the role gangs played in the uprising. The systematic nature of the rioting is directly linked to their participation and most importantly to the truce on internal fighting they called before the uprising. Gang members often took the lead which the rest of the proletariat followed. The militancy of the gangs - their hatred of the police - flows from the unprecedented repression the youth of South Central have experienced: a level of state repression on a par with that dished out to rebellious natives by colonial forces such as that suffered by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Under the guise of gang-busting and dealing with the "crack menace", the LAPD have launched massive "swamp" operations; they have formed files on much of the youth of South Central and murdered lots of proletarians.

As Mike Davis put it in 1988, "the contemporary Gang scare has become an imaginary class relationship, a terrain of pseudo-knowledge and fantasy projection, a talisman." The "gang threat" has been used as an excuse to criminalise the youth of South Central L.A. We should not deny the existence of the problems of crack use and inter-gang violence, but we need to see that, what has actually been a massive case of working class on working class violence, a sorry example of internalised aggression resulting from a position of frustrated needs, has been interpreted as a "lawless threat" to justify more of the repression and oppression that created the situation in the first place. To understand recent gang warfare and the role of gangs in the rebellion we must look at the history of the gang phenomenon.

In Los Angeles, black street gangs emerged in the late 1940s primarily as a response to white racist attacks in schools and on the streets. When Nation of Islam and other black nationalist groups formed in the late 50s, Chief Parker of the LAPD conflated the two phenomena as a combined black menace. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, for the repression launched against the gangs and black militants had the effect of radicalizing the gangs. This politicization reached a peak in the Watts rebellion, when, as in '92, gang members made a truce and were instrumental in the black working class success in holding off the police for four days. The truce formed in the heat of the rebellion lasted for most of the rest of the 60s. Many gang members joined the Black Panther Party or formed other radical political groupings. There was a general feeling that the gangs had "joined the Revolution".

The repression of the movement involved the FBI's COINTELPRO program and the LAPD's own red squad. The Panthers were shot on the streets and on the campuses both directly by the police and by their agents, their headquarters in L.A. were besieged by LAPD SWAT teams, and dissension was sown in their ranks. Although the Panthers' politics were flawed, they were an organic expression of the black proletariat's experience of American capitalism. The systematic nature of their repression shows just how dangerous they were perceived to be.

As even the L.A. Times admitted, the recrudescence of gangs in L.A. in the early 70s was a direct consequence of the decimation of the more political expressions of black frustration. A new aspect of this phenomena was the prodigious spread of Crip sets which caused the other gangs to federate as the Bloods. As Davis puts it, "this was not merely a gang revival, but a radical permutation of black gang culture. The Crips, however perversely, inherited the Panther aura of fearlessness and transmitted the ideology of armed vanguardism (shorn of its program). But too often Crippin' came to represent an escalation of intra-ghetto violence to Clockwork Orange levels (murder as a status symbol, and so on)...[the Crips] achieved a "managerial revolution" in gang organisation. If they began as a teenage substitute for the fallen Panthers, they evolved through the 1970s into a hybrid of teen cult and proto-mafia".

That gangs, even in their murderous mutation as "proto-mafia" Crips and Bloods, have been an expression of the need for political organisation is indicated in a few instances where they have made political interventions. In two major situations, the Monrovia riots in 1972 and the L.A. schools busing crisis of 1977-79, the Crips intervened in support of the black community. These gangs, as an expression of the proletariat, are not in the grips of a false consciousness that makes them think all there is to life is gold chains and violence. Whenever they have been given a chance to speak, for instance in December 1972 at the beginning of the transformation of the gangs into the ultra-violent Crips and Bloods, they have come out with clear political demands. Every time they have been given a chance to express themselves, similar demands have been voiced. The LAPD does everything in its power to stop the gangs being given a voice so as to maintain its war against them.

Still, if the gangs wanted to appeal to people's sympathies, they have done themselves no favors by dealing in crack. However, if we look closely at this we find that the mass move into this trade is pushed on them by capital. Young blacks moved into the alternative economy of drugs when traditional occupations were destroyed. We are dealing with material pressures.

For a member of South Central's youth proletariat, the only rational economic choice is to sell drugs. While the internationalization of the Los Angeles economy has meant a loss for working class blacks, what the Crips and Bloods have managed to do is insert themselves back into the circuit of international trade. While the international trade in legal commodities decided that the Los Angeles blacks were expendable another branch found them eminently useful. Southern California has taken over from Florida as the main route of entry of cocaine into the United States. When in the early 80s the cocaine business found the market for its product saturated, its price falling and profits threatened, it, like any other multinational, diversified and developed new products, the chief one being crack - "the poor man's cocaine". Young proletarians participate in this business because it is the work on offer. It is not them but capital that reduces life to survival/work. We can see, then, that selling crack is in a sense just another undesirable activity like making weapons or cigarettes that proletarians are forced to engage in. But there is a significant difference. Within most occupations proletarians can organize directly within and against capital; but the drug dealing gangs do not confront capital as labor. Gangs do not confront the capital of the enterprise, they confront the repressive arm of capital-in-general: the State. In fact, to the extent that the gangs engage in the cocaine trade and fit firmly into the circuit of international capital, they are the capitalist enterprise. This is a problem. The drive-by shootings and lethal turf wars of the black gangs is the proletariat killing itself for capital.

It is necessary to see, then, that the murderous gangbanging phenomenon which is presently halted has not been, as the bourgeois press would have it, the result of the breakdown of "family values" and the loss of the restraining influence of the middle class as they left for the suburbs; rather it resulted from: 1) the economics of capitalist restructuring (the replacing of traditional industries with drugs) and 2) the active destruction of political forms of self-organisation by state repression. The solution to the problem of the murderous crack wars is the rediscovery of political self-activity of the sort shown in the rebellion. The solution to inter-proletarian violence is proletarian violence.

The irrepressible nature of the gang-phenomenon shows the pressing need for organisation on the part of the youth proletariat of L.A. For a while in the 60s it took a self-consciously political form. When this manifestly political form of organisation was repressed, the gangs came back with a vengeance, showing that they express a real and pressing need. What we have seen in and since the uprising is a new politicization of gang culture: a return of the repressed.

6. Political Ideas of the Gangs

Since the rebellion, some attention has been given to the political ideas and proposals of the gangs (or, more precisely, the gang leadership). The proposals are mixed. Some are unobjectionable, like that for gang members with video cameras to follow the police to prevent brutality and for money for locally community controlled rebuilding of the neighbourhood; but others, like replacing welfare with workfare, and for close cooperation between the gangs and corporations, are more dubious. The political ideas from which these proposals spring seem largely limited to black nationalism. So how should we understand these proposals and this ideology?

The attempt by the gang leadership to interpose themselves as mediators of the ghetto has similarities to the role of unions and we should perhaps apply to them a similar critique to that which we apply to unions. It is necessary: 1) to recognise a difference between the leaders and the ordinary members 2) to recognise the role of the leadership as recuperating and channelling the demands of the rank and file.

Some of the gang leaders' conceptions are, quite apart from being reactionary, manifestly unrealistic. In the context of capitalist restructuring, the inner city ghetto and its "underclass" is surplus to requirements - it has been written off - it has no place in capitalist strategy, except perhaps as a terror to encourage the others. It is extremely unlikely that there will be a renegotiation of the social contract to bring these subjects back into the main rhythm of capitalist development. This was to an extent possible in the 60s and 70s, but no longer.

Understandably, in the light of the main options available, there is a desire in the inhabitants of L.A. for secure unionized employment. But capital has moved many industries away and they will not come back. Many of the people in these areas recognise the change and want jobs in computers and other areas of the new industries. But, although individual people from the ghetto may manage to get a job in these sectors (probably only by moving), for the vast majority this will remain a dream. Within capital's restructuring, these jobs are available to a certain section of the working class, and, while a few from the ghetto might insert themselves into that section, the attractive security of that section is founded on an overall recomposition of the proletariat that necessarily posits the existence of the marginalized "underclass".

But, leaving aside the change in the conditions which makes large scale investment in the inner cities very unlikely, what do the gang leaders proposals amount to? Faced with the re-allocation of South Central residents as unguaranteed excluded objects within capital's plan of development, the gang leaders present themselves as negotiators of a new deal: they seek to present the rebellion as a $1 billion warning to American capital/state that it must bring these subjects into the fold with the gang leaders as mediators. They are saying that they accept the reduction of life to Work-Wage-Consumption, but that there is not enough work (!) i.e. they want the proletariat's refusal of mediation - its direct meeting of its needs - to force capital to re-insert them into the normal capitalist mediation of needs through work and the wage. The gangs, with their labor-intensive drug industry, have been operating a crypto-Keynesian employment programme; now in their plans for urban renewal the gang leadership want fully-fledged Keynesianism, with them instead of the unions as the brokers of labor-power. But, even apart from the fact that capital will not be able to deliver what the gang leaders seek, the rebellion has shown the whole American proletariat a different way of realising its needs; by collective direct action they can take back what's theirs.

These demands show the similarity of gang and union leadership: how they both act to limit the aspirations of their members to what can be met within the capitalist order. But for all the negative aspects to the union/gang organization, we must recognise that they do originate from real needs of the proletariat: the needs for solidarity, collective defense and a sense of belongingness felt by the atomised proletarian subject. Moreover the gangs are closer to this point of origin than the sclerotic unions of advanced capitalist countries. The gang is not the form of organization for blacks or other groups, but it is a form of organization that exists, that has shown itself prepared to engage in class struggle and that has had in the past and now it seems again to have the potential for radicalizing itself into a real threat to capital.

Black Nationalism

The limitations of the practical proposals of the gang leaders are partly a result of their conflict of interest with the ordinary members but also a function of the limits of their ideology. The gangs' political ideas are trapped within the limits of black nationalism. But how should we view this when their practice is so obviously beyond their theory? After all, as someone once observed, one doesn't judge the proletariat by what this or that proletarian thinks but by what it is necessary impelled to do by its historical situation. The gangs took seriously Public Enemy's Farrakhan-influenced stance on non-black businesses and "shut 'em down". Although Farrakhan does not preach violence as a political means many in the black gangs agree with his goal of black economic self-determination and saw the violence as a means towards that goal. In reality this goal of a "black capitalism" is wrong but the means they chose were right. The tendency of separation and antagonism shown by the rebellion is absolutely correct but it needs to be an antagonism and separation from capital rather than from non-black society. It is necessary that as the marginalized sector rediscovers the organisation and political ideas that were repressed in the 60s and 70s that it goes beyond those positions.

But, just as blacks were not the only or even the majority of rioters, the Crips and Bloods are not the only gangs. Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Salvadorans and most other Latin American immigrants have all evolved the gang as an organizational form for youth. Now, just as these gangs are far less involved in the international side of the drug business - selling indigenous drugs such as marijuana, PCP and speed at much smaller profit - they also do not have the nationalist leanings of the black gangs. Before the rebellion, a level of communication was reached between black and Latino youth through the shared culture of rap music and the experience it expresses. The tentative alliance between blacks and Latinos that emerged during the uprising shows a way forward. Los Angeles and America generally does need a rainbow coalition, but not one putting faith in Jesse Jackson; rather, one from below focussing on people's needs and rejecting the mediation of the existing political system. For [working-class] blacks, a leap is required, but it will not happen through some "battle of ideas" with the black nationalists carried out in the abstract, but only in connection with practice; only by and through struggle will the [working-class] blacks of L.A. and the rest of the American proletariat develop a need for communism to which the direct appropriation of goods showed the way.

"In one crowded apartment building 75% of the tenants were found to possess looted goods and were swapping goods among themselves." LAPD Lieutenant Rick Morton (International Herald Tribune, May 8th 1992.)

We might say the proletariat only sets itself the problems it can solve. Only by and through a new round of struggles such as began in L.A. will there be the opening for the American working class to find the ideas and organizational forms that it needs.

7. Conclusion

"Let us please not go back to normal." Distressed caller on radio talk show during the riots. (Understanding the Riots, LA Times book, 1992.)

The rebellion in Los Angeles marked a leap forward in the global class struggle. In direct appropriation and as an offensive against the sites of capitalist exploitation, the whole of the population of South Central felt its power. There is a need to go on. The struggle has politicised the population. The truce is fundamental - the proletariat has to stop killing itself. The LAPD is worried and are surely now considering the sort of measures they used to break the gang unity that followed the Watts rebellion. The police are scared by the truce and by the wave of politicisation which may follow it. That politicization will have to go beyond black nationalism and the incorporative leanings of the gang leadership - another leap is required. In the multi-ethnic nature of the uprising and the solidarity actions across the country, we saw signs that the proletariat can take this leap.

For years, American rulers could let the ghetto kill itself. In May '92 its guns were turned on the oppressor. A new wave of struggle has begun.


Juan Conatz

13 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 2, 2011

No footnotes? By the way, this is fucking excellent.

EMUs in the class war

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

The developing New World Order, and the power of global finance capital, is accelerating the tendency of the European capitalist class to unite politically against the proletariat. The drawbacks of this strategy for the capitalist class, however, include the loss of their flexibility in fighting the proletariat at the national level.

Despite the riots, the town hall sieges and the above all the millions who defied the law through non-payment, it was not the poll tax revolt that finally put paid to Thatcher; it was the issue of Europe.

That the anti-poll tax movement was robbed of its ultimate coup de grace was perhaps indicative of the success of the Tories, even before the onset of the Gulf War, in making their tactical retreat from the poll tax, and perhaps demonstrates more than anything else the ultimate limitations of the anti-poll tax campaign.

Of course the spectacle of the 'palace coup' of November 1990, in which the pro-European wing of the Tory Party deposed Thatcher and swept aside her petty nationalism, was not a means to simply deny the class victory of the anti-poll tax movement - a victory that had come after so many defeats through out the 1980s and one which threatened to dispel myth of the futility of class struggle, although it did have this effect; but was the reflection of an important struggle within the British bourgeoisie. Indeed, it was only over Thatcher's dead body that British state could make its commitment to European union at Maastricht a year later.

Of course the whole issue of Europe for most people in Britain seems to be both irrelevant and incomprehensible; one big yawn, in fact. Who can make sense of the interminable list of E-words; ERM, ECU, EMU, EPU etc? Who can understand the 'historic implications' of this and that treaty couched as they are in Euro-speak? Even for revolutionaries the issue of Europe is often regarded as little more than a squabble amongst the ruling class. But the whole question of European unity raised by the Maastricht Treaty is part of the question of how the bourgeoisie is to organise itself against us in the New World Order which has arisen since the collapse of the state capitalism of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Indeed, as we shall see, however indirectly, the potential class confrontation of the poll tax issue and the question Europe are linked as part of the same problem; the problem of class rule!

* * *

The Breaking of the Dam

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1988 signalled the end of the post-war era. All the old certainties of the previous forty years that had been cemented by the 'mutually assured destruction' of the confrontation between the old two super-powers have been swept away. Yet perhaps rather ironically, the very victory of the USA over its old rival has served to raise the very question of America's continued hegemony. In the old order, the threat of 'communism' had served as an overriding unifying force that consolidated the Western bloc under the leadership of the USA. Now that this threat has been vanquished, the centrifugal forces that have been building over the last 20 years as a consequence of the relative decline in the USA's economic hegemony are no longer held in check.

With the acceleration of the process of European unity and following the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement, even the most superficial of bourgeois commentators now recognises the rapidly accelerating process which is leading towards the break up of the world into three dominant and fiercely competitive economic blocs: the Pacific region led by Japan, the America's led by the USA, and Europe. It is this process towards a new tri-polarism, that has been unleashed by the collapse of the old bi-polar world, which is the basis for the development of the new world order of global capitalism. Yet the precise nature of this new tripolar world is far from certain. The relations of the various bourgeois factions both between and within these emerging blocs and their relative strengths with regard to each other and the proletariat are far from settled and indeed this is nowhere more so than in Europe.

Over the past forty years Europe, the very pivot of East-West confrontation, has been a bastion of stability in an uncertain and war ravaged world. Yet with the fall the Berlin Wall this has all changed. Both in Eastern and Western Europe we are seeing dramatic political and economic transformations as the European bourgeoisie realigns itself in the context of the emerging new world order.

We have all seen the dramatic collapse of the Eastern Bloc in Eastern Europe over the past four years, followed last year by the complete disintegration of the Soviet Union itself (and now even Russia is plagued by the threat of further disintegration into its constituent regions). We have seen the ruling classes of Eastern Europe, as they transform themselves from their old bureaucratic forms into fully fledged bourgeoisie, introduce drastic economic and political reforms in an attempt to sweep away the decrepit command structures of state capitalism. And we have seen them prostrate themselves before the envoys of international capitalism from the West and swallow whole the idiotic doctrines of the Western economic advisers as they seek to scramble aboard the New Europe. As the ruling classes of Eastern Europe no doubt know, either they open themselves up to the exploitation of Western capital and thereby hope to become a small centre of capital accumulation, or else they will be plunged into the nether regions of a newly emerging Third World of Europe.

Whereas the tectonic shifts of the New World Order are tearing Eastern Europe apart, in Western Europe they have hastened an obverse process of unification. Few but the most Euro-fanatics in 1988 would have believed that in less than four years time the Governments of the EEC would have committed themselves to abandoning their 'economic sovereignty' by accepting a single currency and a European Bank by the end of the century, with all the implications such a decision has for eventual political union in some form of United States of Europe. Yet it was such a momentous commitment that was made at Maastricht last December.

Whether such a commitment will be realised is still an open question - particularly in the wake of Denmark's rejection of the original Maastricht Treaty in its recent referendum. But to fully understand the importance of this commitment and the implications it has for the class struggle we must first look at the how it arose out of the decline and fall of the Old World Order of the post-war era and its effects on the political contours of Western Europe.

The Rise and Fall of the Old World Order

The Rise

It is perhaps no surprise that Europe should be at the centre of the geo-political changes brought about by the decline of the post-war era since it was through the stabilisation and division of Europe at the end of the Second World War that the world order of the past forty years was constructed. But to understand this pivotal position in the old world order and its position in the new we must recall Europe's special position in the history of capitalism.

It must be remembered that it was in Europe that capitalism first emerged and matured and it was in Europe that the industrial proletariat first emerged and became organised as an antagonistic force opposed to the domination of capital. It was the confrontation between the growing power of the organised working class and capital's ceaseless efforts to fully dominate and subsume the labour process that led to both the emergence of monopoly capitalism and the strife that tore Europe apart in the first half of this century. War, aborted revolutions, mass unemployment, fascism and yet more war plagued Europe for more than thirty long years. It was as a result of this tumultuous period that social democracy finally triumphed, establishing a truce in the class war that was to assure relative social peace in Europe for several decades and laid the basis for the post-war boom - in Western Europe at least.

The post-war settlements were made possible in Europe, as elsewhere in the industrial world of the Western Bloc, by a radical change in the mode of capital accumulation; from that of monopoly capitalism, that had been predominant since the late nineteenth century, to that of Fordism, which had first emerged in the USA during the 1920's and 30's and which became implanted in Europe following the Second World War. What then was the nature of this change in the mode of accumulation?

In the face of the growing power of organised labour in the late nineteenth century, the tendencies towards the centralisation of capital had become greatly accelerated. In order to accommodate concessions made to the more organised sections of the working class the huge monopolies sought to exploit their monopoly positions by restricting production thereby raising prices and shifting the burden of higher wages onto the non-monopoly sectors of the economy.

However, high monopoly prices could only be maintained by restricting foreign competition, and the necessary restrictions on the level of production served to restrict the outlets for the further domestic accumulation of capital in the monopolised industries. As a consequence the state had to be mobilised on behalf of monopoly capital, firstly to restrict foreign competition on the domestic markets, and secondly to defend by force if necessary the opportunities for the export of capital to foreign markets. Thus monopoly capitalism could only lead towards state capitalism and intense imperialist rivalry and ultimately war, a process ably described and analysed by Bukharin and Lenin at the time.

The fundamental problem of state monopoly capitalism was that it was unable to fully realise the real subsumption of the labour process under capital since it was unable to eliminate the power of various skilled craft workers from the process of production that had developed in the key heavy industries following the industrial revolution (eg coal, steel, engineering and the railways). With Fordism, pioneered by the new consumer industries (cars, washing machines etc) and made possible by the bitter struggles of the early twentieth century, a new deal was possible. The way was opened for the real subsumption of labour to capital allowing the rapid and 'scientific' transformation of the production process in the pursuit of the production of relative surplus-value.

Capital's real domination of the labour process enabled a continual rise in the productivity of labour. In return for conceding its power over the labour-process, the working class could be virtually guaranteed of rising real wages within the limits of the growth in the productivity of labour. These higher wages then served to provide the demand for the ever increasing production of commodities by Fordist industry. So, whereas the old mode of accumulation had been based on restricting the supply of commodities in order to obtain monopoly prices with which to accommodate the demands of skilled and organised sections of the working class, Fordism was based on expanding production and paying for higher wages out of increased productivity. It was a mode of accumulation of mass production and mass consumption.

As has been well documented elsewhere, Fordism gave rise to a major recomposition of the working class and to the emergence of the mass worker. The skilled craft workers of the old industries now gave way to the semi-skilled workers of the assembly line. For these mass workers, who had surrendered control over the production process as part of the 'Fordist deal', there was little or no attachment to a particular trade. Work was merely a means to a wage and no more, while the wage was the means of the imposition of an indifferent labour. As such the mass worker could be seen as the historical realisation of the tendency towards abstract labour.

The imposition of Fordism then served to underpin the social democratic class compromise at the political level. The increased production of relative surplus-value allowed the emergence of a relatively generous welfare state and the consequent rapid and unprecedented expansion of public expenditure into areas of health, housing, education and social security that provided a substantial and growing 'social wage' in the post-war era. At the same time, in most countries, various degrees of tripartite consultation (government, trade unions and employers) were instituted and developed at varying levels of society for the planning of the economy and for the co-ordination of social policy thereby giving labour-power representation within state-capital.

So while the new Fordist mode of accumulation underpinned the post-war settlement and provided the material and economic basis for limited class conciliation, the post-war settlement was consolidated at the level of the nation state. To this extent the post-war era of Fordism built upon the tendency towards state capitalism that had begun in the previous era of monopoly capitalism.

Yet the state not only policed, maintained and organised the new class compromise between the working class and the bourgeoisie, it also imposed and maintained and organised the new relations within the bourgeoisie itself.

Firstly, the old bastions of the age of monopoly capitalism were nationalised or else heavily regulated not only to diffuse the traditional class antagonisms that typified these industries, but also so that their inherent propensity towards restrictive monopoly pricing would not hold back the necessary expansionism of the newly emergent Fordist industries. This gave rise to the so called 'mixed economy' of the post-war era in which an extensive public sector of state capital operated side by side with a more or less equally extensive private sector of capital. Secondly, the state sought to integrate and subordinate the money-circuits of capital to the accumulation of national productive capital through extensive regulations on financial institutions and the active application of Keynesian monetary and fiscal policy.

Capital accumulation in the post-war era therefore became consolidated around a number of distinct national economies each with its own semi-autonomous cycles of accumulation and each enjoying a limited autonomy with regard to its integration of its own working class. Fordism gave rise to the mass worker - the historical realisation of the tendency towards abstract labour - but the various post-war settlements fractured the mass worker as abstract labour on national lines. Concessions to the working class were made not to the working class as such but to the British, French, Italian or German working class - and thereby excluded those regarded as aliens such as immigrants. (This national fracturing of abstract labour of course reflected the national fracturing of capital that meant that, despite multi-nationals and global markets, we still can talk in terms of the interests of 'British', 'German' and 'American' capital etc.)

These distinct national economies were then inserted within the overall accumulation of capital in the Western Bloc through the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in which each national currency was committed to a maintain a fixed parity to the dollar. Through this system of fixed exchange rates and its attendant supra-national organisations such as the IMF and World Bank each national economy was strictly subordinated to the hegemony of the USA.

The empires of the old imperialist powers of Western Europe, which had been so central to the previous era of monopoly capitalism, were rapidly broken up through the post-war process of decolonialisation as the national economies of Western Europe became integrated as the secondary pole in the Atlantic axis of accumulation. It was this Atlantic axis of Pax Americana which then provided the central dynamic for capital accumulation in the Western Bloc throughout the first two decades of the post-war era. While the progressive development of free trade allowed an unprecedented growth in the trade of manufactures within the Atlantic axis the ex-colonies of the Third World were increasingly left to stagnate on the peripheries.

The Fall

The post-war settlement and Pax Americana laid the basis for the long post-war boom of the '50s and '60s and the economic stability and prosperity that Western Europe still to a large degree enjoys. However, already by the mid-'60s its very success had begun to sow the seeds of its own demise.

Firstly, the unprecedented period of sustained economic growth of the Atlantic axis had brought with it an even faster growth in world trade, particularly that of manufactured commodities. This growth in world trade brought with it a rapid expansion in the circuits of international money-capital and the development of global capital markets. With the development of offshore banking and the Euro-dollar markets, which had emerged as means to escape state regulation, these swelling international money-circuits increasingly began to breach the constraints that had bound the movement of such money-capital to the national accumulation of productive capital and which had underpinned the efficacy of Keynesian demand management.

At the same time, the successful export of Fordism and the generous aid provided by the USA to both Europe and the far East in order to 'preserve the free world from 'Communism'' had laid the foundations for the economic miracles of both West Germany, which pulled the rest of Western Europe in its train, and of Japan. As a consequence, both West Germany and Japan had by the late '60s become serious economic rivals to the USA. The growing autonomy of international money-capital combined with the relative decline of American economic hegemony increasingly put strains on the Bretton Woods systems of fixed exchange rates which finally collapsed in 1973.

However, more importantly, the post-war world order came under threat from the resurgence of class conflict. By the 1960s a new generation of the working class had grown up who had known nothing of the traumas of the early twentieth Century. A new generation fully formed within the Fordist mode of accumulation and the post-war settlement that brought with it new demands and aspirations - a new revolt of the mass worker. At their most radical these aspirations did not concern the question of who controlled the work process but constituted a revolt against work and the commodity form itself!

Against this, capital's immediate reaction was to recuperate such revolutionary demands and aspirations by making material and economic concessions that preserved the wage-relation and the commodity-form. Images of the revolution were sold back to the would-be revolutionary rebels in the form of rock music to t-shirts, the wildcat strikers were granted wage rises and more free time, while more was spent on public services and various restrictive social legislation was liberalised.

Yet while making concessions to the working class succeeded in diffusing the immediate threat to capital's very existence, it could not be a long term solution. Selling the revolution back to the would-be revolutionaries could only be a short term palliative which threatened to stimulate demands for the real thing once its inauthenticity had become apparent, while liberal reforms threatened to undermine the long term social discipline needed to ensure a productive working class. At the same time, conceding wage increases above the growth in the productivity of labour and allowing the 'social wage' to balloon out of control could only result in a serious profit squeeze.

Amongst all the diffuse complaints of the bourgeoisie concerning declining moral standards, disrespect to authority, the threat to the right to manage, it was the threat to profit, as always, that galvanised and organised their response to the resurgence of the proletariat. Indeed, the squeeze on profits caused by rising wages, combined with the rising organic composition of capital resulting from two decades of sustained capital accumulation, began to undermine the general rate of profit thus producing a serious crisis in the accumulation of capital in the Western Bloc. Capital had to take radical action.

In order to both circumvent and undermine the bastions of working class power that had become entrenched within the development of Fordism in the industrialised West, capital took up a threefold strategy of restructuring. In the old established industries it sought to completely re-organise and, wherever possible, to automate the existing labour process. A strategy exemplified by the automation of the Fiat production process in response to the militancy of the Italian car workers. Secondly, capital shifted into new industries, such as information technology, electronics and the so-called service sector, where fresh labour relations could be established. Thirdly, capital took flight to the more developed regions of the now long-neglected third world.

Whereas the first two forms of restructuring for the most part involved a long term commitment, capital flight offered a much more immediate response that became increasingly attractive as the crisis in Atlantic axis gathered pace. Indeed, throughout the 1970s, galvanising the emergent autonomy of international money capital, capital flooded into certain selected parts of the Third World giving rise to what became known as the newly industrialising countries (NICs). A process that was greatly accelerated following the dramatic oil price hike of 1974 which served to liquidate and then divert huge sums of capital away from industrial capital, which was committed to various national economies within the Atlantic axis, into the hands of the banks and the international circuits of money capital that owed little or no allegiance to any state.

However, this massive capital flight of the 1970s undermined the very conditions of its own realisation. Accumulation in NICs still depended on sustained accumulation in the main poles of global accumulation in the West. Yet the very flight of capital to the NICs undermined this very sustained accumulation in the West upon which its realisation depended. By the end of the decade the flight of capital, which had amounted to a virtual 'investment strike' in countries such as Britain, had precipitated a recession in all of the Western economies which necessarily brought with it a distinct downturn in world trade.

Those Third World economies that had borrowed heavily from the major banks and finance houses to finance rapid accumulation and development now found that the expected growth in exports necessary to pay for interest on such loans failed to materialise. This together with rising interest triggered the Third World debt crisis that came to dominate international finance throughout the 1980s.

Through strenuous efforts on the part of the IMF and the World Bank, backed by inter-government co-ordination amongst the industrial powers, the complete collapse of the international banking system was narrowly averted. Yet, at least for the time being, the attempt to out-flank the working class in the industrial countries through global capital flight had run up against its own inherent barriers.

But while the strategy of capital flight had run into its own insurmountable barriers it did serve to impose the new economic reality of the dominance of global finance capital and in doing so laid the ground for the further development of capital restructuring against the working class in industrialised economies. With the economic crisis of the early 1980s it became clear that economic policy had to be tailored to the demands of global money-capital.

The distinct national economies were now disintegrating as the circuits of international money-capital became increasingly autonomous from state regulation. As a consequence, government after government throughout the industrialised West began to abandon Keynesian economic policies in favour of monetarism as each tried to attract footloose international money-capital with escalating interest rates and disinflationary economic policies. As a result each government was obliged - whether socialist or conservative - to organise a concerted counter-offensive against the gains of the working class of the previous decade. Under the threat of mass unemployment, each sought to hold wages down and slash public spending on the social wage.

However, it must be said that this concerted counter-offensive against the working class in the industrialised economies has paled into insignificance compared with the onslaught on the working class in many Third World countries brought about by the solution imposed by international money-capital to the Third World debt crisis. Escalating interest payments have meant that throughout the 1980s huge amounts of surpus-value have been transferred to the industrial economies from the Third World. Even now, after much of the Third World debt has been written off it has been calculated that the net transfer is more than $50 billion per year.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. In order to service their debts Third World economies have been obliged to maximise their exports at all costs. As a consequence, the price of primary commodities, which make up a substantial proportion of the Third World's export earnings, have plummeted as the world market has becomes flooded by Third World economies competing with other to export. Thus even non-NICs that did not build up such massive debts during the 70s have been badly hit.

The collapse in prices for primary commodities, together with debt servicing, has involved a massive attack on working class living standards. While much of Africa is on the verge of mass starvation, the working class in countries such as Brazil and Mexico have seen their wages cut by between a third and half in real terms over the last decade.

The massive increase in the rate of exploitation in the Third World, together with the counter-offensive in the industrial economies that has resulted in a renegotiation of the post-war settlement, laid the basis for the renewed acceleration of capital accumulation in the 1980s. But as the present stagnation of the world economy shows the crisis of capital accumulation is far from being solved.

The New Economic Reality of Global Finance Capital

So, the decline of US hegemony and capital's attempt to outflank and force back the resurgent proletariat within the old Atlantic axis has led, in the past twenty years, to the emergence of the new economic reality of global finance capital and the disintegration of the distinct national economies that underpinned the Old World Order. With the disintegration of the national economies has come the decline in the efficacy of state action to regulate capital accumulation. As billions of dollars swish around the globe at the touch of button in search of ever greater profits and interest, all 'Chinese walls' are raised to the ground. All is reduced to the common standard of abstract profit. This movement of capital at its most abstract demands that all should be subordinated to the most productive of profit.

Yet the movement of abstract money-capital, for all its instantaneous freedom to roam the world, ultimately depends on the extraction of surplus-value in concrete labour-processes carried out in the context of social and political constraints. With the decline in state regulation the threat of serious dislocation, of devastating financial crashes becomes ever more probable.

In response to such dislocations we have seen the emergence of ad hoc interstate co-ordination on a global level - such as the G7 summits which bring together the major western industrial powers - so as to guide global markets back to positions coherent with economic 'fundamentals'. At the same time, we have also seen the development of the three regional blocs that have emerged in an effort to consolidate capital accumulation at a supra-national level.

However, the emergence of this new economic reality of global finance capital is still at an early stage. Its development has been held in check by two distinct factors. Firstly, the old confrontation between the USA and the USSR has meant that, despite the relative decline in USA's economic hegemony, the USA was still able and willing to play a leading role within the Western Bloc.

>From the very inception of the post-war era, the 'threat of Communism' has served to mobilise the diverse fractions of the American bourgeoisie to pursue a common policy of enlightened self-interest and take an active role in regulating the conditions for the world accumulation of capital. It was this very 'threat of Communism' which mobilised the enormous Marshall Aid programme of the immediate post-war years that served to rebuild Europe. And it was this self same 'threat' that up until recently meant that the USA was prepared to exclude agriculture from its insistence on free trade, and thereby tolerate the huge subsides given to the farmers of Western Europe and Japan at the expense of the export potential of its own farmers. Such subsidies being seen as necessary to support a substantial number of conservative small farmers as a bulwark against the electoral success of the various 'Communist' and Socialist Parties in Japan and Europe.

With the collapse of the Eastern Bloc there is little except the threat of Islamic Fundamentalism to mobilise the American bourgeoisie for anything more than their most immediately apparent common self-interest. As America's negative response to the recent World Environmental Conference in Brazil and its dismal response to the crisis in the erstwhile Soviet Union clearly demonstrates, the US government is increasingly unwilling to take a leadership role in the world. The American bourgeoisie is now increasingly restricted to its own immediate self-interests, subordinating all its efforts to its growing economic competition with Japan in accordance with the dictates of the new economic reality.

The second check on the emergence of the new economic reality has been the overhang of Third World debt. The huge debts of the Third World have meant that global finance capital has been largely restricted to the industrialised West. As a consequence, the huge profit potential of countries such as Brazil have so far been left untapped. But this huge overhang of debt is being progressively wound down. This check on the movement of international finance capital, that has gone a long way in mitigating the effects on the working class in Western Europe, is beginning to be removed. A prospect that points towards an intensification of global competition, particularly between the three poles of accumulation.

With the prospect of increased global competition within the New World Order it would seem that Japan and its Pacific hinterland has a clear head start. With real investment twice as high per worker as that of both Europe and the USA, and its dynamic links with the rapidly expanding NICs of the Pacific such as Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, the Japanese Pacific Bloc seems to be streets ahead.

But the USA and the North American Bloc is in hot pursuit. The important defeat of the American working class during the Reagan years has meant that wages over the last ten years have been cut in real terms to levels not seen since the 1950s.

Europe on the other hand has been lagging behind. Although the European bourgeoisie has been able claw back many of the gains of the working class of the previous decade and in many cases has been able to hold wages constant in real terms for most of the 1980s, it has so far failed to successfully impose Japanese style flexible labour relations nor has it been able to cut real wages to the extent that has been seen in the USA. It is in this context of the European bourgeoisie's response to the emerging new economic reality and the new world order that we must examine the question of European unity.

The Question of Europe

In the face of the growing competition from Japan and America the emerging European Bloc faces its own distinct and peculiar problems. First and foremost, Europe faces an entrenched working class that has grown accustomed to particularly generous post-war settlements. While most Western European governments have succeeded in holding down wages and introducing monetarist policies they have failed to impose large scale wage cuts like those imposed in the USA, nor have Western European managements succeeded in obtaining 'flexible labour practices' that would be on par with those obtained in Japan. Instead the Western European bourgeoisie has been obliged to tread very warily lest it awaken the wrath of its proletarian masses. A danger that has been repeatedly underlined in various instances through the 1980s: from the miners strike and the riots of 1981 and 85 in the UK, the often violent strikes by Spanish Dockers and French steel workers, the general strikes of public sector workers in Belgium and Denmark, the emergence of militant rank and file COBAS in Italy in the mid-80's, and so on.

Secondly, Europe is made up of a number of small nations, none of which has an overwhelming economic dominance. Of course the major economic power in Europe has been West Germany, but faced with the formidable economic power of France, Italy and even the UK, Germany has been unable to dominate the European pole of accumulation as the USA can that of North America or Japan that of the Pacific. In the absence of an overwhelmingly dominant state the emerging European Bloc has tended to coalesce around the supra-national organisation of the EEC. Yet this itself has caused important problems in the process of consolidating Europe as a distinct pole of accumulation. Without a single dominant state which can unify a programme and impose it on subordinated states as is the case elsewhere, the emergent European bourgeoisie has been riven by competing nationally defined interests that have repeatedly thwarted its development as a cohesive bloc in competition with those of the USA and Japan.

Thirdly, up until the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Europe lacked an extensive economic periphery. While the USA had central America on its borders as a source of cheap and compliant labour and Japan had the enormous populations of South East Asia, Europe was confined to relatively underpopulated and politically unstable regions of North Africa and Asia Minor.


The fall of the Eastern Bloc has, however, opened up new possibilities for Western Europe as a distinct pole of global capital accumulation and particularly for Germany's leading role within it. Ever since its unification in the 1870s Germany has been a central European power, with German capital flowing equally eastwards as it did westwards. Yet the division of both Germany and Europe following the Second World War forced West German capital into the arms of its western neighbours as West Germany became integrated into the Atlantic axis.

However, even as early as the 1970s, exploiting the detente between the USA and USSR, West Germany had begun to make its rapprochement with East Germany and Eastern Europe through the policy of Ostpolitik which led to substantial credits being made by West German banks to the governments of Eastern Europe. With the collapse of Eastern Europe, West Germany did not hesitate at the opportunity of reunification. Indeed a united Germany offered the Western German bourgeoisie a golden opportunity to break out of its impasse.

The economic reunification of Germany hinged on the exchange rate that was to be established between the West German Deutschmark (DM) and the East German Ostmark (OM). The rate eventually set was 1 DM for 2 OM, with a limited 1-to-1 exchange for private individuals. This exchange rate substantially overvalued the Ostmark - a more realistic exchange rate being somewhere between DM 1 : 4 OM to as low as 1DM to 10 OM - as the Bundesbank and other financial commentators pointed out at the time. Butthis was no mistake.

By overvaluing the Ostmark the German government no doubt gained temporary popularity in the east as East Germans found their savings could buy ample quantities of long coveted western consumer goods, a popularity reflected in Chancellor Kohl's triumph in the first post-unification elections. But more importantly to the German bourgeoisie an overvalued Ostmark first of all created the basis for an East German petit-bourgoisie which was necessary for the extension of a 'market economy' to the east. Those East Germans that had large savings of Ostmarks could cash them in and find they had a substantial amount of Deutschmarks that could then serve as a starting capital for a small business or to buy shares in newly privatised industries.

What is more, East Germany, even more than the rest of Eastern Europe, had a plentiful supply of cheap but educated and skilled labour. However, the working class in East Germany, as in the rest of the old Eastern Bloc, tended to be adverse to hard work: the BR ethos of 'we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us' pervaded much of its industry. By imposing an overvalued Ostmark, East German industry was made hopelessly uncompetitive. Unable to compete, East German firms would have no option but to throw millions out of work and sell out to West German capital. This short sharp shock of mass unemployment would then serve to discipline the East German working class to accept Western style work discipline.

A disciplined and cheap East German labour force would then serve as a powerful competitor to the West German working class. The entrenched power of the West German working class, indeed that of the working class of Western Europe as whole, could thereby be undercut, opening the way for substantial cuts in both the private and the social wage to match the competitive edge of both Japan and the USA.

Indeed such a strategy would have established the newly unified Germany as the economic power in Europe and would have gone a long way in overcoming the problems of the consolidation of the European pole of global capital accumulation. However, the strategy has gone awry. The attempt to impose the short sharp shock on the East German working class was met by a wave of strikes and demonstrations. Faced with mass social unrest, the German government was forced to back down and concede commitments to raise East German wage levels to West German levels within less than three years and has repeatedly been obliged to extend employment support schemes. Although the German government has been able to sweep away various food and rent subsidies to the East German working class the 'cost of unification' imposed by working class resistance have been 'far higher than expected'.

The German government has sought to shift these costs onto the West German working class by restricting wage increases, but again, in the face of mass public and private sector strikes this spring, they have been obliged to back down. The promise of German unification is rapidly turning into a nightmare for the German bourgeoisie.

France, Italy and the rest of the EEC

The threat of the emergence of a Greater Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent process of German unification, greatly alarmed the other continental powers in Western Europe and the EEC. Fearing that the new Germany would break free of the EEC in order to establish itself as the central European power economically dominating the whole of Europe, both East and West, the other continental states of the EEC hastened to commit Germany to the process of economic and eventual political unification of Western Europe.

Although accelerating the process of unification meant that the rest of the EEC had to make important concessions to Germany as to the structure of the EEC and the exemplary role of the Bundesbank in monetary policy, it was clearly better to become subordinated to the dictates of Germany through the structure of the EEC where various governments would retain a say, rather than be subordinated de facto by Germany's growing economic might. This was particularly true for the more peripheral economies such as those of Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Greece.

The emergence of a unified market and eventually a single European currency could only unleash a process of concentration and centralisation of capital that would lead to an economic polarisation between the rich and poor regions of Europe; but if such a process was instituted politically through the EEC then it would necessarily involve compensatory financial transfers to the poorer nations. If, on the other hand, the Deutschmark eventually was allowed to became the de facto single currency then there would be no such compensation. The weaker EEC states would be left to their own fate on the verge of a newly emergent Third World of Europe.

So, faced with the prospect of being overwhelmed by the growing competition from Japan and America and faced with the new realities of both the dominance of international money-capital and the post-Cold War world the Western European governments had little choice but to accept the imperative for economic unification. What is more, the fear on the part of most of those governments within the EEC of the implications of a unified Germany impressed upon them the importance of EEC as the political vehicle for such economic unification. Hence the acceleration of the process of European unification through the EEC that we have seen in the last few years culminating with the Maastricht Treaty last year.

However, the breakneck speed with which the EEC is now heading towards economic unification has served to raise serious questions amongst many within the European bourgeoisie who are now having to face up to its implications. The 'convergence conditions' of the Maastricht Treaty has committed the bourgeoisie of the EEC to take a hard and resolute line in the face of European proletariat. If they are not to be left behind in the process of European unification, the signatories of the Maastricht Treaty are committed to meet strict and onerous monetary targets. These targets demand that public spending should not exceed 3% of each economies GDP, that the total National Debt should not exceed 60% of GDP and that inflation should be brought with a couple of percentage points of the lowest in the EEC. All of which imply for most economies of the EEC severe cuts in the social wage and strenuous efforts in holding down wage levels. Hence, in the absence of a world-wide economic boom, the resolute commitment to these 'convergence conditions' can only lead to an outright confrontation with the working class throughout most of the EEC.

Yet, at the same time, such a commitment to these convergence conditions, and indeed eventual monetary union, both removes the economic flexibility each individual government has in diffusing class confrontation, and serves to undermine nationalist sentiment that has proved such an important element in maintaining social cohesion in Europe for more than hundred years. Let us briefly consider these two important implications in turn.

Under the old Keynesian policy regime, governments could always defuse particular class confrontations by relaxing monetary and fiscal policies and maintain international competitiveness through a subsequent devaluation of the currency. In this way the bourgeoisie was always able to make a tactical retreat if the going got too tough in the hope that any concession could be clawed back at a later date. (Of course this always held the danger that a series of 'tactical retreats' would turn into a full scale rout, as it threatened to do frequently in the '70s.)

In establishing the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in the late seventies, most EEC governments committed themselves to taking a tough and unified stance by tying the exchange rate of their currencies to the Deutschmark and allowing only occasional realignments within the ERM. Following the Maastricht Treaty, not only is devaluation increasingly ruled out even in the most exceptional circumstances - eventually becoming impossible with the introduction of the single currency at the end of the century - but fiscal and monetary policy are to be increasingly circumscribed by the need to meet its various 'convergence conditions'. Hence, with the Maastricht Treaty, the governments of the EEC are now committed to progressively surrendering their flexibility and room for manoeuvre - their 'political sovereignty' - in their confrontations with the working class.

But many in the European bourgeoisie not only fear that the commitment to a hard and unified stance against the proletariat will restrict their room for manoeuvre and prove not only a hard but brittle unity, but that the Maastricht Treaty will ultimately rob them of the most effective weapon - nationalism. As Nicholas Ridley revealed most clearly in his outburst against the Germans, what many of the bourgeoisie fear is that while the working class may accept austerity measures imposed by their 'own' ruling class 'for the sake of the nation' that has been long and painfully constructed over more than a hundred years, they are less likely to go along with austerity measures that originate from Brussels or the Bundesbank.

This fear is shared by both the Left and Right of the bourgeois political spectrum and has led to increasing opposition to the Maastricht Treaty and the present course of European unification. In the face of accelerated European unification and its threat to 'national sovereignty and identity' the Right has mobilised nationalist sentiment. A mobilisation that has become most apparent with the rise of the far Right parties in Germany and France, and which has no doubt drawn strength from the fears of many working class people with the undermining of the nationally defined post-war settlements.

While the Right is opposed to the Maastricht Treaty because it sees European unity as undermining the working class identity with its 'own' bourgeoisie through the nation, the Left oppose the Maastricht Treaty on the grounds that it merely lays the basis for a bankers Europe run by bankers. For them, what is needed is the construction of a new European identity, perhaps buttressed by various sub-national identities (eg of the Scotland in Europe ilk), that can appeal to working class loyalties, built on filling the 'democratic deficit' (greater powers to the European parliament) and a European social settlement (eg through the strengthening of the social chapter). In other words, what they demand is a bankers Europe run by a new European intelligensia.


These divisions in the west European bourgeoisie are reflected in British ruling class circles, as is evident in the deep divisions within both the Tory and Labour Parties over the issue of Europe. But these divisions are further complicated by the peculiarity of Britain's position.

The British bourgeoisie have always maintained an aloof and detached attitude towards the rest of Europe. The legacy of being the first industrial capitalist power, which gave Britain hegemony over the world market throughout much of the last century, has left the British bourgeoisie with a distinctly global outlook and interests. Yet to understand the present divisions within the British bourgeoisie over Europe we must briefly reconsider the last 40 years with respect to Britain.

Unlike much of mainland Europe, Britain did not experience the devastating dislocations brought about by invasion and modern warfare on its soil. As a consequence it was far more difficult to sweep away many of the old pre-war social relations and institutional structures to make way for the post-war reconstruction around Fordism and social democracy. This had important implications for the development of Britain in the post-war era.

This not only meant the preservation of antiquated traditions and culture in social life, but that at the point of production many of the old restrictive practices that had built up over previous decades of monopoly capitalism remained intact and even incorporated intothe new Fordist industries. While there emerged distinct move towards a Fordist style national collective bargaining in most industries, which was conducted on behalf of the workers by professional trade union officials, shop-stewards at a plant level still retained an extensive role in negotiating piece rates, the maintenance of particular working practices, and lines of demarcation, which served to restrict the full development of Fordist control of production.

Unwilling to confront the entrenched power of the shop stewards, British capitalists tended to invest abroad wherever possible, leaving British industry with increasingly antiquated and uncompetitive plant and machinery. A response that led to the continuing decline of Britain as an industrial power through the post-war decades.

It was such peculiarities of post-war Britain which gave form to the particular expressions of the proletarian offensive of the 60's and 70's in this country. On the one hand there emerged the distinctly cultural 'youth revolt' against the 'quaint' yet stifling Victorianism that dominated British life and culture. A revolt that, unlike elsewhere in Europe, was largely separated from the questions of class and the economy. On the other hand there was the resurgence in the militancy of the shop stewards movement that was very much of the 'economic' and which found its expression in wave after wave of wildcat strikes and 'secondary "sympathy" actions'.

This overt separation of the largely cultural 'youth revolt' from the economic struggle at on the shop floor meant that the proletarian offensive was far less explosive in Britain than it was to prove to be in for example France and Italy, where the politicisation went much further resulting in the events of May '68 and the 'Hot Autumn' of '69 respectively. Yet while it was relatively easy for the British state and capital to contain the proletarian revolt within the limits of the commodity and the wage relation it could only do so by accelerating Britain's economic decline. This reached crisis point by the end of the 1970s.

The 'winter of discontent' of '78/'79 brought home to the British ruling classes more than anything else the precarious state of the British economy beset by the 'English disease' of 'bloody minded workers' that had made Britain the 'sick man of Europe'. The policy of the Labour government, which had successfully defused the class confrontations of the early '70s and, like other governments of Western Europe, had begun cautiously, and rather reluctantly, to adopt monetarist policies in an effort to claw back the gains made by the working class in the previous decade without at the same time destroying the social consensus, had now come to a dead end. It had become clear that if Britain was to remain a major area of capital accumulation far more radical action had to be taken than that being pursued elsewhere in Western Europe. The election of Thatcher in 1979 cleared the way for such radical action.

Rallying the bourgeoisie behind her, Thatcher began a sustained offensive against the working class. Armed with mass unemployment exacerbated by high interest rates and a grossly overvalued pound, Thatcher took on and defeated various sections of the working class one by one. The steel workers, the health workers, the railway workers, the miners, the printers; each victory served to galvanise the bourgeoisie to sweep away the restrictions on management and ruthlessly impose redundancies and new working practices. As a result the overmanning and restrictive practices that had constrained the profitablity of British industry for decades were swept away during the 1980s.

Thatcher's strategy of uncompromising confrontation was undoubtedly a highly risky one for the British bourgeoisie, and more than once it nearly came a cropper. Indeed, following the riots of July '81 and an impending miners strike it was only by playing the ultimate card of jingoistic nationalism with the Falklands war that Thatcher kept on course in her first term (an episode that was to underline the importance of nationalism in the minds of many of the British bourgeoisie); while despite five years preparation Thatcher's victory over the miners in '84 was far from certain.

Yet the success of Thatcher's counter-offensive fed on itself. The sweeping away of restrictive practices etc allowed a massive increase in the intensity of labour. This meant that capitalists could extract more surplus-value, and thus higher profits, while at the same time as conceding higher wages. As a consequence, for those that escaped the advance of mass unemployment and the low wage economy, wages have far outstripped prices throughout the 1980s. This, combined with income tax cuts and easy credit has allowed the Tories to divide the working class and thereby build a new conservative social consensus built around the infamous 'Essex Man'. A consensus that has ensured the continuing electoral success of the Tory Party.

Such was the success of the Thatcher's strategy that in the euphoria of her third election victory and in the midst of the first flush of the late '80s yuppie boom, the Tories became convinced that they could maintain, if not accelerate the momentum of the Thatcher counter-offensive almost indefinetly. They believed that they could continue to push back the working class and repeatedly re-negotiate the post-war settlement so as to eventually Americanise British society and Japanify production. As a consequence they were confident that Britain would become the land of ever rising profits and, given that the big bang had reaffirmed London as the third pillar in the world of international finance, Britain could compete with the best in the world as a centre for capital accumulation.

This confidence shaped the Tory Party's attitude to Europe at the crucial time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Thatcher was happy to see freer markets, particularly if they could be broadened to Eastern Europe, but was opposed to any move towards economic or political unification that would inhibit the momentum of her counter-offensive. She was resolutely opposed, as she repeatedly made clear, to 'socialism through the back door' that would impose the timidity of the European bourgeoisie on her policies for Britain. The Tory government therefore sought to stall any moves towards EEC unification.

However, Thatcher's semi-detached attitude towards Europe was to become increasingly untenable for all but the most fanatical of Thatcherites. Facing the stampede towards European unity which followed the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the British state soon found itself being forced to choose between being left behind on the margins of the new Europe or else making a commitment to its process of unity. Increasingly isolated and unable to stall or dilute European unification, Thatcher's preferred option was to go it alone and preserve 'Britain's sovereignty' so as to press ahead with her Americanisation and Japanification.

Yet such an option now looked increasingly unpalatable. Commentators on the Left of the British bourgeoisie had long pointed out that the cost of Thatcher's success had been the decimation of Britain's manufacturing base and a failure to reverse the chronic lack of real investment in plant and machinery. This weakness in the British economy soon became evident with the dramatic rise in the balance of payments deficit that accompanied the late '80s boom. For the first time in a hundred years Britain's balance of trade in manufactures went into the red. At the same time the great stock market crash of 1987 reminded all of the perilous nature of the high seas of international finance on which Thatcher had hoped to sail single-handedly.

With Thatcher's economic 'miracle' increasingly being revealed as a 'mirage', the government was forced to seek the protection of the Europe. To avoid escalating interest rates and to bolster international financiers confidence in Britain the Tory government was eventually obliged to seek to the protection of the EEC by joining the 'Exchange Rate Mechanism' - much to Maggie's chagrin.

But what more than anything else sunk Thatcher's counter-offensive was working class resistance. Within weeks of the triumphant celebrations of ten years of Tory rule which proclaimed the lowest level of strikes for fifty years came the wave of public sector strikes of the Summer of '89. London was repeatedly brought to a halt by wildcat strikes by underground workers and industrial action on the buses, oil production was disrupted by wildcat strikes by offshore oil workers, solid one-day strikes on British Rail were then followed by more than a million local government workers coming out on successive one-day strikes throughout the country.

While these strikes did not result in major victories over the government, they did not result in a major defeats either. If nothing else they began to undermine the apparent invincibility of the Thatcher regime. Indeed it was only through a long and perhaps pyrrhic victory over the ambulance drivers six months later that the government was able to regain its hardline reputation and restore some of the confidence of international capital. But no sooner had it done so than it had to face the emergence of the campaign against the poll tax.

The mass campaign against the poll tax, which exploded into the civil disorder of March 1990 and the biggest movement of civil disobedience ever seen in the UK, finally made it clear to the British ruling class that the momentum of the Thatcher counter-revolution could not be maintained. There was little option but to back off and slow down. As a consequence the policy of making Britain an offshore haven of profitablity outside mainstream Europe was no longer appeared as feasible. As the Europhiles in the both the Tory Party and the Labour Party made clear, the British bourgeoisie had no option but to sink or swim with its counterparts in European Community. For all her great service to the British bourgeoisie Thatcher had to be dumped.


The dilemma facing the British state is now the dilemma facing the bourgeoisie over Europe as a whole - it is the question of organising class rule in the New World Order and within the new economic reality of global finance capital. A dilemma made all the more acute by the current world economic recession that is threatening to turn into a full scale economic slump.

While Norman Lamont waits for Godot, in the form of an economic recovery that never comes, and while the more idiotic backbench Tories dream of Britain overhauling Germany as the economic anchor of Europe with the eventual realisation of zero inflation, more and more of the British bourgeoisie are becoming alarmed at the prospect of prolonged stagnation or even of a full scale economic slump. With the pound locked into the ERM and the Government committed to European economic convergence the British bourgeoisie face the continued world economic stagnation with little room for manoeuvre.

With the devaluation of the pound ruled out and interest rates dictated by the Bundesbank both the government and British capitalists are being driven towards a full scale confrontation with the British working class. Industrial capitalists face increased foreign competition handicapped by an overvalued pound and crippled by extortionate real interest rates, and as a result are being forced to hold wages down by throwing thousands onto the dole. Consequently the government faces an exploding budget deficit.

Indeed, at the time of the election last March, the government forecast an alarmingly sharp rise in the annual budget deficit to around £30 billion (5%-6% of GDP), and roundly denounced the Labour Party's modest, if not pathetic, proposals to add a few extra billion to public spending as wildly profligate. Yet such forecasts were based on the rosy assumptions of an imminent economic recovery. Four months later such assumptions have become laughable. With the prospect of a continuing decline in tax revenues and rising social security payments due to the prolonged economic recession, most economicforecasters are now predicting the budget deficit to rise to at least £40 billion (7%-8% of GDP) on current trends! If the Government is to contain its budget deficit to a level that it can confidently finance, let alone reduce it to the levels demanded by the Maastricht convergence conditions for EMU, then it has no option other than to make further substantial cuts to public spending, and may even have to raise taxes despite all its election promises.

Meanwhile, Major's attempt to salvage the new social consenus that Thatcher built around the dream of the 'property owning democracy' is beginning to flounder. The hope of reducing interest rates, and thus mortgage rates, has run aground against the Bundesbank's insistence on tight monetary policies. With falling house prices, restricted wage increases and rising unemployment there will be little respite in the mounting number of house repossessions in the coming year or so. The 'property owning democracy' has turned into a nightmare for increasing numbers of working class people and nice Mr Major's assurances of a new dawn are now being revealed as all too false.

The next few years will therefore be a testing time for both the government and the British bourgeoisie. With their room for manoeuvre restricted much will depend on the reaction of the working class to the coming wave of attacks. However, what has become clear following the anti-poll tax campaign is how weak the Labour Party has become as a means of both controlling and containing class conflict. Outside of Scotland and its few remaining strongholds in the cities of northern England and Wales, the Labour Party has lost all connection with the working class. Indeed, it is rapidly becoming a party of the middle class, a process that can only accelerate under the leadership of John Smith. In transforming itself into a 'modern social democratic party' on the European model, and as such fully committed to the bankers' Europe of Delors, the Labour Party has as little hope of controlling future social unrest as the French Socialist and Communist Parties had in controlling the recent lorry drivers blockades!


Chilli Sauce

8 years 11 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on August 5, 2015

I was really hoping this was going to be Aufheben's analysis of Australia's Great Emu War:

Oh well, next issue, right guys?

Lessons From The Struggle Against The Gulf War

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

The slaughter by the Americans and their allies of the deserting Iraqi troops represented a defeat for the international proletariat. This article shows how class struggle militants in Britain, by positing the class war ideally rather than practically, allowed the anti-war movement to be dominated by ineffective left-liberal sentiments and tactics.

A new cycle of working class struggle is tentatively emerging in continental Europe over austerity measures required by the Maastricht Treaty. But here in Britain any optimistic anticipation of the prospect of struggles is tempered by the shadow of a recent defeat. For since the historic and inspirational turning point of the poll tax rebellion, the resurrection of autonomous and uncompromised class hatred in Trafalgar Square and the mass refusal of austerity, has come the defeat of the anti-war movement.

The Gulf War may not have had an effect on the working class's ability to wage defensive struggles in response to coming offensives, but the revolutionary Left have still to come to terms with our failure to prevent the successful slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi proletarians. It is as if the blood of those thousands of Iraqi mutineers and deserters carpet-bombed on the road to Basra is somehow on our hands; the anti-war resistance in Iraq was so successful it rendered the Iraqi state incapable of defending its gains in Kuwait at all, while the impotence of the anti-war movement in the US and Britain virtually gave the murderous representatives of US/UK capital carte blanche to have Iraq bombed back into the Middle Ages.

In order to exorcise the ghost of this defeat we have to undertake a critical reappraisal of where the anti-war movement went wrong. Moreover, we have to reassess our own attempts to prevent the war and how we influenced the strategy pursued by the anti-war movement as a whole. It is not enough to say, as many who confined their opposition to grumbling over their pints must have done, that the outcome was inevitable, that the war couldn't be prevented, that we could never defeat the forces of war, backed by the UN, the police forces and the media. The Vietnam war is a recent enough reminder of how a seemingly omnipotent war-machine can be rendered impotent by concerted opposition amongst soldiers and the class from which they are drawn. And right up until the commencement of Operation Desert Storm, despite the propaganda which accompanied Operation Desert Shield and the lack of any effective redress to it by the anti-war movement, opinion polls suggested that around 50% of the population were opposed to military intervention. Not a bad foundation from which to build an active and effective opposition.

Our failure was not inevitable. Nor can it be solely blamed on the left-liberal leadership of the anti-war movement, for their success in controlling the movement reflected our inability to mount a successful challenge to the leadership, their positions, and most of all, their strategy. So, we have to look at our own role in resisting the war, what we did right and wrong, the strengths and weaknesses of our strategy.

Anti-war Strategy

The experience of our class has shown us how capitalist wars can be effectively opposed. For the sake of analytical clarity this opposition may be divided into three separate strategies which are in reality particular yet inter-related aspects of the overall struggle. These may be roughly defined as:

i) undermining support for the war by stressing the class antagonisms involved;

ii) actively sabotaging the state's ability to conduct a war and;

iii) precipitating a crisis 'at home'.

Let us consider these in turn.

i) Undermining the notion of a national interest.

The war in the Gulf has served to decimate a once combative oil producing proletariat, to reassert the role of the US as global policeman in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, and also to stimulate another round of capital accumulation based on military procurement. These results may well have been considered during the build up to the war, and could have been factors in deciding to pursue the aims of the Allies by military means rather than through sanctions. But the primary aim of the Allies was to resecure the flow of Kuwaiti oil revenue into the US and UK banking systems, essential for the financing of the US deficit. In other words, the war was fought for the interests of US and UK capital, for their need of injections of finance capital from Kuwait, which have amounted to $60 billion invested in the US alone.

On the other hand, it was to be the working class who would be made to pay the price for the war. The refusal of Iraqi troops to fight was not anticipated, so casualties amongst British as well as Iraqi troops were expected. On top of the despair of the families from whom they would have been taken, the working class as a whole was expected to suffer as NHS wards were to be denied to us in order to treat the troops. As it was, patients had operations cancelled in preparation for this eventuality.

Although the financial costs of the war have been largely recovered through reluctant contributions from Japan and Germany and other oil states such as Dubai, UAE etc, and the massive profits from subsequent arms sales to the region, the costs were always liable to be foisted onto the shoulders of the working class through higher taxes, cuts in public services, and price rises. The government also hoped for another 'Falklands' Factor', rallying a nation divided over the poll tax behind the flag of the bourgeoisie.

In order to successfully oppose the war it was crucial that the anti-war movement stress that the war was to be fought for the interests of the capitalist class alone, and to decisively situate itself in opposition to those interests. This could be done through the usual means of propaganda such as leaflets, banners, graffiti, fly-posting, public meetings, and through high profile actions.

Not only is this essential for building an opposition at home that knows why it opposes the war and can thus formulate tactics such as strikes and civil disorder which reflect the class basis of that opposition, but it is also essential to encourage 'disloyalty' amongst those troops expected to fight. Historical examples abound of desertions and mutinies making it impossible for rival capitalist interests to compete by means of war, not least in Vietnam where US troops were often more inclined to kill their officers than the supposed enemy. And there is evidence to indicate that a concerted refusal to fight in the Gulf War was not an impossibility. Even without the social unrest 'back home' that formed the backdrop to resistance in Vietnam, many troops refused to go to the Gulf, including at least 23 of the US's elite force, The Marines, who are currently in jail for desertion. There were also cases of warships en route to the Gulf being sabotaged . And Bush showed that he did not have absolute confidence in the loyalty of the US army when ammunition was taken away from all enlisted men and women on bases he visited during 'morale raising' trips to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield.

Examples of this strategy were seen in Germany, both during the build-up to war and once it had started. In August of 1990 a live TV show debating the Gulf crisis was disrupted by anti-war protesters with a banner reading: "There's always German money in weapons when there's any slaughter in the world." And on January 21st 1991, anti-war protesters attempted to make clear in whose interest the war was being fought by blockading the entrance to the Frankfurt stock exchange and pelting the dealers with eggs and paint bombs.

ii) Sabotaging the war machine.

Fighting a war is huge logistical exercise requiring the coordinated movemen ts of troops, weapons, ammunition, and supplies from wherever they are stationed to wherever they are required. The ability of military commands to perform this operation is clearly dependent on a number of factors, including the reliability of those workers not required to fight but who are nonetheless essential for this logistical exercise, and if cooperative themselves, on their ability to function without interference. This presents many opportunities for sabotaging the war effort, and indeed there were a number of instances of such sabotage against the Gulf War. For example in August 1990, 4000 maintenance workers on US bases in Turkey went on strike for higher pay, thus deliberately hampering the war effort. And in France in September 1990, workers held up a ferry carrying troops to the Gulf, albeit for only 12 hours. In Italy there were attempts to blockade Malpanese airport near Milan in order to prevent it from being used to refuel USAF B-52's en route between bombing raids in Iraq and British bases.

In Germany frequent attempts were made to blockade military depots and barracks in order to disrupt the mobilisation for the war. Transport command supplies were also blocked, holding up the movement of the raw materials for the military bases of the British and American troops stationed in Munster, Bremerhaven, Frankfurt, Berlin and elsewhere. The tactic of disrupting the transportation of military supplies was also used in France on several occasions, and in Holland, where trains supplying troops in Germany were persistently sabotaged, derailed, and blockaded.

iii)Fermenting Crisis at Home.

The backdrop to the end of the Vietnam War, a result of the refusal of American conscripts to fight for their state, was a severe social crisis in the United States and Western Europe. One of the ways in which that crisis manifested itself was through civil disorder in opposition to the war in Vietnam. Footage of the riot in Grosvenor Square may look like a Keystone Cops movie compared with what Britain has seen in the last decade or so, but it was nevertheless an important moment in the international crisis which led the US State to pull out of Vietnam and confront the crisis it was suffering in its factories, streets, campuses and ghettoes.

Again, examples of this strategy were seen in opposition to the Gulf War. General strikes occurred in Pakistan, Italy, Turkey and Spain, although they seem to have been successfully restricted to one day only by union bureaucracies. A token 1/2 hour stoppage against the war occurred on January 18th 1991 at a firm in Bremen, Germany, and later that month, also in Germany, draft resisters forced to work as hospital orderlies went on a 3-day strike in opposition to the war.

Demonstrations against the war occurred virtually everywhere imaginable. And some of these, although not enough, spilled over into direct confrontations with the forces of the state. For example, in Bangladesh, police were forced to use batons to contain demonstrators on September 3rd 1990.

Waging Class War against the Bosses War...................

It can be seen from the above outline that there were a number of attempts, using various strategies, to wage the class war in continental Europe against the inter-capitalist war in the Gulf. One could no doubt find many other instances of anti-war resistance abroad if one was determined to search beyond these few examples which, despite a virtual media blackout on such activity, were available to the anti-war movement thanks to War Report, Counter Information , and a leaflet by B.M. Combustion .

One could criticize many of the actions which occurred as tokenistic, such as the one day strikes. But the point is that these actions, whether limited or exemplary, could never succeed in stopping the war unless they spread beyond those countries whose involvement in the war was relatively minor. Stopping the war meant that the class war against the Gulf war had to be taken up in those countries central to the UN backed coalition: the US and the UK.

...............Or not as the case may be

Early signs from the US were encouraging. On the 20th October 1990, 15,000 marched in New York and there were demonstrations in 15 other major cities. And US activists appeared willing and able to take direct action. A San Francisco TV station was disrupted, a cop car set alight on a demo, and the Golden Gate Bridge was blockaded on several occasions. These actions were not generalised however, and it appears that anti-war activity soon became dominated by left-liberal campaigners, of whom someone wrote in Echanges 66/67:

"They have brought their experiences with a vengeance into the new movement by demanding compromise with the status quo ideology and calling for protest within the context of peaceful obedience to the authorities so as to gain their respect. Many urge 'working through the system'. They tell us we must put pressure on elected representatives.....we must elect better representatives.....They urge that we 'support our troops', not hurt their feelings by criticising the job they do, and that we should express patriotism while criticising government policy. We must prove that we deserve to be listened to by obeying the rule of law and order, and by respecting the police".

This strategy of constitutional protest was an absolute failure. The attempt to base the opposition to the war on an alternative interpretation of the interests of US capital, and thus exploit the divisions which emerged within the US capitalist class, meant that Bush was given a free hand once Congress had voted in favour of military action and the bourgeoisie buried its differences and rallied to his support. The failure of the anti-war movement to root itself in a class opposition to the interests for which the war was to be fought can be measured by the overwhelming support for the war registered in opinion polls, even allowing for their notorious unreliability.

Here in Britain the anti-war movement registered its disapproval of the government's policy towards the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and, as in the US, sought to do so peacefully and constitutionally. Of course the anti-war movement was not a homogeneous mass, and contained within it many different perspectives united in their opposition to the war, many of which were fiercely critical of the CND/Tony Benn leadership. But the anti-war movement remained within the parameters set out by this leadership. These parameters derived from their political perspectives. They accepted the pre-supposition of a national interest. They accepted the legitimacy of the United Nations. They accepted the 'need' to re-establish the Kuwaiti regime's control over Kuwaiti oil. Their opposition to the war was thus based on a difference of opinion on how to achieve the goals of US/UK capital; they even advocated the pursuit of these goals by starving the Iraqi working class through sanctions.

As a result the anti-war leadership would never have countenanced the actions required for an effective opposition to the war. They wanted no repeats of the 1956 street battles in Whitehall against British intervention in Suez, a possibility they were only too aware of following the momentous re-emergence of class violence in Trafalgar Square only a few months before the Gulf crisis. The grip that the leadership maintained on the anti-war movement meant that it amounted to nothing more than a few peaceful marches to Hyde Park where any anger could be safely dissipated. No action was taken which challenged the authority of the state or undermined its ability to wage the war. The movement was confined to peaceful protest while the state was engaged in the mass slaughter of Iraqis.

We have not yet answered the question, however, as to how it was that the forces of pacifism and social democracy were able to contain the anti-war movement. It is not within the scope of this article to provide a comprehensive answer to this question, comprising as it would not only a critiqueof Trotskyism and anarchism, but also discussions of the psyche of the British working class and its experiences of wars. But we can start to answer the question by undertaking a critique of one group that should have mounted a challenge to the leadership of the anti-war movement: No War But the Class War.

No War But The Class War

NWBTCW was a loose collection of revolutionaries who came together in opposition to the Gulf War. As they clearly pointed out in their leaflets, their opposition to the war was firmly rooted in a class-analysis rather than some form of moralistic liberalism."We won't pay for the bosses war" was the headline on a leaflet distributed during the prelude to the war. "As in all bosses' wars, it's us who will be told to kill each other and die in the battlefields while those with most to gain from the war sit at home and count their profits " it continued. As well as providing the cannon fodder, "those of us not in the front line will have to pay in other's us who will be told to tighten our belts and put up with cuts in jobs and wages."

NWBTCW also seemed to know what would be required for an effective opposition to the war: "Only escalating the class war can prevent the massacres of both war and peace. Strikes such as those by oil workers can not only make working conditions safer but can sabotage the national economy, making it harder to wage war. Struggles like that against the poll tax can also undermine national mobilisation towards war. Others can sabotage the war machine directly".

For various reasons however, NWBTCW limited itself to positing the class war ideally. Few, if any, steps were made towards actually realising it in practice. As Workers Scud pointed out, "a call for general class struggle opposition to the war became an emotional cushion". How and why this came to be will hopefully become clearer as we follow the evolution of NWBTCW through the unfolding of the Gulf War.

Resisting the build-up to War

Following the commencement of Operation Desert Shield in August 1990 NWBTCW was formed at a meeting in London to discuss ways of mounting an effective opposition to the war. Amongst those present were representatives from Hackney Solidarity Group, Anarchist Communist Federation, Class War, Anarchist Workers Group, Wildcat and assorted individuals including one of us from Brighton.

A proposal on the agenda was that we begin to organise a demonstration outside one of the major oil company offices in London. But rather than discussing this and other suitable actions the meeting soon became focussed on the fact that the AWG had adopted the Trotskyist line of supporting an Iraqi victory in the war. Their argument that they supported the Iraqi state militarily but not politically cut no ice with the rest of those present who pointed out that an Iraqi military success, in itself a virtual impossibility, could only be pursued by the imposition of military discipline on the Iraqi working class: suppressing the class struggle, shooting deserters and communists, torturing those who actively opposed the war etc.

The AWG were quite rightly expelled from the group. Had they not been there would have been endless problems over basic positions to be conveyed in the group's propaganda. With the rest of those present in agreement over the need to escalate the class struggle against the war in solidarity with the working class of Iraq, rather than implying that they should forsake their own struggle, the expulsion of the AWG should have allowed NWBTCW to press ahead with organising effective actions to sabotage the war effort. But as time went on it became clear that the meeting, and the argument with the AWG, had a different effect on those present. NWBTCW in many respects came to see its role as one of defending a class position on the war, rather than having a class position as a necessary but (in itself) insufficient prerequisite for taking practical steps to stop the war. Its concern with defining itself primarily against the position adopted by the various Trotskyist sects seemed to be at the expense of a practical challenge to the boundaries of peaceful constitutional protest imposed by the Benn/CND leadership.

Let us examine exactly how it was that this failure became manifested. Following the meeting the various groups and individuals involved threw themselves into the task of escalating the class struggle in order to undermine the mobilisation towards war. But rather than attempt this squarely on the terrain of anti-war resistance, as had been originally proposed, efforts were directed almost exclusively towards the on-going struggle against the poll tax.

Those of us in Brighton also directed our attention towards the struggle against the poll tax, and the important associated work of supporting poll tax prisoners. But the neglect of anti-war activity itself in the hope that confrontation with the state over the poll tax would be sufficient to counter the movement towards war must now be seen to have been a major mistake. It is obvious now, and indeed was clear at the time with the ditching of Thatcher, that the state was attempting to conduct a tactical retreat over the poll tax. Our attempt to turn their tactical retreat into a rout, and thus create a political climate in which the state would find it increasingly difficult to pursue the war was well intentioned, but there turned out to be no real practical way of pressing home our advantage and seeking out large-scale confrontations.

Only when the war actually began in January did the enormity of this tactical error become obvious. Not only had the rest ofNWBTCW also devoted their practical energies towards other struggles like the poll tax, but any sort of organisational work in preparation for the outbreak of the war had been entirely neglected. No plans had been laid for an immediate response to the start of the war such as a demo or an occupation. No efforts seem to have been made to make contacts with other groups, such as those who had been involved in Cruisewatch and the like, who would be prepared to take some form of direct action against the war. There was not even a decent network for communication between and throughout the various organisations and individuals who had been involved in the initial meeting. This haphazard approach to organisation continued through the duration of the war and served to compound the earlier mistakes.

The War Begins

As the pictures came through of the bombing of Baghdad, following the passing of the UN deadline for withdrawal, many people were filled with horror and suddenly became aware of the urgency of the situation. In Brighton there were spontaneous demonstrations, and in London anti-war protesters converged on Trafalgar Square. But it soon became blindingly obvious that the neglect of planning of any sort of autonomous direct action had proved costly. The CND network had already established itself as the focus for opposition to the war. The fact that we could not immediately provide any alternative focus for opposition to the war, a focus that would have been capable of developing increasingly effective tactics and drawing in ever-larger numbers, as the town hall riots had done with the poll tax struggle, meant that we had to start from scratch and begin by operating within the movement as it had become constituted under the guise of Tony Benn and CND. We had to find ways of starting from within the movement and carrying people beyond the boundaries set out by the leadership.

Not only had organisational matters been so neglected that we found ourselves in this position, but it soon transpired that NWBTCW was in a worse state than it had been in at the start. Meetings began but the venue was apparently switched a number of times without keeping people informed, and so it seems that many of the original participants were thereby excluded. Sectarianism or stupidity? Worse still, the person who had the contact list disappeared for most of the duration of the war, making coordinating and communication matters even more difficult. Indeed, we in Brighton did not receive any mailouts whatsoever from NWBTCW, despite providing a contact address at the inaugural meeting and making subsequent requests to be kept in touch.

This haphazard approach to organisation may now, however, be seen as symptomatic of the shift in the group's raison d'etre: The narrowed base was even less adequate for putting practical proposals into action, but was perfectly capable of putting together leaflets outlining the group's position and calling for escalated class struggle.

Here in Brighton we belatedly began to take action to sabotage the war effort. The local Committee to Stop the War in the Gulf, dominated by pacifists and supported by the SWP, had reduced anti-war resistance to "peace vigils", standing peacefully and if possible silently around a statue in the middle of town. Not surprisingly this inspired no one and went unnoticed by everyone. But a blockade/picket of the Territorial Army HQ was organised and attended by the NVDA elements in the peace movement, by hunt saboteurs, squatters and the members of Sussex Poll Tax Resisters. This was far more inspiring for those involved, spilling over into scuffles and forcing the TA to ring for the police, a van-load of whom arrived as we were leaving. A shame it had not been got together earlier as this type of action contained the seeds which could have grown into mass civil disorder.

There were various other low-key autonomous direct actions around the country, ranging from putting in the windows of Army Recruitment offices to occupying the toll booths of the Severn Bridge. But a national focus was needed, by neccessity in London, and all that was happening were the peaceful marches to Hyde Park, largely ignored by the media.

NWBTCW distributed a leaflet on the demonstration following the outbreak of the war entitled "Sabotage the War Effort!" Following a brief outline of mutinies in WW1, Vietnam and the Iran-Iraq war, it continued: "The war can and must be opposed on the home front as well as in the armed forces", and cited the attacks on munitions trains in Europe and the burning of a cop car and blocking of the bridge in San Francisco. Then it urged that "We can also refuse to pay for the war in any way by resisting attacks on our living standards- by carrying on refusing to pay the poll tax and other bills, by striking for more pay, by opposing cuts." NWBTCW wanted to keep the home fires burning, but evidently this was to take place away from the demos and over issues only indirectly related to the war. They had made no plans to try to make the demonstrations we were on anything other than peaceful and inconsequential.

On discovering a few days before the next national demonstration that NWBTCW had not worked out any practical initiatives for it, we desperately tried to figure out a way of stirring up some serious disorder on it. But attempts to find out the route of the march were fruitless, so we were unable to work out any potential targets for a lightning occupation, impromptu picket or well placed brick. So on the day before the demonstration we were forced to settle for producing a leaflet which we hoped might fire the imaginations of the demonstrators, particularly those grouped around NWBTCW. Under the heading "Class War Against The Oil War" and an introduction it declared:

"Already nearly 50% of the population opposes the war, but so far this massive opposition has remained largely passive. It will only succeed when it actively confronts the forces for war and once it goes beyond the boundaries, set out by CND and its friends, of peaceful constitutional 'protest'.......With much of the opposition to this war being censored by the mass media it is vital that we make our presence felt. It was a glimpse of our anger on the 31st of March last year that contributed to the downfall of Thatcher. Today we must show that anger again. We must refuse the state's right to define the nature of this demonstration. While they ask us to march peacefully between police lines they are murdering men, women and children."

Fighting talk is never enough, of course, so the reverse of the leaflet showed a suggestive map of central London locating the following buildings: the American Embassy, Shell Mex House, Esso House, Texaco HQ, Mobil Oil HQ, Vickers HQ, The Admiralty and the MOD. As it turned out the demonstration avoided all of these potential targets, only passing near to the American Embassy which was so heavily protected by police that it would have been the least desirable of them all. Still, we hoped that the leaflet might force NWBTCW to work something out for the next time. Just in case, however, we decided that we should formulate a concrete proposal of our own and attend the next NWBTCW meeting, to take place a week before the next national demonstration.

Just before the next meeting the Allied forces finally launched their ground offensive to retake Kuwait. The bombing campaign had continued for weeks, destroying residential areas, sewage plants, hospitals and other civilian as well as military targets, and now they were going to move in for the kill. We were all expecting to see the body bags donated by DuPont bringing the corpses back for burial. Once again we were filled with anger and a renewed sense of urgency. But at the NWBTCW meeting the discussion was primarily concerned with the necessary, but still insufficient, organisation of public meetings against the war and how to deal with Trotskyist hecklers. Then we put forward our proposal, and to the credit of those present, the urgency of the situation and the need to respond decisively was accepted.

We were to:

i) Mobilise our forces as best as possible. All NWBTCWcontacts and virtually every anarchist group in the country were to be informed of a meeting point near the main demo at which they were to converge at a specified time. It was to be made clear that we would move off immediately to take some unspecified form of direct action.

ii) Conduct a lightning occupation of Shell Mex House, only a few hundred yards from the main assembly point and with no visible means to prevent our access.

iii) Send others off to inform the gathering demonstrators of the occupation and pursuade many as possible to join us or help defend the occupation with a mass picket in The Strand.

iv) See how the situation evolved and respond accordingly.

We shall never know whether the plan would have worked in practice. It may have failed , or it may have been the moment at which the anti-war movement launched itself beyond its previous limits never to return. But we did not find out, for between the notification of contacts and the day of the demonstration the war was ended by the mass desertion of the Iraqi conscript army. The demonstration itself was small and dejected. But worse still, virtually no-one turned up at the secret assembly point aside from ourselves. It was a missed opportunity, for the first reports were already coming through of the heroic uprisings in southern Iraq; we could have at least discussed possible solidarity actions had there been enough of us. As it was those present were simply demoralised by the failure of others, and the rest of NWBTCW in particular, to turn up.


We made some serious tactical errors during our campaign against the Gulf War. We pinned our hopes on the anti-poll tax struggle, and left too much of the responsibility of organising autonomous resistance to the war to comrades in London. We have acknowledged our mistakes however, believing that self-criticism is an essential moment of revolutionary praxis. In print ing this article we hope to contribute to a similar process of self-criticism amongst others involved in NWBTCW, who will know much more about what actually happened within the group than us. This article should also help others who were not directly involved to learn from our mistakes.

To be fair to NWBTCW, no-one anticipated that the war would be over so quickly; we all underestimated the potential for revolt of the Iraqi army. Had the war continued and the corpses and wounded started arriving in Britain then NWBTCW may well have been in the front line of agitation against the closure of NHS wards for the war effort. And the anti-war movement may well have been galvanised by the deaths of British troops in a way it wasn't by the slaughter of Iraqi civilians. But NWBTCW must acknowledge that it failed consistently over a period of six months to do what was so desperately required. Various practical suggestions were made by various members, but were not put into practice. Not, it would seem, because other proposals were deemed to be more effective, but because the group was ultimately content to defend the right position, the historic class position in all its purity.

In other words, the NWBTCW group seems to have seen its role as a predominantly ideological one. The truly internationalist position had to be broadcast to the movement and the Trots had to be denounced or attacked, leaving the grip of social democracy and pacifism intact. Even when the CND/Benn leadership were threatening the RCP with the police because they refused to toe the patriotic line, NWBTCW were more concerned with getting into fisticuffs with the RCP than challenging CND's complicity with the state. For many years positions regarding the nature of the Soviet Union have served as the 'litmus test' for determining the 'authenticity' of groups within the British left that have claimed to be revolutionary. Was it the collapse of the Soviet Union and the declining relevance of these arguments that led to members of NWBTCW becoming preoccupied with distinguishing themselves from the rest of the ('always counter-revolutionary') Left?

We cannot do anything to change what happened during the Gulf War but we can learn from our mistakes. And with it looking increasingly likely that the British state will be involved in a joint attempt to intervene militarily in Yugoslavia, to ensure that the carve-up goes along the lines desired by German capital, we must be ready to make sure that they cannot get away with their bloody crusades so easily again.


Intakes: Some Critical Notes on Earth First!

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

Earth First! has begun to develop into a significant force within the British Green movement. We reprint an article by a dissident member who argues that its uncritical adoption of certain theoretical strands from the U.S.A. is at the expense of an understanding of capitalism and democracy.

Some Critical Notes on Earth First! ... from Within

Editors' Introduction

Growing impatience and disillusionment with the reformist and elitist methods of organisations such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Green Party is leading many on the radical fringes of the Green movement to look towards a more direct action orientated politics.

This search for a new political orientation has resulted in the emergence Earth First!, which since it began in Britain little over two years ago has begun to grow into a significant radical force within the British Green Movement. Indeed, in the last six months Earth First! has begun to take off, with more than a dozen groups being established across the country. Earth First! groups have been at the forefront of organising demonstrations in Liverpool, Tilbury and Oxford against the import of tropical hardwoods, aswell as organising numerous local protests against the 'car economy' amongst other things and have already begun to gain a certain degree of noteriety within the national press.

However, while the direct action orientation of Earth First! is a welcome change from that of professional lobbying of mainstream ecology groups that see their grass roots supporters as simple fund raisers, the politics of Earth First! is, to say the least, confused. Earth First! originated in the USA and its import into the UK has brought with it a whole assortment of ideological baggage, much of which has little or no connection with political or social conditions in Britain.

We shall consider the crisis in the mainstream Green Movement and the politics of Earth First!, and their relevance to revolutionary politics in more detail in future issues of Aufheben. Here we publish an article written by a member of South Downs Earth First! that seeks to address the confusions in Earth First!'s politics as they have become manifest in the campaign against the M3 extention at Twyford Down. This article was originally written for the the Earth First! newsletter Action Updatebut was never published (whether this was because it was deemed 'too long', too theoretical,politically unacceptable or was simply lost (!) is unknown).

Lessons from Twyford Down so far

The extension of the M3 through Twyford Down has been Earth First!'s first opportunity in confronting the current motorway construction programme, which threatens to wreak further havoc in Britain's countryside and make room for even more of those noxious tin boxes that plague our cities and choke the air that we breath. However, apart from some unearned notoriety in the national press, Earth First!'s impact has, as yet, been far from impressive, a fact that demands that we take stock of our position - particularly with regards to other environmental groups.

Two other main groupings have been involved in opposing the M3 extension at Twyford Down. The first being the Twyford Down Association (TDA) which has organised the local opposition to this particular road scheme, the other being Friends of the Earth (FOE) which has opposed the M3 extension as part of its national anti-roads campaign. Let us consider the lessons from our relations to these two groupings in turn.

The Twyford Down Association

Winchester is one of the richest cities in the UK. It seems doubtful that in this Tory heartland any more than a small minority have anything more than a superficial and sentimental attachment to the surrounding countryside, an attachment, when it comes down to it, that is easily outweighed by the wealth and conveniences they owe to the 'car economy'. What is more, it seems unlikely that anymore than a handful of the people of Winchester have any experience of political protests, let alone of radical political action.

In such unfavourable circumstances for the development of a large scale local opposition to the M3 extension the TDA have exploited their contacts in high places and opted for a strategy of influencing those with power and influence in the Government and the Tory Party. To some extent this strategy has proved remarkably successful. Not only have they won over the high pulpit of the establishment - the Times leader columns - along with the rest of the bourgeois press to their side, making the Twyford Down a national issue, they have also penetrated the labyrinths of Brussels and won the backing of the European Commissioner. But all this has been to no avail. The government has pressed on regardless.

In their desperation at the failure of their strategy of influencing the government the TDA has come to welcome support from almost any quarter, even from the 'great unwashed'. In doing so they have come to present themselves as all things to all people. Thus while they continue to work with FOE in winning over Tory MPs to the cause, they have also given vague encouragement to the ideas for green camps and Non-Violent Direct Action, albeit with certain provisos to keep it respectable for their friends in the bourgeois press.

We have been all too easily taken in by such encouragements. Flattered at the prospects of being invited to offer our 'precious NVDA skills' to the 'hundred or so locals prepared to lay themselves on the line', we were then surprised when we found that such locals did not exist!

While it is very important to consider the 'locals' in opposing motorway construction in rural areas, it is important to remember that Britain does not have a rural population of any size, particularly not in southern England. Only 1% of the workforce works on the land - these being mainly wage-labourers. Unlike most countries on the continent which have considerable numbers of small-holders and small farmers, which in the past have provided the basis for mass local opposition to anti-environmental projects in rural areas (such as the construction of the nuclear power station at Wackersdorf), the vast majority of Britain's population have no direct attachment to or affinity with the land. Although many people live in country villages, most of such people now commute to nearby towns and cities for their work and shopping etc.

'Local' people cannot therefore be expected to have anymore affinity with the their local countryside than anyone else. Indeed, they may have less affinity than those, like most of ourselves, who need an escape from oppressive conditions of the towns and cities. Furthermore, in so far as they are rich or well off, as they mostly are in Winchester (although this will not always be the case in rural areas), they are likely to be conservative and ill inclined to taking or sanctioning radical action that may upset the status quo to which they owe their wealth. After all, if they build a few roads around Winchester they can always drive to Heathrow and take a few more holidays elsewhere if they want to 'enjoy some countryside'.

Thus while it is important to consider the feelings of the 'locals', we should not be to deferential to them. This then brings us to FOE.

Friends of the Earth: Friends or Foe?

While for the TDA Twyford Down is the 'be all and end all', (and hence in the face of defeat the TDA were prepared to welcome Earth First!'s interest in the issue), for FOE (and by FOE we mean the leadership of Friends of the Earth) Twyford Down is merely one battle in the long war against the motorway construction programme. A war in which they can point to victories as well as defeats. As they have made all too clear to us, unlike the TDA, they do not welcome Earth First!'s involvement in this issue. For them direct action beyond the most limited token civil disobedience can only serve to ruin the years of hard work they have put in lobbying the 'powers that be'. For them the only viable strategy is to win over public opinion as expressed by the mainstream bourgeois press so as to place political pressure on the government to change its plans. Ultimately for them, only by making the government believe that each and every road scheme is an electoral liability will the road programme be abandoned. Confrontation and direct action for FOE can only alienate the formers of public opinion and thus the electorate. For FOE such actions are therefore worse than useless.

Our responses to such arguments have been, to say the least, a little pathetic and betray a failure to work through our commitment to direct action. FOE are correct in seeing Twyford Down as one battle in a long war against the motorway construction programme, a battle that may well be lost. Furthermore, they struck very close to home when, in attacking Earth First!'s fetishism for 'Monkey Wrenching', they accused us of being a 'one tactic organisation'! Simply denying these criticisms leaves us as little more than romantic utopians prepared to make a heroic, if futile, defence of Twyford Down at whatever the cost and regardless of the consequences.

Nor is it adequate to plead that Earth First! helps FOE by making them appear more moderate and hence we are really FOE's best friends. As professional lobbyists FOE are better placed than anybody to know that their strategy of influence and reasoned arguments can only be ruined by direct action and political confrontation within the broader environmental movement however much they would seek to 'publicly disassociate' themselves from it. FOE would only be listened too as 'moderates' if they promised to be a means of defusing a militant environmental movement that was seriously challenging the state, a situation very far from the present reality in the UK, and one in which FOE would not be our friends but more of a Trojan Horse!

The underlying problem with FOE's arguments is not, as some in Earth First! may have it, that they are too 'human orientated' and fail to recognise the 'equal rights of all life to survival'. On the contrary, by making a stand on defending Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's) for example, they set out from the moral imperative of defending the right of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna to survive, however much they then seek to dress this up as a question of 'science' to make it palatable to the decision makers. FOE's error is that they do not understand that the underlying problem is the problem of the existing organisation of human society: to be specific, they do not have a critique of capitalism and democracy! For them the road programme is simply due to the political influence of the road lobby on government decision making; an influence which they then simply have to counter through the force of public opinion. They fail to see the fundamental importance of the car economy to the very existence of the state.

To put it simply, the car industry has been the linchpin of capital accumulation since the Second World War; it has been the key industry in what has become known as the 'Fordist Mode of Accumulation'. If Britain is to be a place where profit can be made and capital accumulated, if Britain is to compete of the world capitalist market, then it 'needs an efficient infra-structure' and this means more roads and motorways. This is the overriding imperative that shapes government policy.

The role of the democratic process, of which FOE are an integral part, is not to determine whether the 'public' wants more roads, but rather how and when roads can be built with the minimum of popular opposition. In this light FOE's democratic methods may be able to win the odd battle but they can never win the war! The only way of halting the road construction programme is to develop mass opposition that through direct action and political confrontation with the forces of the state threaten the very basis of the 'car economy'.

Hence, while we must respect the work FOE do in gathering information etc, and while it will be necessary to work with them from time to time, we should have no illusions about them. Ultimately, when the crunch comes, they will be on the other side.


If nothing else our involvement in Twyford Down should teach us that it is not enough to be the specialists of Direct Action or 'Monkey Wrenching'. We have to place Direct Action within a coherent political project and for such a project we have to have a coherent critique of capitalist society. It is not enough to simply import uncritically half-baked notions from our sister organisation in the USA, we have to develop such a critique ourselves from our own experiences.

NB Since this article was written in March further actions at Twyford Down have occurred. Following a demonstration organised by the TDA in May more than a hundred people occupied the building site at the SSSI on the 'Water Meadows' and were able to flood the workings by opening a sluice gate causing a significant delay to the construction work. Since then a small green camp has been established that has maintained a continuous oppositional presence to building work.


Review: Fascism / Anti-Fascism by Jean Barrot

Aufheben review "Fascism/Anti-Fascism" and ask does antifascism necessarily entail supporting one face of the state against another?

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

"Fascism/Antifascism" by Jean Barrot (a.k.a. Gilles Dauvé). Black Cat Press, Edmonton (1982). Reproduced by Unpopular Books, Box 15, 138 Kingsland High Road, London E8. [Gilles Dauvé responds to this review here]

This text first appeared in 1979 as part of an introduction to a collection of writings by Italian left communists (Bordigans) on the Spanish Civil War.

Although not recent, the pamphlet is being reviewed here as it concerns a contemporary issue: the relation of antifascism to the class struggle. Half the text is taken up with historical examples (Italy, Germany, Chile, Portugal, Spain, Russia, the Paris Commune, Mexico). Space does not allow discussion of these cases here. Instead, the focus will be on the general argument put forward by Barrot.

The translator's introduction sums up the argument's weaknesses (which, it is suggested, are the weaknesses of Left communism itself) as follows: dogmatic Marxism, positivist economics, obsolete class analyses and contempt for the working class. It is the last of these which is the most important limitation of Barrot's case. The strength of his case, however, is its clear-sighted and consistently uncompromising attack on the state, "an instrument of class domination", which most leftists still propose to treat as neutral and thus to "use". This theme saturates Barrot's argument.

Barrot's thesis is very simple; it is that struggling against fascism (in particular) necessarily entails supporting democracy, that capitalism will necessarily remain intact if antifascists support one of its forms against another. All manifestations of antifascism ultimately strengthen the democratic state at the expense of the class struggle; thus both fascism and its nemesis antifascism lead to totalitarianism (the strong state) not communism. Dictatorship, says Barrot, is not a weapon of capital but a tendency of capital.

But while criticizing antifascists for allegedly supporting democracy, Barrot also asks: "do we have a CHOICE? Democracy will transform itself into dictatorship as soon as is necessary ... The political forms which capital gives itself do not depend on the action of the working class any more than they depend on the intentions of the bourgeoisie." (p. 8).

Barrot is clearly emphasizing the logic of the capitalist state at the expense of the counter-logic of the proletariat. The picture he paints is of a highly successful capitalist state continually beating the working class to the first punch so that the latter are often duped ultimately into supporting rather than overthrowing the state. Given this, it is no wonder that many of the struggles the working class engage in (such as the fight against fascism) are at best futile and at worst counterproductive; the working class themselves may merely be contributing to the state's tendency to totalitarianism.

But if we abandon the assumptions, first, that it is the state (capital) that always moves first (with the proletariat as hapless respondants), and, second, that antifascism is a homogeneous phenomenon that, by its very nature, takes the side of the democratic state, we get quite a different picture of this particular arena of struggle. Before exploring alternative perspectives on antifascism, however, it is only fair to measure Barrot's account against current antifascist groups.

For example, the Bennite view (which partly informs the ethos of the Anti-Nazi League) is that "we" (on the left, broadly conceived) should forget our differences and concentrate on fighting the fascists (implicitly: we should unite around the lowest common denominator and vote Labour). This argument is based in part on the claim that the reason for the rise of Hitler was that the KPD and SPD (social democrats and communists) were fighting each other instead of the fascists. But Barrot points out that the left wing forces (fighting each other) were not defeated by the Nazis; rather, the proletarian defeat had already taken place when the fascist repression occurred; the revolutionaries were defeated not by fascism but by democracy. The Anti-Nazi League are also criticized (by the Revolutionary Communist Party, for example) for trying to build a mass movement around the issue of Nazis and fascists, when it is the (non-fascist and anti-Nazi) racists in power who are the main problem for (the non-white) working class of Britain. The word "Nazi" is emotive, so it is easy for people to agree to oppose "Nazism" while they may continue to condone racism and patriotism. Similarly, at a recent anti-fascist/anti-Nazi public meeting, I was dismayed to hear a speaker from Anti-Fascist Action criticize fascists on the grounds that they did not really support "our" country (implying that patriotism - supporting "our" bourgeoisie - is desirable).

In these examples we can see how Barrot has pointed accurately to problems of typical antifascist positions; there is a clear tendency to oppose fascism on the grounds that it is undemocratic and a threat to "our" country. In such cases we are in effect, as Barrot says, being asked to rally to the support of one manifestation of the state against another. A classic example is the case of the Spanish Civil War, in which the anarchist strategy for fighting fascism was to join forces with the republican government.

However, it is not enough to dismiss all the various contemporary antifascist manifestations on these grounds alone. The point is that many people become involved in antifascism not to support democracy but simply because they recognize the need to organize specifically against the BNP and similar groups who intimidate minorities, and against racist attacks in general. The issue of racism is not addressed by Barrot in this pamphlet. In his defence, it is worth stating that fascism and racism are by no means synonymous (conceptually or historically); racism is simply a contingent tool of fascism and other forms of capitalism. But racism is most people's experience of present day neo-fascism; fascism has almost become a theoretical justification for racism in many cases.

Barrot's argument is directed at those who are exclusively fighting fascism; but he also refers to struggles in Italy that were antifascist without being "specifically antifascist: to struggle against Capital meant to struggle against fascism as well as against parliamentary democracy." (p. 13). In other words, not all antifascist activity entails supporting democracy. The knub of the argument is this, however: the state transforms itself to suit capital, thus "[t]he proletariat will destroy totalitarianism [including fascism] only by destroying democracy and all political forms at the same time." (p. 17). Barrot presents us with a sharp dichotomy in which anything less than his pre-defined programme for revolution (the attack on wage labour) is worse than useless. While we would of course endorse an all-out attack on wage labour, and while we reserve the right to criticize the recent wave of antifascist groups, it is a necessary part of our support for one class against the other that we confront all forces which attempt to divide us along lines of "race", nationality etc. Barrot's pamphlet is important in that it warns us against the dangers of involvement in popular fronts; but it should not be taken as providing a theoretical justification for ignoring the concrete problems which affect particular sections of our class.


Captain Function

8 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Captain Function on January 6, 2016

"A classic example is the case of the Spanish Civil War, in which the anarchist strategy for fighting fascism was to join forces with the republican government."

Yup, this was the sole strategy of the anarchist movement in Spain. There were no disagreements, debates, or discussions about war, revolution, joining the government, and what to do next after the initial uprising against Franco. Durruti, the FOD, the May Days, and the Bajo Llobregat labor council never existed...

Seriously though, I don't get how non-Leninist Marxist groups like Aufheben can get away with making such huge, sweeping generalizations about anarchism.

Black Badger

8 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Black Badger on January 6, 2016

Seriously though, I don't get how non-Leninist Marxist groups like Aufheben can get away with making such huge, sweeping generalizations about anarchism.

It's called "bad faith."


6 years 11 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by nization on August 19, 2017

I propose an alternative theory: they (rightly) don't give a monkeys' either about "anarchism" or "Marxism" in general ('the horror, the horror!'), and pay attention only to the actual acts of the proletariat, thus getting to the nitty-gritty and bypassing political bullshit. By the way, Durruti is a rather poor choice of champion for this particular cause, as you ought to know. Poor little isms… so easily offended, especially those with an 'immaculate' track record (ha, ha)

Aufheben #02 (Summer 1993)

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 25, 2006

Class Decomposition In The New World Order: Yugoslavia Unravelled

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

(1) Introduction

Whilst there have been numerous wars around the globe over the last forty-eight years, Europe has seen only the mundane brutality of everyday capitalist social relations. But once again the spectre of war haunts the proletarians of the continent. The former republics of Yugoslavia have lurched into a bitter cycle of war, and the images of the suffering provide a terrifying reminder of the capacity of the working class to carve itself up along national lines.

Are we heading for a major European war? Will the events of the past couple of years in Yugoslavia be repeated throughout Eastern Europe? An analysis of the conflict is clearly imperative.

Such an analysis is made more difficult however both by our separation from the events, leading to a lack of information from 'below', and by the endless stream of depressing details on the conflict in the media making any attempt to keep abreast of events into a desensitising test of endurance. So this article will be limited to an attempt to simplify the conflict by grasping the material roots of the nationalist tensions.

The first problem lies with deciding where to start. A possible starting point would be the formation of the first (monarchist) Yugoslavia after WW1, as the internal migration of Serbs under the Serb-dominated regime (to be followed by a similar migratory flow after WW2) helped produce the ethnic mish-mash with which we are now familiar. Another possibility is WW2 and the genocide perpetrated by the Ustashe which helps explain the fear of persecution so characteristic of current Serbian nationalist ideology.

Neither of these starting points seem to provide the best means of unravelling the conflict however, as the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia did hold together for well over forty years despite its ethnic diversity and the experiences of WW2. Instead, the focus of the analysis has to be the 1974 Constitution, which appears to be a pivotal moment in the shaping of Socialist Yugoslavia; so, to begin with, we have to examine the factors which gave rise to it.

(2) Class Recomposition.

In 1948 the Yugoslav Communist Party (Y.C.P.) was expelled from the Cominform, in part due to the Y.C.P.'s desire for U.S. financial support. As if trying to disprove Stalin's accusation that the Y.C.P. was a 'Kulak' party incapable of making war on the peasantry the Y.C.P. set out on a programme of forced collectivisation beginning in 1949. Prior to the war 75% of the regions population were dependent on peasant agriculture and immediately after the war the Y.C.P. rewarded the peasants, from whom the partisan army under Tito had drawn most of its support, with land reform; land previously owned by foreigners, collaborators, the church and large estates was broken up and distributed amongst the poor peasants as small plots. Such an organisation of agricultural labour was, however, a brake on the development of the productive forces so desired by the Y.C.P., a brake which collectivisation (socialist primitive accumulation) was designed to remove. This programme came up against significant peasant resistance however, with extensive riots in 1950 and widespread sabotage of agricultural production the following year. Given their need for the political backing of the peasants the Y.C.P. was forced to abandon this policy of rural expropriation. First the compulsory delivery of agricultural produce to the state was scrapped and in 1953 collectivisation was abandoned. Peasants were allowed to leave the collectives, and most of them did.

Thereafter agricultural labour consisted of two sectors; a small collectivised 'socialist' sector comprising about 5% of the agricultural workforce and 15% of agricultural land, and a much larger private sector in which peasant families were able to sell their surplus produce on the open market with the states role reduced to setting the levels of taxes and some prices. Yugoslavia had clearly begun to move away from the Stalinist model of a centrally-planned economy. The Y.C.P. had decided that the accumulation of alienated labour would have to proceed using the discipline of market forces with the coercive power of the state decentralised. In 1950 the 'Basic Law on Workers Self Management' was introduced in the industrial sector to allow workers to participate on a democratic basis in their own exploitation. Workers Councils were henceforth able to elect Management Boards which by 1953 were able to engage in foreign trade, set prices in most cases, and decide for themselves questions concerning product range, investment, output, supplies and customers. Thus there evolved the partial separation of the 'political' and 'economic' aspects of the capital relation; the involvement of the Federal Government in the everyday running of the economy gradually declined as the social division of labour came to be increasingly regulated by the market.

Liberalising economic and political reforms occurred in 1960-61, 1963, and 1965 despite concerted opposition from the more centralising elements within the Y.C.P. The net results of these reforms were twofold although both represented a decline in the power of the Federal Government in Belgrade. On the one hand remaining price controls, including that setting a minimum price for labour-power, were abolished, and control over credit, and thus control over the real accumulation of capital, was devolved to the banking system. The rule of money over the conditions of life thereby increased. Alongside this shift was a political one devolving a certain amount of political clout to regional authorities although fiscal policy and control over the repressive functions of the state remained the prerogative of the Federal bureaucracy in Belgrade.

Within the Y.C.P. there had occurred a certain division between the conservative autocrats of the bureaucracy and the liberal technocrats of the productive enterprises and banks, with the relative empowerment of the latter. And such a reorganisation proved to be very successful. Investment rates during the 50s and 60s were exceptionally high by international standards. Rapid accumulation allowed for rising real wages paid for through rising productivity. A relatively generous social wage was affordable; healthcare and other services developed to rival those in many West European countries. Thus the Yugoslav model became the ideal for many left-liberals in Britain and elsewhere who had a particular fetishism for democracy but no critique of alienation. But this rapid accumulation had a number of consequences which would serve to undermine this particular form of market-based self-management.

i) Accumulation of Grave-Diggers:

In less than two decades much of Yugoslavia had been transformed from a predominantly agricultural country into an industrial one. And where industry had previously existed it had grown in size. Between 1953 and 1965 over 1 million peasants had been transformed into wage-labourers. The rulers had created their own nemesis, potentially at least. The increasingly real subsumption of labour under capital tended towards the homogenisation of the working class, and the increasing size of industrial units its unification. Democratic participation in the Workers Councils served to atomise the Yugoslav working class, but the increasing socialisation of labour led to those individuals becoming ever more parts of a collective worker collectively exploited by ever more hostile dead labour. This transformation of the productive power of labour was reflected in the minds of the workers themselves and class antagonism, expressed througha rapid turnover of labour, absenteeism, work stoppages and strikes, increased accordingly.

The incidence of wildcat strikes increased notably following the liberalising reforms of 1965, and whilst they tended to remain an amalgam of localised affairs, for reasons which will soon become apparent, they nonetheless constituted a significant threat to the status quo. A second front was opened up in the spring of 1968 by radical students who appeared on the streets of Belgrade with a coherent theoretical critique of alienated labour and of representative organisational forms. Of particular importance is the fact that the student movement was aware of the impossibility of abolishing the alienation of students without abolishing capitalist alienation in general, and thus sought through its slogans and in its programme to achieve that which had not yet happened; the unification of the whole of the Yugoslav working class in a movement for its own abolition.

ii) Accentuation of Regional Disparities;

The republics which together formed Socialist Yugoslavia after WW2 displayed massive social, cultural and economic differences. Slovenia and Croatia were the more developed regions (M.D.R.s) of the country due to their incorporation into the Austro-Hungarian empire, their close ties with German and Italian capital, and their relative lack of infrastructural damage during the war. Agriculture was still significant in the M.D.R.s, even if much less so than in the L.D.R.s. But land was much more fertile than in the southern regions and farms tended to belong to the collectivised 'socialist' sector which was much more capital intensive than the private sector of the independent peasants. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo (an Autonomous Province within the Serbian republic), being more rural areas in which private sector peasant agriculture was much more significant, made up the less developed regions (L.D.R.s). Serbia (with its other Autonomous Province of Vojvodina) had undergone an average degree of development and thus constituted the middle ground. The difference in levels of consumption between the workers of the M.D.R.s and those of the L.D.R.s was notable. Indicators such as share in the total social product, infant mortality rates, literacy rates, inhabitants per hospital bed and others are testimony to how much a higher rate of exploitation in the M.D.R.s enabled workers there a higher standard of living.

The Y.C.P. were fearful that these disparities would exacerbate nationalist tensions to a degree that would undermine the stability required for capital accumulation. An active regional development policy was therefore pursued immediately after the war in order that development in the L.D.R.s might be speeded up. Whilst this could be done relatively easily during the central planning period, when the main source of of investment funds was the Federal Budget, the shift towards a market economy undermined this policy. Up until 1963 investment was controlled by a General Investment Fund, and although a certain amount of money-capital was earmarked for investment in the L.D.R.s on preferential terms the bulk of the resources was allocated on the basis of the profitability of the enterprises wishing to receive funding. Then, when responsibility for credit and investment passed into the hands of the banking system, profitability became the sole criterion for decisions concerning the allocation of credit.

This relaxation of control over the workings of the law of value served to exacerbate the regional disparities. Enterprises in the L.D.R.s tended to be much less competitive and thus found it harder to obtain the capital required to raise the productivity of labour, thus they became even less competitive. Unable to obtain credit through the banking system the L.D.R.s resorted to obtaining the few resources available through the 'Federal Fund for Crediting Economic Development of Less Developed Regions'. With investments in the L.D.R.s then being made on the basis of political considerations these resources were often wasted on hopelessly uncompetitive 'prestige projects', thus further undermining profitability in the L.D.R.s. As for agriculture in the L.D.R.s, productivity was falling further behind that of the M.D.R.s socialised sector, and the Y.C.P. tried to narrow the gap by passing a law in 1967 enabling peasants to buy agricultural machinery such as tractors. But with the relatively small scale of plots such a move was futile. And on top of this, when the tourism industry began to expand rapidly Croatia was to prove the main benificiary.

Given such a regional division of labour, with manufacturing concentrated in the M.D.R.s, tourism concentrated in Croatia, and mining, energy production and peasant agriculture dominating the L.D.R.s, it is obvious that objective conditions did not favour a unified offensive by the Yugoslav working class as a whole. And it also becomes clear as to why the tensions within the party between the liberals and the conservatives took on a regional bias which was at times prone to expressing itself in nationalist terms.

(3) 1974 Constitution

The Y.C.P. was able to isolate, repress and recuperate the student movement and defuse the radical workers offensive thus neutralising the immediate threat to its rule. But it had become clear that capital accumulation would have to be re-stabilised on a new basis as the existing regime of domination was showing too many cracks. Striking workers in the M.D.R.s were questioning the inequalities between themselves and the new breed of entrepreneurs in an ostensibly socialist society. Workers in the L.D.R.s similarly protested about inequality, including the question of wage differentials between themselves and their northern counterparts. And within the bureaucracy itself there were tensions between the cadre of the different regions and between the regional leaderships and the Federal leadership in Belgrade.

A period of intense discussion resulted in the 1974 Constitution, heralding the period of 'associated labour' and 'social compacts'. The organs of workers democracy were divided into 35,000 smaller sub-units called the 'Basic Organisation of Associated Labour', thus fragmenting abstract labour in much the same way as TeamWork does under Just-In-Time/Total-Quality-Control production regimes. Relationships between B.O.A.L.s within an enterprise, and between enterprises, were to be governed by negotiated contracts, with wages regulated by 'social compacts' - agreements negotiated between enterprises, their B.O.A.L.s, trade unions, and the regional governments. In this way the autonomous power of money had been curtailed as a concession to quell dissent; market forces were henceforth partially subordinated to the political control of the party.

The party which had regained its leading role was itself restructured by the 1974 Constitution. The powers of the Federal government were reduced relative to the regional governments, and all major decisions concerning the federation had to be reached through social compacts and agreements requiring the consent of the leaderships of all eight republics and provinces. Such decisions included those concerning fiscal policy, monetary policy, public spending and contributions to the Federal Fund for Crediting Economic Development of L.D.R.s. The leaders of each of the republic's parties had effectively gained the right of veto over the policies of the Yugoslav government, and the leaderships of the L.D.R.s were thus able to secure preferential treatment for their regions, such as exemption from customs duties on the import of fixed capital, higher export subsidies, refunds for contributions to the Federal Budget etc. And the transfer of powers from Belgrade to the regions allowed the party leaders in the L.D.R.s exclusive control over the use of resources obtained from the development fund.

To summarise, the 1974 Constitution attempted to restore the rule of the party over the power of money, but the party itself was also restructured leading to the regionalisation of the Yugoslav economy. But what had emerged as an attempt to forge a new consensus around which accumulation could be organised in fact led to dissatisfaction in virtually every quarter.

i) M.D.R.s

The politicisation of resource allocation was inevitably unpopular with the technocrats/ entrepreneurs/ bankers concentrated in the M.D.R.s, and the party leaderships of Croatia and Slovenia soon resumed pressing for the prioritisation of profitability criteria for investment. Although in the late 1980s the M.D.R.s only made their contributions to the L.D.R. development fund under great duress, it was not the magnitude of the value that was transferred southwards that the M.D.R.s objected to. The level of contributions from the M.D.R.s was modest despite the fact that the Federal Fund provided virtually all the investment resources for the poorest of the L.D.R.s. What the party leaders in the M.D.R.s objected to was that the political restrictions upon the flow of money-capital towards the highest rate of profit was serving to slow capital accumulation in Yugoslavia as a whole and the M.D.R.s in particular. This section of the ruling class wanted further decentralisation and the extension of market-based reforms in order to reimpose competition as the means whereby Yugoslav capital would organise itself against labour on a national level.

ii) L.D.R.s

Such a move would have consigned the economies of the L.D.R.s to the role of Yugoslavia's 'third world'. The constitutional changes had however given the means to block the moves by the M.D.R.s for further liberalisation. But the status quo was not to the liking of the L.D.R. leaderships either, as the growing autonomy of the regional economies was already condemning them to a permanent position as the 'poorer partners' with a slower rate of accumulation. Thus they pressed for an active interventionist policy in opposition to the demands from the M.D.R.s.

iii) Serbia

As previously noted, Serbia occupied the middle ground where development was concerned, but was where political power had been concentrated. What caused consternation amongst Serbian cadre was that the Federal leadership in Belgrade was being held hostage by the narrow national interests of the republican and provincial governments. Contributing as much and sometimes more than each of the M.D.R.s to the fund for the L.D.R.s they were as resentful as the parties in those republics at seeing capital being wasted by the L.D.R. leaderships on 'prestige projects' which did nothing towards decreasing the profitability divide. The Serbian leadership thus wanted to revert to a strong central government to ensure the efficient utilisation of investment capital. Furthermore Serbs (and Montenegrins) had always been over-represented within the Y.C.P. as a whole because of the composition of the partisan movement, and within the Federal Army and the state apparatus there were a disproportionate number of Serbian (and Montenegrin) cadre. The 1974 Constitution was thus perceived by the Serbian party leadership as having reduced the power and prestige of the Serbian leadership in Yugoslavia as a whole. In the mid 1970s the Serbian party began campaigning against regional autonomy, setting up a working commission of the party to gather together the arguments against the regional autonomy granted by the constitutional changes in a 'Blue Book'. The 'Blue Book' advocated the return to Belgrade of control over economic policy for the whole of Yugoslavia, as well as control over the provinces judiciary, police and security services. Not surprisingly the arguments were rejected by the multi-national Federal leadership.

(4) The Onset of Crisis

Opposition to the 1974 Constitution was often expressed in nationalist terms. Such ideas were hardly new, having resurfaced periodically in Socialist Yugoslavia. But each time they had surfaced they had been criticised extensively as most of the Y.C.P. were committed to Yugoslav unity. So although opposition to the 1974 Constitution would incorporate certain aspects of nationalist ideology this did not lead to open hostilities. That is until the cement of capital accumulation which had held together the 'red bourgeoisie' of Yugoslavia began to crack as the economy plunged into a serious crisis.

The partial restriction of competition within the domestic market of Yugoslavia served to undermine the means whereby the valorisation conditions of social capital are forced upon particular capitals. Without the same competitive pressures, individual capitals operating within Yugoslavia were less compelled to raise the productivity of labour. The constant struggle to expend no more than the labour-time socially necessary for the production of given commodities was relaxed. But while the Y.C.P. could assert some control over the law of value as it operated within the boundaries of Yugoslavia, there was less it could do about the dictates of the world market. Global social capital demanded continuous reductions in necessary labour but Yugoslav capital had backed away from the struggle with its workers. Thus Yugoslav capital became increasingly uncompetitive in the world market. Selling commodities abroad increasingly required subsidies, but the money for this had itself to come out of surplus-value, which was becoming harder and harder to realise.

By 1980 a foreign debt of $14 billion had been accumulated, and Yugoslavia joined the I.M.F. The following year a loan was negotiated which was the biggest the I.M.F. had paid out at the time, but the provision of credit was conditional upon the imposition of an austerity programme. A strict incomes policy was to be introduced, prices were to be deregulated, interest rates increased sharply, the Dinar devalued, and exports increased at the expense of domestic consumption. The 1974 reforms had not succeeded in eliminating the Yugoslav working class as an overtly antagonistic subject however, as had been demonstrated by an upturn in the number of strikes in 1976. So in response to the attempted imposition of austerity the Yugoslav working class waged a fierce defensive struggle, in many cases successfully blocking the Federal government's measures. Strikes, largely in response to wage cuts, threatened to escape the control of the trade unions. And beyond the productive sphere other struggles were waged, including the organised boycott of rising electricity and gas bills.

This defensive struggle continued through the early eighties, but the state did have a certain amount of success in its battle against its working class. Many uncompetitive capitals were forced to collapse and unemployment rose rapidly, exerting further downwards pressure on wages. Wages were pushed down significantly in real terms during the 1980's, although there are various figures available as to exactly how much. An article in New Left Review 174 states that 'working class consumption' fell by nearly 8% between 1979 and 1985 whilst an article in the April/May '93 issue of Wildcat states that 'incomes' fell by 45% over the same period and that 'wages relative to prices' fell by 30% between 1978 and 1988. Mass unemployment is a contradictory weapon however, and despite this fall in wages the foreign debt had risen to $20 billion dollars by 1985, and inflation was becoming rampant (reaching 250% by the end of 1988).

In 1986 many individual firms had conceded wage increases which, although considerably below the rate of inflation, were in excess of the rate fixed by the government. In response the Federal government passed a law in February 1987 cutting wages and requiring that wages in excess of the limit be paid back. Mass strikes broke out, particularly around the areas of Zagreb and Belgrade, and street battles with the police occurred in many towns and cities throughout Yugoslavia. The Federal government in Belgrade threatened to bring tanks onto the streets to restore order, but this was eventually achieved by means of a temporary price freeze.

Another measure used by the Federal government to deal with this situation was an agreement that wages would be allowed to rise in excess of the norm provided they were 'paid for' through increased productivity. This was a divisive measure, obviously benefiting workers in the M.D.R.s, especially those in sectors linked to export and foreign currency earnings (the tourist industry). And divisive tactics probably had some success given the way that the gap between conditions for workers in the M.D.R.s and those in the L.D.R.s widened with the crisis. In 1987 the party leaders of three of the L.D.R.'s -Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro- declared their regions bankrupt, and 'Agrokomerc', the Bosnian agro-industrial conglomerate, collapsed. Whilst unemployment rose from 11% to 18% between 1975 and 1989 as an average for Yugoslavia as a whole, the rise was from 4% to 6% for the M.D.R.s, from 13% to 17% in Serbia and Vojvodina, and from 22% to 36% in the L.D.R.s. Using another indicator, the proportion of the Yugoslav population below the poverty line rose from 17.2% to 23% between 1978 and 1989, but the regional variation is striking; in 1989 the proportion was only 2.9% in Slovenia compared to a staggering 81.9% in Kosovo. The reason for this increase in regional disparities during this period was linked to the changing price of manufactured goods and primary products on the international market. The M.D.R.s had benefited from the rise in the price of manufactured goods following the oil price hike of 1979, whilst the prices of agricultural products and raw materials, the mainstays of the L.D.R.s' economies, collapsed due to the international debt crisis and the efforts of debtor countries to meet repayments by stepping up exports.

(5) Class Decomposition

1987 appears to have been something of a turning point in the unfolding of the situation. It was at this time that organised groups began successfully propagating nationalist ideas within the working class movement, placing themselves at the forefront of demonstrations. The development of nationalism within the working class had been encouraged by developments within the Y.C.P. On the one hand the party leaderships of the M.D.R.s had started backing up their demands for economic liberalisation with demands for national independence, probably at this stage just to increase the pressure on the Federal leadership. And on the other the Serbian party were now openly endorsing Serbian nationalism. That nationalism was able to become the potent material force we know it to have become in Yugoslavia is down to the fact that it had a material basis. Dismissing it as 'false consciousnesss' is inadequate as it can lead to little more than implying the need for a vanguard to teach the proles what their real interests are. Our opposition to all forms of nationalism should not mean that we are incapable of addressing the question as to why it is capable of mobilising working class support.

Nationalism reflects the superficial identity of interests thay exists between a particular national bourgeoisie and the proletariat of that country for so long as capitalist social relations persist. An identity of interests because the successful valorisation and realisation of capital provides both capitalists and workers with a source of revenue with which, as independent subjects in the market legally separated from means, commodities can be purchased to satisfy needs (albeit in an alienated form). Superficial because, whilst it does not immediately present itself as such, this process is one of class exploitation and hence antagonism. To the extent that the bourgeoisie organises itself on a national level, and it remains meaningful to talk of national economies, the proletariat will find itself a universal class divided upon national lines. For so long as we remain defeated, i.e. so long as the value-form exists, then nationalism may feed upon this division. Capital may be a unity, but it is a differentiated one whose unityis constituted through competition on an international level. With competition on the world market based on the cheapening of commodities, acceptance of a 'national interest' and making sacrifices to the national bourgeoisie may mean increased exploitation for the working class, resignation to a living death or a real one as cannon fodder, but it also increases the competitiveness of the national capital on the world market, making its realisation more probable, and thus helps to secure future revenue for both classes.

The regionalisation of the Yugoslav economy meant the existence of a material basis for nationalist divisions within the Yugoslav working class. Refusal to accept these divisions could maintain the prospect of social revolution, or at least maintaining a trajectory which kept this possibility alive. Acceptance of these divisions could mean abandonment of any hope for a free, unalienated existence, but also the prospect of a greater access to the social wealth alienated to capital by deflecting the assault of capital onto the 'other', whether that be other republics, other nationalities within the republic, or both. As the prospects for the class began to disappear over the horizon so resignation to nationalism increased.

i) Serbia

Around 1980 a new generation of bureaucrats came to power in Serbia, grouped around Ivan Stambolic (head of Serbia's government 1980-82, head of Belgrade Party 1982-84, president of Serbian Party 1984-86). This new leadership, which included Slobodan Milosevic, sought to achieve the aims of the 'Blue Book', the recentralisation of political power in Belgrade, through the strategic manipulation of nationalist sentiment in order to exert pressure on the Federal leadership. Such a proposal would have to be agreed by the assemblies of the Autonomous Provinces of Vojvidina and Kosovo, as well as the other republics, and the assemblies of Serbia's Provinces were not willing to give up power.

Indeed, in 1981 there was a huge wave of rioting right across Kosovo. Whilst the underlying cause of the rioting may be rooted in the falling living standards of Kosovo's working class these riots have usually been interpreted as nationalist riots. There certainly were demands put forward that Kosovo be given full republican status. But even if this interpretation is wrong there can be little doubt that the predominantly Albanian working class were forced into falling in behind 'their' leaders in defence of 'national rights' by subsequent events.

The rioting was suppressed by the predominantly Serbian Federal forces and a state of emergency declared. Nationalist elements within Serbia began decrying the way in which the 1974 Constitution had led to what they saw as the Albanianisation of Kosovo, which they considered to be a part of 'Greater Serbia'. Indeed Kosovo is of central importance to Serbian nationalists as it was the centre of medieval Serbia until it was lost to Turkey in the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. Such nationalist ideas did not however have much popular appeal at the time.

By 1986, however, the Serbian leadership's use of nationalism in the context of a worsening economic crisis was starting to have some effect. The Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences produced a document called the Memorandum which was full of xenophobic nationalism, revising the history of Yugoslavia in order to rehabilitate the Chetniks (Serbian ultra-nationalist movement of WW2). Milosevic ensured that the Serbian Party leadership did not openly criticise the Memorandum, thereby encouraging the development of nationalism by the intelligentsia. And at this time the 'Kosovo Committee of Serbs and Montenegrins' began organising nationalist rallies in Kosovo and sending delegations to Belgrade demanding military rule in Kosovo. To back up their demands the Committee and their nationalist allies in Serbia launched an anti-Albanian campaign. Their allies included retired policemen, right wing intellectuals, a wing of the Orthodox Church and of course a significant section of the state and Party bureaucracy. The official media aided the campaign by printing racial slurs and the fabricated stories of the systematic rape of Serbian women by Albanian men in Kosovo. Many Serbs were emigrating from Kosovo, not least due to the comparatively high rate of unemployment in the Province, and this was presented in the media as evidence of Albanian oppression of the Serb minority.

By 1987, anti-Albanian discrimination was rife. Factories started to be built in Kosovo for Serbs only, Albanian families were evicted from Serb villages, sale of Serb-owned land to Albanians was prohibited, and Albanians heavily sentenced for minor crimes. The more liberal elements in the Serbian Party, grouped around Stambolic, became worried that the monster they had given sustenance to, if not created, was threatening to divide not just the Yugoslav working class but Yugoslavia itself, and so they sought to criticise the nationalist 'excesses'. But those grouped around Milosevic openly endorsed the rising nationalist sentiment recognising that it could serve to deflect the anger of Serbian workers away from their real enemies, justify repressive measures in Kosovo, and pressurise the Federal bureaucracy into making the desired constitutional changes. A struggle for control of the Serbian Party ensued and by September of that year the liberals had been defeated and Milosevic was in power.

The battle to impose a solution to the crisis continued throughout 1988 along regional lines. Slovene and Croat leaders continued to demand the unleashing of market forces, which the L.D.R. leaderships resisted, recognising that such a move would imply a chronic devalorisation of their existing capital and little opportunity to accumulate further. Slovenia's rulers in particular, presiding over the most developed and Westernised of the M.D.R.s, were the most vocal in their desire to see increased local autonomy, political pluralism, and the introduction of private enterprises alongside self-managed ones. Whilst their economic demands were supported by Croatia alone, the demands for increased regional autonomy had the support of many in Bosnia, Vojvodina, and Kosovo as well.

The solution proposed by Serbia's leaders however was the restoration of a strong central government in Belgrade such that the motor of accumulation, the M.D.R.s, could be harnessed to the rest of the country, and the L.D.R.s developed more efficiently. And in this they enjoyed the support of the leaders of Macedonia and Montenegro who were grateful for Serbia's anti-Albanian campaign for allowing them to discriminate against their own Albanian populations.

The first hurdle, however, remained the Party leaders of Vojvodina and Kosovo. In the autumn of 1988 numerous nationalist rallies were organised. Throughout Serbia, and especially in Belgrade, huge rallies called for Serb unity, i.e. the unification of 'Greater Serbia', and solidarity with the armed Serbian vigilantes operating in Kosovo. Serbian nationalist rallies also took place in Vojvidina, Montenegro and Kosovo, leading to the replacement of Vojvodina's leaders with Milosevic-supporters in October, and those of Montenegro the following January. With big Serbian nationalist rallies planned to take place in Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia the Federal Party decided that it would have to appease Milosevic and agreed to allow for Vojvodina and Kosovo to be put under Serbian control.

Amidst much speculation of a break in the Federation, October 1988 saw the introduction of a number of Constitutional changes. As a concession to the leaders of the M.D.R.s there were a number of moves in the direction of freeing competition, scrapping the system of B.O.A.L.s and Compacts. And to appease the Serbian leadership the resignation of the Kosovo Party leaders was secured. This provoked massive demonstrations in Kosovo, and in February the following year, when the Serbian Party imposed their own officials on Kosovo's assembly in an attempt to speed up ratification of the Constitutional changes, Albanian workers responded with a general strike. Their demands for the retention of regional autonomy were rejected by the Federal leadership following big counter-demonstrations in Belgrade, and in March 1989 the Kosovo assembly finally agreed to accept direct rule from Belgrade. The news was greeted with celebrations by nationalists in Belgrade, but Albanian workers in Kosovo rioted until they were violently suppressed by the Federal Army. Since then tension has been high in Kosovo.

Nationalism was able to flourish amongst Serbian workers due to the fact that Milosevic sought to transfer increased value southwards from the M.D.R.s and that non-Serbian peasants and workers in the L.D.R.s would bear the brunt of the crisis. But its development did not go unopposed. Independent trade unions and other organisations formed to defend class interests and Serbian workers continued to strike against 'their' bosses. Indeed, strike activity increased in 1988, the most spectacular incident being the occupation of the Serbian parliament by 5,000 united Serb and Croat strikers from the cities of Vukovar and Borovo Selo in South-East Croatia. 1989 saw a further increase in strike activity and in 1990 moves to carry out the dismantling of the self-management apparatus and the privatisation of enterprises were abandoned in the face of violent strikes, not just in Serbia but throughout all the republics. Despite the growing influence of the nationalists those opposed to nationalism were able to mobilise mass support right up until the outbreak of the war. In March 1991, only months before the break away of Slovenia, 70,000 demonstrated in Belgrade against control of the media by Milosevic's nationalist lackeys. The demonstration was met with water cannons, tear gas, mounted police, rubber bullets and finally live ammunition leaving two dead (according to official figures). The next day saw big demonstrations throughout Serbia's towns and cities demanding the release of the 300 arrested and for the next four days there were mass demonstrations in Belgrade, including an ongoing occupation of the main square. But despite the fact that Serbian workers were often able to win concessions from 'their' bosses struggles such as these ultimately proved incapable of overcoming the divisions between the workers both within and between the different republics to the extent required to prevent the war.

This account of the development of Serbian nationalism shows the lie of those on the left who, in their desperation to back one faction of our class enemy against the other, seek to apologise for Serbian nationalism by arguing that it is merely a response to the threat posed by Croatian fascism. But this account does not explain the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It did not occur, as much of the bourgeois press initially argued, due to fear of Serbian domination on the parts of those nice liberals in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. Let us shift our attention north-westwards.

ii) Slovenia and Croatia

Party leaders in Slovenia and Croatia observed what was happening in Belgrade with trepidation. But, despite talk of secession, what they really wanted was economic liberalisation and increased autonomy within a looser Yugoslav Federation. They certainly did not want the recentralisation of power in Belgrade, nor were they content with the 1988 Constitutional changes. But things would begin to change rapidly the following year; 1989 was the year that the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe crumbled, the year that the Berlin Wall fell.

During 1989 opposition parties formed in Slovenia and Croatia, committed to market forces and closer ties with W. European capital. Talk of solving the economic crisis by cutting themselves free from the millstone of the incompetitive L.D.R.s became louder, and nationalist tensions increased with a boycott of Slovene commodities in Serbia. In September the Slovenian assembly adopted Constitutional Amendments, including the right to secede and the right to decidewhether any declaration of martial law in Belgrade should be extended to Slovenia. The leaders of Croatia and Bosnia were also increasingly lining up against Serbia.

In January 1990 the Federal Party congress broke up in disarray, and two months later the Slovenian and Croatian delegates failed to attend a Central Committee meeting in Belgrade, choosing instead to meet with Italians, Germans, Austrians and Hungarians in Slovenia, whilst the Bosnian delegation turned up in Belgrade only to leave again immediately. But it was to be the election of parliamentary parties in the M.D.R.s which had no affiliation with the leaders in the rest of the country that made secession look increasingly likely.

Slovenia and Croatia both staged elections in April 1990. In Slovenia the election largely revolved around the issue of secession, with the secessionists winning, although the election of Kukan, leader of the Slovenian Communist Party, to the position of President reflected a certain amount of caution. In Croatia the election brought Franjo Tujman, leader of the right-wing nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, to power. In the 1960s Tujman had engaged in historical revisionism, rewriting the history of WW2 and the Ustashe regime, and on coming to power set about their rehabilitation. The new Croatian Constitution declared Croatia to be the land of the Croats, giving no constitutional guarantees for the rights of minorities. The use of the Cyrillic alphabet for official communication was banned, even in areas where Serbs are the majority. The insignia and flags of the Ustashe began reappearing, 'Victims of Fascism' Square in Zagreb was renamed 'Croatian Heroes' Square. Serbian workers began to be sacked en masse from public sector jobs in order to reduce unemployment amongst Croatian workers and establish a new pattern of domination. And in a manner reminiscent of the bad old days arbitrary arrests, disappearances and the murder of Serbs started happening all over again.

Not surprisingly Croatia's Serbs started agitating for autonomous Serbian enclaves. In October 1990 they seized arms from police arsenals throughout Eastern Croatia and set up roadblocks, declaring the region autonomous and calling for the Federal Army to back them against the 'fascist government' in Zagreb. But within the enclaves Chetnik insignia were reappearing; many of the insurrectionists were pro Serbian nationalism as much as anti Croatian fascism.( The Serbian minority in Bosnia had also been agitating for autonomy and October 1990 also saw violent clashes between Bosnia's Serbs and Muslims. The reason for the trouble was the refusal of Serbs to commemorate the slaughter of Muslims by Chetniks in WW2.)

As previously noted the 1988 strikes in precisely this region of Eastern Croatia had demonstrated a significant degree of unity between Serbs and Croats. Two years on, however, and caught between rival nationalist militias, such unity appears to have been impossible to sustain. And whilst Croatian and Slovenian workers struck in 1990 along with workers in the other republics, opposition to nationalism seems to have been less fervent than in Serbia, largely because of the potential benefits that workers in the M.D.R.s could accrue from independence (and that Croatian workers could gain at the expense of the Serbian minority in Croatia).

It could be said that the civil war had already started, but it would not start in earnest until the following summer. In December 1990 elections in Serbia and Montenegro had returned the renamed Y.C.P. to power, signalling to the leaders in the M.D.R.s that their demands were unlikely to be met. Slovenia's new rulers organised a referendum on whether they should secede should reforms not be forthcoming in the near future, and a huge majority voted in favour. Croatia also made Constitutional changes reserving the right to secession.

In Spring 1991 both announced their intention to ditch the Federation. The Federal Army leadership sought the declaration of a state of emergency in order to block the move, but the Federal leadership refused them. On June 25th 1991 Slovenia and Croatia declared themselves independent.

(6) The Conflict Begins

Outmanoeuvred politically the leadership of the Federal Army, now the de facto Federal power, responded militarily. On June 27th the Federal Army attempted to hold the Federation together through the seizure of Slovenia's border posts and main airport. Within only 10 days however, the Serb-dominated Federal Army leadership had to concede that Slovenia's secession could not be prevented. On the one hand the Federal Army met with fierce Slovene resistance. The previous year had seen both Slovenia and Croatia make moves towards turning those Federal forces under their control into independent national armies, which were blocked by the Federal leadership declaring such moves illegal and impounding weapons. But whilst almost all of Croatia's weaponry was impounded only 40% of that in Slovenian hands was recovered. Thus when the fighting started Slovenian forces were sufficiently well armed to encircle and cut off the Federal Army's Slovenian bases.

Another factor behind the Slovenian victory was resistance within the Federal Army itself. Military leaders had registered their concern about the loyalty of Federal troops in May 1991 when they began calling up Serbian reservists to form ethnically 'pure' tank regiments. But resistance to the war was not limited to non-Serbian troops, who in 1991 made up only 40% of Federal Army manpower. Indeed it has been reported that since the war began a staggering 80% of Federal Army conscripts have deserted!

Resistance within the Federal Army was backed up by anti-war protests in Serbia itself. The independent trade unions and other organisations which had been set up to oppose the development of nationalism in Serbia in the late 1980's quickly established themselves as the foundations upon which an anti-war movement could be built. Two days after the outbreak of the war anti-war protesters, including many mothers of conscripts, stormed the Serbian parliament in Belgrade demanding the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army from Slovenia.

Whilst the weakness of the Federal Army meant that Slovenia's secession had to be accepted as a fait accompli, the situation regarding Croatia differed for a number of reasons. Not only were the Croat forces not as well armed as the Slovenians, more importantly Croatia's leaders already had a major problem on their hands in the form of Chetnik revivalism amongst Croatia's Serbian population. Following the declaration of independence, tensions between Croatia's rival ethnic groups increased further, and there were numerous reports of armed clashes. Thus when the Serbian leaders of the Federal Army switched their attention towards Croatia they were able to allow Chetnik forces to do most of the fighting. In this way the Serb leaders were able to relegate the potentially unreliable Federal Army to a supporting role, claiming in order to appease both 'the West' and the rest of the Federation that its role was one of neutral arbitration, whilst their aims were pursued by Chetnik guerrillas for whom reliability was not an issue. In this way the Chetnik /Federal Army alliance was able to score a partial military victory over the forces of the Croatian Army (backed up in turn by guerrillas including H.O.S., the fascist movement reminiscent of the Ustashe). Whilst they were unable to achieve the total victory which might have preserved the Federation, albeit minus Slovenia, they were able to gain control over the mainly Serbian regions, and have the gains consolidated by the U.N. cease-fire agreement. As previously noted the goal of a Greater Serbia had many supporters within the Serbian leadership. Whilst this was probably not the aim of the Serb leaders when they launched the Serb/Croat war in July 1991, the chances of being able to hold the Federation together decreased significantly following the German-led E.E.C. recognition of Croatian sovereignty on January 15th 1992. This, combined with the inability to ensure an absolute victory over the Croatian Army, must have been a major factor behind the shift in the aim of the Serbian leaders from that of preserving the Federation to that of a Greater Serbia.

This shift was itself probably a major factor leading to the Bosnian declaration of independence in April 1992. The Bosnian leadership had long been moving closer to the leaders of the M.D.R.s (due to their support for regional autonomy), despite themselves presiding over a L.D.R. (although the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo in 1984 indicates a significant potential for foreign currency earnings through the development of skiing as a tourist industry). Now, not only were their fears of Serbian domination heightened, but they had also seen (admittedly confusing) signs of international support for secession in the cases of Slovenia and Croatia, and may have assumed that they would receive backing against Serbian retaliation. A spring referendum boycotted by the Serbian minority registered 99% support for independence. Bosnian Serbs and Croats had already been calling for the cantonisation of Bosnia to produce Serbian and Croatian enclaves which could subsequently join Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia respectively. The announcement of the referendum result stirred them up, particularly the Serbian nationalists in Bosnia. Serb gunmen mounted barricades around Sarajevo on the night of March 2nd and the following night (to which Muslim militants responded by blocking off the Muslim quarter). Protesters immediately gathered at the barricades to demand their removal and were fired upon only to regroup and return with thousands more demonstrators. The multi-ethnic and well-integrated population of Bosnia's capital city had signalled their opposition to the nationalists in their midst, as did the population of the city of Tuzla by signing a statement against 'ethnicisation', but elsewhere in the country ethnic clashes escalated. When independence was declared the following month, and immediately recognised by the U.S., the war in Bosnia began.

Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tujman had met the previous month to discuss the partition of Bosnia between a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia. What had by this stage become a Serbian Army invaded Bosnia from one side to back up the Chetnik militia whilst Croatian forces invaded from the other. Anyone with eyes and ears must have a fair idea as to what has happened since. Serbian forces have seized about two-thirds of the country and Croatia much of the remainder, as the countryside, though not the cities, has seen neighbours take up arms against each other and, divided along ethnic lines, pursue a bloody civil war. All three of the warring parties have attempted to tighten their grip on the regions they control by driving out 'aliens' through the use of terror, including rape.

(7) Resistance To The War

At the forefront of the struggle against the war has been desertion and draft resistance; some media reports have indicated that the cities have been awash with those refusing to fight. In mid 1992 it was reported that over 100,000 Serbs had refused the call-up and that over 10,000 had been prosecuted for desertion. And Sarajevo is reputed to contain many Serbs, Croats and Muslims refusing to join or having fled from their respective armies.

Without wishing to appear too pessimistic, it does however seem that the anti-war movement has gradually lost its way. Exactly one year on from the demonstrations of March 1991 and there was another wave of demonstrations in Belgrade, this time against the war itself. But they were far smaller than the previous years and seemed to be far more dominated by students and school kids, with a truancy epidemic said to be sweeping through the capital. June 1992 saw 10,000 demonstrate in Belgrade and July 1992 saw a strike by 10,000 Belgrade students, but important though this resistance was it seems to have lost the ability to mobilise other sections of the working class. Then, following the announcement of Panic's participation in the Serbian elections on an anti-war platform, the demonstrations appear to have disappeared from Belgrade altogether as hopes were pinned on the democratic process. Whilst Belgrade voted solidly against the war voters elsewhere backed Milosevic, and the ultra-nationalists to his right gained about a third of the votes, largely from rural areas. Milosevic was returned to power and the hopes of the anti-war movement shattered.

Vague stories have surfaced of striking workers occupying railway lines in Vojvodina and Serbian tanks being diverted en route to the front to intimidate unruly workers. And June 1st 1992 saw the return of violent confrontations in Belgrade between the Serbian state and proletarians following the sacking of the President of the 'rump-Yugoslav Federation' by Milosevic. Such a development can only be for the good, despite the fact that opposition to Milosevic is an extremely confused amalgum of anti-nationalists and ultra-nationalists, for it signals that the war has not meant the irreversable defeat of the working class of Serbia. But with Milosevic now in favour of a settlement to end the conflict due to pressures brought to bear by domestic opposition and the effects of sanctions, but unable to exert sufficient pressure on Bosnia's Serbs, the impact that an anti-war movement in Belgrade could have appears to be limited. What is really needed is opposition within Bosnia itself, and whilst opposition in Belgrade could serve as a filip to the small anti-war movements in other republics, the chances of its development in Bosnia are slim given that the cities are in ruins and their populations terrorized by bombardments and sniper fire. It is hard to be optimistic about the near future for the working class of former Yugoslavia. Given the severity and extent of the atrocities witnessed, the divisions between the various nationalities are likely to fester for many years to come.

(8) The International Context

No account of Yugoslavia's descent into civil war would be adequate without reference to the massive changes in the surrounding geo-political order. As with many of the most significant events of recent years, from the Gulf War to the end of the Ethiopian war, the collapse of Somalia to the Italian corruption scandal, it was the crisis in the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War that precipitated the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation. Such a scenario would have been inconceivable whilst Yugoslavia straddled the border between East and West. Neither side would have allowed events to take their own course whilst the possibility remained of Yugoslavia going over to one side or the other.

The end of the Cold War meant the loss of any advantage Yugoslavia's rulers may have derived from their position as an unaligned nation placed strategically between rival Blocs. But more important has been the reorganisation of the European bourgeoisie following the fall of the Berlin Wall. The process of European unification offers a stark choice to the rulers of the poorer countries on the fringes of the newly emerging power bloc. Either try to climb on board, in which case the position of poorer partner supplying cheap primary products and labour-power will, to a certain extent, be compensated for by financial aid. Or be left trying to keep afloat in the emerging 'Third World' of Europe, competing with other East European plus African, Asian, and Latin American economies to sell basic commodities inside 'Fortress Europe' or the other trade blocs. This fear of marginalisation from the main circuits of capital is perhaps the most important consequence of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc so far as Yugoslavia is concerned, forcing the tension between the M.D.R.s and the L.D.R.s to breaking point. The election of nationalist/secessionist politicians in the M.D.R.s was a consequence of this struggle against margin alisation. An undivided Yugoslavia could just as easily have gone the way of Albania as that of Hungary. Now, Slovenia and Croatia seem to have laid some of the necessary foundations for future economic recovery, with Slovenia in particular attracting significant amounts of foreign investment capital which provides a source of revenue for the new state, whilst the poorer Southern nations seem destined for further economic deterioration on the periphery.

The end of the Cold War has also meant that 'The West' has lost much of the coherence that the opposition to 'communism' imposed, and major divisions within the bourgeoisie of Europe have emerged which have had a significant effect on the international response to the war in Yugoslavia, and which must therefore be examined. The major division is that between Germany, and to a lesser extent Austria and Italy, on the one hand and France, Britain and the rest of the E.E.C. on the other. Germany has strong economic interests in Croatia and Slovenia. Since its formation the German state has been as inclined to look Eastwards as Westwards, and whilst this process was blocked by the Cold War, since the detente of the 1970s German capital has been forging closer links with Eastern Europe. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall this process has accelerated as the German bourgeoisie have sought to develop a hinterland in which they can exploit cheap yet skilled labour and so undermine wages in Germany itself. To this end, having already encouraged Croatian and Slovenian separatism, the Bundestag pressed for early recognition of Croatia and Slovenia. They eventually forced E.E.C. recognition in January 1992 having unilaterally recognised them the preceding month. And whilst Croatia has been somewhat destabilised by the war, Germany has been able to begin the annexation of Slovenia to the Deutschmark zone. Around 40% of the foreign capital invested in Slovenia since independence has come from Germany (25% has been Austrian and 15% Italian, with many firms simply shifting factories from one side of the border to the other). And in relation to the war the German bourgeoisie have been pressing for an anti-Serbian position within the E.E.C., openly siding with Croatia to such an extent that many otherwise supportive liberals have been embarrassed by the blind eye turned towards Croatian fascism.

For the rest of the E.E.C., however, there is far less at stake in the conflict. Lacking the strong economic interests in the region of the German bourgeoisie, and given that there is little money to be made out of this particular war, the primary consideration of the rest of Europe's rulers has been to minimise the destabilising effects of the war. Refugees are not required at a time of mass unemployment, and there was the possible danger of the conflict spreading to involve N.A.T.O. countries such as Greece (which supports Serbia) and Turkey (which supports Bosnia). Hence the main aim at the start of the conflict of the rest of the E.E.C. states was to preserve the status quo, obstinately refusing to recognise that the Federation was dead until forced to do so by Germany's actions.

This division between Germany and the rest of Europe paralysed the E.E.C.'s attempts to respond to the situation in Yugoslavia. So the main outside intervention has been mounted by the U.N., in which Germany is still denied the permanent seat on the Security Council that its economic might would warrant. The main power in the U.N. is of course the U.S.A., with Britain and France still enjoying a major role as well. And once more a division has emerged. American interests in the region are hard to identify, but in opposition to German support for Croatia, and at odds with the position of the rest of the E.E.C., the United States appears to have supported Bosnia. When Croatia and Slovenia declared themselves independent the U.S. reiterated its position of supporting Yugoslav unity, recognising the Federal leadership as the legitimate power in the region. Then, when Bosnia declared its independence, U.S. recognition was immediately forthcoming. When the war in Bosnia began the U.S. repeatedly expressed a desire to arm the Bosnians, pressing for them to be exempted from the embargo imposed on the whole of former Yugoslavia, and has only recently come to realise that Bosnia has ceased to exist as such and would not therefore make much of an ally.

Given the lack of obvious interest in the region it is difficult to say why the U.S. took a position in opposition not just to Germany but also the rest of the E.E.C. One consideration may have been the fear that the Bosnian Muslims, at present renowned for their secular leanings, would be driven into the arms of fundamentalist regimes should they hold out the only possibility for real support. Another factor may have been the fear of the economic power of a 'Greater Germany', of the threat it would pose to U.S. hegemony, and thus the desire to have Bosnia as its bulwark against German expansionism. Yet another may have been the desire of a beleaguered presidential regime for a foreign policy success to deflect criticism in the same way its predecessor used the Gulf War. But whilst the State Dept. and foreign policy advisers urged Clinton to get involved the Pentagon was resolutely opposed, recognising the potential hazards. This left the U.S. President urging intervention but refusing to join Britain and France in sending ground troops.

So where does the British Government stand in relation to all this? The media has consistently taken an anti-Serbian position, first backing Croatia and then, when that became untenable, backing the 'poor Muslims'. And Margaret Thatcher has appeared on Croatian television calling for the British Government to arm the Croatians in their fight 'for democracy', and has, more recently, called for the arming of Bosnian Muslims. But whilst ideology plays its part, the war is being fought for real material interests, and it is clear that the British Government has no intention of joining Germany in taking sides with Croatia. In fact the U.K. seems to be more sympathetic to Serbia, though not to the extent that Russia is, and usually takes the stance that all the sides are as bad as each other even if the Serbians are more powerful. Britain, like most of the other E.E.C. states has little economic interest in the region, and would be as concerned as any about German predominance within Europe, but is more reluctant than most to become involved in military intervention, refusing to do anything more than police an agreement once it has been established between all the warring parties, because British troops would undoubtedly be expected to bear the brunt of any fighting, which would involve major casualties.

With no country willing to commit ground troops for military purposes the international actors seem set to limit their ambitions to containing the conflict and letting it burn itself out. The Vance-Owen plan which sought to carve-up of Bosnia into semi-autonomous provinces, was scuppered by the fact that each of the parties attempted to further their gains, or in the Bosnian case reduce their losses by provoking military intervention on their behalf, before a 'final' settlement was reached. A three-way partition of Bosnia is now firmly on the agenda since all talk of U.N. military intervention to impose a settlement has long since been shown to be empty. Neither Kohl nor Clinton would have had their way, but Croatia will have made significant territorial gains and a Bosnia of sorts will remain. Neither Germany or the U.S. had enough to gain by acting unilaterally and destroying the fragile international consensus.

To return to the questions posed in the introduction, we now have to consider whether or not we are witnessing the opening salvos in a major European War. There are those for whom the very asking of this question proves our inability to learn the lessons of history. For them 'decadent capitalism' is inexorably driving towards a final apocalypse unless the cavalry arrive on cue. But the essence of capital is not war, nor even a drive towards it. It is the self-expansion of value, a process repeatedly requiring the re-establishment of certain preconditions. At certain historical junctures the imposition of these preconditions has proved impossible to obtain except through war, but not always. Whilst those who drone on about the lessons of history continue to live in the past we must recognise that history is only closed and certain when it is in the past. History is open and full of possibilities in its making because it is a living process made through the struggle of labour against capital, of life against death. Answers to questions such as these cannot, therefore, be merely presupposed, but require real analysis. There is no conclusive evidence that the events in former-Yugoslavia herald a much wider military confrontation. Indeed it seems likely that whilst hostilities in the Balkans will continue for a while the conflict is unlikely to spread. Greece's sabre-rattling over Macedonia seems to have been little more than an exercise in trying to encourage a national identity in a country plagued by working class opposition to austerity. And whilst tensions in Kosovo remain high the odds are stacked too firmly in Serbia's favour for it to become a battleground in the struggle between a 'Greater Albania' and 'Greater Serbia'.

The other question was whether the pattern of events in Yugoslavia are likely to be repeated throughout Eastern Europe. The division of Czechslovakia demonstrates that disintegration need not necessarily lead to war, whilst the many conflicts simmering in the former republics of the U.S.S.R. indicates that there remains a real possibility of further conflicts. Should such conflicts concern 'The West' more than the present one, due to a threat to strategic or economic interests, then military intervention would be a real possibilty. If only for this reason we therefore have to look at how the Left in Britain has related to the present conflict.

(9) The Left and the Conflict

As war has moved westwards from the Middle East to the Balkans, so doves have turned into hawks. The left-wing of the Labour party, which with C.N.D. established itself as the pacifist opposition to the Gulf War, has been baying for military intervention in this war. Seemingly unable to penetrate the distortions of the media, the hand-wringing desperation to 'do something' has lead them to call for something, anything, to be done and ignore all the evidence showing that such actions would only make things worse. Their position shows that they have not grasped the hypocrisy of the U.N.'s supposedly humanitarian mission. The U.N. forces are not there to prevent suffering in the name of humanity; the U.N. mission reflects the only interests on which western capital can agree, namely the containment of the conflict. Given this premise it is impossible to support military intervention by the U.N. Not because of some abstract 'right to self-determination', which in this case amounts to the right to slaughter fellow proletarians, but because such a move could only strengthen the hand of international capital and make things worse for the working class of Yugoslavia. Aerial strikes were the most likely form of intervention, as the only option military leaders were prepared to countenance, and it was widely admitted that these would inevitably result in significant civilian casualties. And the exemption of the Bosnian Army from the arms embargo, a policy still advocated by Germany and the U.S. (not to mention Ken Livingstone in the U.K. and Edward Said and Noam Chomsky in the U.S.) but resisted by France and Britain, would clearly lead to an escalation in the fighting. Working class unity in the Balkans already seems a remote possibility and military intervention or the re-equipment of the Bosnian Army would postpone it even further.

The left of the Labour Party are not the only ones who have seen fit to alter their position on inter-capitalist wars. During the Gulf War the S.W.P. moved from an initial position (logically derived from their 'theory') of supporting 'anti-imperialist' Iraq, to one of simply opposing the allied war mission (in order to be able to recruit from the fringes of the pacifist movement to which they attatched themselves). This time they have adopted a class position on the war:

'The privations of war may lead workers to discover that their real enemies are the regimes which set them at war with one another.......That means turning towards class struggle as the only real basis for ending the war.'

Whilst we must commend the S.W.P.'s recent conversion to a class position it does strike us as somewhat strange that it has occured in the present situation. They have seen fit to take sides in numerous wars where there has been serious working class opposition to the war, whilst they are now adopting a 'No War But The Class War' position in a situation where the opposition has been all but smashed. After ignoring class struggle in Iraq they are now inventing it in Bosnia.

Meanwhile the R.C.P. attempted to stake its claim to be the most solidly pro-Serbian faction of the British Left early on in the conflict. Living Marxism thoroughly prepared the ground for making inroads into the market as soon as U.N. intervention occured as 'the magazine that supports the Serbian boys'. Every month it avidly 'exposed' the latest reports of the atrocities perpetrated by the 'anti-imperialist' Serbian militias as 'lies', only to be left high and dry by the West's lack of intervention. The West's failure to perform its proper imperialist duties has left the R.C.P.'s position of tacit support for the Serbian bourgeoisie without the usual 'justification' that such a position undermines the needs of 'the highest stage of capitalism'.

With these changes in position within the Left it is clear that opposition to any future military engagement would not simply be able to learn the lessons from opposition to the Gulf War end expect to be able to replay the game on the same pitch; the goalposts would be found to have been moved.

(10) Conclusion

The roots of the present conflict are located in the severity of the economic crisis which hit Yugoslavia at the end of the 1970's, and the different solutions which, due to the disparities between the republics, the different republican leaderships were striving to impose. The rapid changes in the surrounding political and economic order resulting from the collapse of the Eastern Bloc precipitated the disintegration of the Federation by upping the stakes. And disintegration has lead to war as each of the newly independent factions of the bourgeoisie pursues its own goals regardless of the consequences for others. We would have to say, however, that the slide into civil war is a consequence of the particularities of the history of Yugoslavia, notably the genocidal programme of the Ustashe during World War Two, memories of which provide nationalism in the Balkans with a particularly fertile basis. Furthermore, whilst the effects of regional disparities may be witnessed elsewhere, such as in Italy, in no other European country is there the degree of regional economic autonomy which the Yugoslav Republics enjoyed. The civil war in Yugoslavia is extremely unlikely to be repeated in the countries of Western Europe whose economies are so interpenetrated, whilst further conflicts could well emerge in the developing 'Third World' of Eastern Europe.

In contrast to other accounts of the civil war we hope to have demonstrated that the working class of Yugoslavia have not been mere passive victims of circumstance. The wave of struggles waged in the late 1960's forced Tito to curtail the rule of money over the lives of the working class by means of the 1974 Constitution. This in turn lead to their entrenchment and an inability of Yugoslav capital to raise the rate of surplus value sufficiently. As such the Yugoslav economy was particularly hard hit by Western standards when the world recession began to bite.

A period of open struggle ensued for most of the 1980's. Despite the fact that the Y.C.P. were unable to resolve the crisis of accumulation, by the late 1980's they were having increasing success in undermining the working class's ability to defend its previous gains. As the prospect of defeat began to stare the working class in the face so nationalist ideas began to gain increasing acceptance. This in turn undermined the ability of the working class to generalise its particular struggles. Struggles defeated in isolation encouraged nationalism which isolated struggles even further. From the graveyard of proletarian aspirations rose the ghost of nationalism, and the potential grave-diggers of Yugoslav capital began burying the corpses of their own class.


The need to take a closer look at what has occurred in Yugoslavia was adequately demonstrated to us by the now obvious fallacy of our assertion in issue 1 that the British State was preparing for a military intervention in pursuit of interests held in common with the Bundestag. This may have reflected an overestimation of political unity within the EEC, and a tendency to conflate the demonisation of the Serbs in the British media with the real interests of the British State. But it certainly reflected an inadequate theorisation of the driving forces behind the conflict.

See Table 1 in 'The Disintegration of Yugoslavia: Regional Disparities and the Nationalities Question' in Capital and Class Vol. 48. This article places too little emphasis on the limits to capital accumulation imposed by the struggles of the Yugoslav proletariat but is nonetheless useful for the wealth of empirical information regarding Yugoslav development that it presents. Also recommended is 'Yugoslavery' (£1 from BM Blob, London WC1N 3XX) which contains 'Yugoslavia: Capitalism and Class Struggle 1918-1967' and 'Some Basic Ingredients of Yugoslav Ideology', again because it provides a much richer account of capitalist development in Yugoslavia, but as this was published before the conflict had broken out its use is now limited to providing context.

The Ustashe regime ruled the Independent State of Croatia, which existed under German and Italian protection from 1941 to 1944. The fascist Ustashe are estimated to have murdered between a half and one million people, mainly Serbs but including Jews and gypsies, with a zeal reputed to have shocked their Nazi allies.

See 'Results of the Immediate Process of Production' in Capital Vol. 1.

The best account of the student revolt and how the Y.C.P. managed to deal with it is 'Revolt in Socialist Yugoslavia' by Fredy Perlman. This article has been included in a recent compilation of some of his works called 'Anything Can Happen' (Phoenix Press £4.50).

See Sayer, A. 'New Developments in Manufacturing: The Just-In-Time System', Capital and Class Vol. 30.

Yugoslavia's economic crisis was of course bound up with the worldwide recession which began in the early 1980s, as Left-Communist articles on Yugoslavia have pointed out. But unlike them we reject the thesis that a purely 'objective' crisis lead to certain 'subjective' responses, recognising the need for a unified theory of crisis. In the case of this article it is important to recognise the role of working class entrenchment in the development of Yugoslavia's crisis. After all the Yugoslav economy was much harder hit by the same worldwide crisis than, say, Japan.

The little information included on the class struggle in Yugoslavia during the 1980s has largely been taken from an article in the October 1992 and April/May 1993 issues of the German autonomist magazine Wildcat (Sisina, Postfach 360527, 1000 Berlin 36-030/6121848).

See 'The war in Yugoslavia and the Debt Burden: A Comment' in Capital And Class Vol. 50 for an analysis of the effects of the international debt crisis on regional disparities in Yugoslavia.

Recognition of this allows one to understand how capitalism has proved to be so remarkably resilient. How does one account for the absence of revolution or the attractions of reformist politics if this is not recognised?

Much of the information for this section has come from 'Yugoslavia: The Spectre of Balkanization' in New Left Review 174, 1989.

There has been no conclusive confirmation to back up this claim of systematic rape, but that does not necessarily mean that it did not occur. Rape is often a weapon in war and the atmosphere in Kosovo could certainly be described as warlike at the time, with the dehumanisation of rivals that encourages rape well developed. But whilst there may well be some truth in the stories of rape of Serb women by Albanian separatists it is also clear that the Serbian media exploited such actions to their own ends and in doing so refused to be constrained by the facts.

We use the term 'Muslim' with some reservations given the way the war in Bosnia has been portrayed at times as a tribal feud and the way in which Croatian and Serbian propagandists have used the 'fundamentalist bogey'. Whilst some of Bosnia's leaders have professed support for Islam most of those referred to as Muslims are in fact secular. The term seems to apply to all those in Bosnia who do not identify themselves as either Serbian or Croatian. We are simply using it for the sake of brevity.

Fear of the consequences of a Muslim state based on the Sharia (Islamic law), which the Bosnian President had previously declared himself in favour of , may also have been a factor behind the opposition of (Catholic) Croats and (Orthodox) Serbs to independence.

See 'Crimes against Women in Former Yugoslavia' in Bad Attitude no. 2.

Does this election result, the seige of Sarajevo and the destruction of cities such as Vukovar signal a divide between the urban and rural classes on the question of nationalism? We do not have sufficient information to say conclusively one way or another. Opinions on this matter would be welcome.

Capital's victories can in any case only ever be provisional because it cannot eliminate antagonism, having to posit living labour as its opposite. Regarding the question of war one only has to remember how the first world war ended.

See 'E.M.U.'s In The Class War' in Issue 1 of Aufheben.

As with the U.S. there are major divisions within the Government and even within the two main parties.

Divisions are even deeper within the Russian state, with Yeltsin and his supporters keen to please 'the West', particularly the U.S., and his opponents, notably the old guard in the Red Army, more inclined towards backing their old Slavic allies.

And containment of any possible uprisings in the immediate aftermath of the war.

For an analysis of the opposition to the Gulf War see 'Lessons from the struggle against the Gulf War' in issue 1 of Aufheben.

Socialist Review Issue 165, June 1993.

June 1993


Somalia and the Islamic threat to capital

Aufheben gives the background to the civil war, famine and the US invasion of Somalia in 1992.

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005


The landing of US troops on the beaches of Somalia in December 1992 might be significant for a number of reasons. The ludicrous spectacle of television camera crews virtually jostling the troops for space on the beach to get the best pictures seems to point to the need on the part of the American state to draw attention to itself not only as a military power, but also as an efficient humanitarian force: not just the world's cop but also the world's social worker.

The apparent suddenness of the decision by then President Bush to send in the marines might suggest that we need look no further for an explanation for such ostentatious benevolence than the prevalent journalistic glosses that the operation was perhaps a last dramatic personal gesture by a lame-duck president, more lauded for his foreign policy than his domestic achievements, an attempt to salvage his vision of a new world order and the international policing role of the US for posterity. Bush's expressed justification for sending troops to deliver relief supplies was in terms of the need to prevent armed Somalis "ripping off their own people". And, in fact, when the US troops ended the operation in early May this year, the consensus among journalists was that, though the US troops had done little to tackle the causes of the civil war in Somalia, they had indeed helped with food distribution, which was said by many to be the main reason for the high levels of starvation in that country.

Yet the extent of the Somalian famine and its problems of food distribution had long ceased to be news by the time Bush's decision came. For the previous two years, the UN had attempted to negotiate with various clan leaders to bring in relief supplies to famine hit areas. As class conscious cynics, we might see Bush's somewhat belated outbursts on "bandits" and his unprecedented attack of charity as, at some level, a pretext. Even within the aid agencies, questions have been asked about the reasons given for the invasion. Thus one UN official described the American claim that 80% of food aid was being looted as "bullshit". He saw the American invasion as an excuse for the testing of certain operational methods by the US army. It is not clear, however, why the American state should want simply to test certain operational methods in Somalia at this particular time. Similarly, Medicins sans Frontiers claimed that the figures of 95% malnutrition cited by the Americans were out of date and, again, just a pretext for sending troops in. Troops, said the French spokesperson, would shatter the balance between the aid agencies and the clans. Finally, we are told that some of the claims about starvation, and particularly displacement, are "absurd" given that Somalia's population is largely nomadic anyway.

Thus problems have been raised, but the bourgeois critics of American intervention bring us little closer to a full explanation. We need to take a proletarian viewpoint in our search for answers. We might therefore understand Bush's sudden change of heart on the question on intervention in Somalia in terms of the strategic interests of Western capital against the particular forms of proletarian militancy in the region. We might ask, for example, whether the invasion had anything to do with the apparent spread of Islamic fundamentalist influence in the Horn of Africa, minor reports of which have been appearing in the bourgeois press over the last year.

Islamic fundamentalism is the common declared enemy of the Americans, the UN and the major clan leaders in Somalia. Somalia is 100% Moslem, and although under Siad Barre it might have been regarded as a politically Islam ic country, fundamentalists have never been happy with its laws. While the major clan leaders in Somalia welcomed the US intervention (albeit inconsistently), one of the country's Islamic parties, the Ittihad al Islami al Somalia, greeted the Americans with threats. Now, the leaders of the main military factions have had to give assurances to an increasingly disillusioned population that they will introduce Islamic shariah law. Groups of Islamic militants who have taken part in the civil war in Somalia are apparently backed by Sudan, which is backed in turn by Iran. Sudan itself has been engaged in a civil war; the (Arabic) north is trying to impose Islamic law on the ("African") south. The southern forces are backed by Western interests, including people like Tiny Rowlands. Sudan condemned the American intervention for destabilizing the region. Other politicians in the region see the US operation as a warning to the Khartoum government which has supported Islamic fundamentalist groups in both Africa and the Arab world. It is interesting in this respect that the US envoy who headed the US mobilization, Robert Oakley, is better known in the Moslem world as a man more familiar with warfare than relief efforts. He ran the Afghan mojahedin fighting the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul. The presence of the US forces may encourage Sudan to keep a low profile in case the troops are sent into the south of that country. The arrival of US troops also coincided with a growing secessionist tone from the southern troops fighting Khartoum.

Bush was at pains to emphasize that the intervention in Somalia was to be a very limited one. The aim was simply to get food into the region; that was all. As soon as this was achieved, the US troops could be gone. All this would fit with a scenario whereby the effects of the famine are ameliorated, yet the various dominant armed factions within the country are still ultimately able to struggle for political control. If they had been disarmed or defeated by the Americans, this would leave the way open for forces even less desirable, in the eyes of the American bourgeoisie, to make a bid for power. The US force therefore hoped to create a degree of stability in Somalia in order to prevent a feared rise in Islamic fundamentalism.

However, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism may not be the only reason for the operation; and indeed other explanations have been proposed by revolutionaries. Thus both World Revolution and Organise! have pointed to the conflict between the national capitals of Europe and the US over influence in the region. But if this is the explanation, why did the US hand over to the UN in May this year instead of retaining a permanent presence in the country?

Even if competition between Western states was a factor in the invasion, such an explanation is, in an important sense, back to front. The very need for influence in the region is itself a symptom of the requirement of capital to respond to particular proletarian struggles. The form of the proletarian struggle determines the form of capital's development, both nationally and internationally. "Operation Restore Hope" might therefore be best grasped in terms of its global context of class struggle and capitalist response. To do this we must briefly outline some of the history of Somalia and the Horn of Africa more generally.


As with most of sub-Saharan Africa, and indeed the Third World in general, capital had little economic interest in the Horn of Africa beyond whatever primary products and raw materials that could be found there. In the case of the Horn of Africa these were few. Among the peasant and proles, the survival of communal ties and the lack of a tradition of wage dependence fostered a sense of entitlements with regard to the distribution of wealth in the community. Communal ties are also responsible for the fact that most African proleterians fail to experience capital's laws as naturalo r inevitable. Monetarization and commodification of social relations have gradually undermined these traditional relations, but capital accumulation has been confined to narrow sectors, restricting the development of modern capitalist social relations.

The general shift towards cash crops and plantation economies made sub-Saharan Africa increasingly unable to guarantee its own needs and thus prone to famine. In the Horn of Africa, the local business class makes most of its money in the import-export trade, which creates little employment and channels much wealth abroad. Capital-intensive export agriculture helped plunge the region into debt and soaked up the resources - land and capital - needed for food production.

However, while the Horn of Africa shared the problems of underdevelopment that have affected sub-Saharan Africa generally, it was also in a distinctive position. While of relatively little intrinsic economic interest, its geo-political location gave the region a strategic importance to the world powers. Firstly, it was of close proximity to the all-important oil production centres of the Middle East. Secondly, because it controlled the important trade route through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. The history of Somalia is a story of imperialism and cold war rivalry.

History of imperialist rivalries in Somalia

Somalia was colonized by the British and Italian states in the nineteenth century. To Britain, the Somali ports were useful as source of meat supplies to nearby Aden. The Italian state, the last colonial power in the country, developed lucrative banana plantations, often having to force recalcitrant peasants to work on them as slaves. Eventually bananas superseded hides as the country's main export; both these and meat remain important in Somlia's foreign trade.

The Italian collapse throughout East Africa was primarily the result of desertion by their African conscript forces. Independence and unification were finally achieved in Somalia in 1960. In 1969, the army under Siad Barre seized power. Siad Barre courted the USSR in an attempt to create a greater Somalia. With military assistance, he hoped to take land occupied by ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia and Kenya, countering local proletarian militancy with an appeal to nationalism. The partnership was an attractive one to the USSR because of the proximity of the Horn of Africa to the oil-producing Gulf states and the Middle East in general. Soviet rewards for having bases on Somali territory comprised saturating Somalia with weaponry. In turn, Somalia, passed the weapons on to pro-Somali guerrillas fighting inside Ethiopia.

But the 1974 socialist revolution in Ethiopia created complications for the Soviet-Somali relationship. The USSR violated an agreement with Somalia by supplying arms to Ethiopia. Barre was already trying to get the West on his side when the USSR dropped Somalia and openly befriended Ethiopia in the war. The break with the Soviet Union led to a wave of popularity for Barre's government in Somalia. Barre offered the abandoned Soviet military bases to the USA who rewarded him by flooding the country with even more weapons.

In the 1980s, Barre remained in power largely through his ability to play his enemies off against each other. But in 1991, the rival clan-based opposition fronts, whose ideologies were based largely on their desire for foreign backing, collaborated against him and his government collapsed. Having defeated him and driven him out of the country, however, the various anti-Barre fronts fell out. There was also schism within some of the clans. This has led to the current situation where there is no national police force and no central government and the southern portion of the country is split between rival "warlords". Of the most powerful warlords, Aideed is a general, a former government minister and ambassador to India, Mahdi is one of his former clan members and Morgan is another general and a son-in-law of Barre.

Consequences of superpower rivalry for the Horn, particularly for Somalia

The underdevelopment of the Horn of Africa was only exacerbated by the flooding of arms into the area and by the high dependence of large sections of the population on military employment. Instead of being spent on developing the forces of production, money was poured into military expenditure. Clearly, such a priority makes even economic reproduction on the same scale difficult if not impossible. In the early 1970s, Somalia was self-sufficient in its food production; but by the mid-1980s, it was one of the most food-dependent in Africa, and many of its policies were dictated by the IMF.

The economic decline of Somalia was partly a result of the cost of the Ogaden War with Ethiopia. Also, Barre's economic policies for the banana and sugar export trade were disastrous for these industries. However, these factors in the decline of Somalia's economy might be regarded as symptoms of the inability of capital in Africa to screw quite as much out of the proletariat as capitals in other continents were able to do; capital and operating costs in Africa are more than 50% higher than in Southern Asia, where the return is also greater.

In a context of spiralling food and fuel prices and shortages, there were riots in August 1987 in Mogadishu. These were enough to force the government to grant a number of concessions. The ruling class were no doubt mindful that similar disturbances in similar circumstances had heralded the Ethiopian revolution in 1974, terminating the long reign of Haile Selassie.


1. The crisis of Third World debt

Africa for the most part did not benefit from the flight of capital out of the West following the proletarian offensive of the 1960s and 70s. Instead, the continent suffered the consequences of this flight. Faced with huge debts and spiralling interest rates and a stagnant world market in manufactured goods, newly industrializing countries such as Mexico and Brazil had little option but to increase the production and export of traditional primary products such as bananas, coffee, ores etc. This dramatic increase in the export of traditional Third World products forced prices down in the world market. This was catastrophic for much of Africa, pushing much of it to the brink of starvation. In the case of Somalia, by the end of the 1960s, the competitiveness of the country's leading crop and export - bananas - was already declining relative to Latin American producers such as Ecuador

2. Collapse of the Eastern Bloc

This plight of Africa in the 1980s was made worse by the collapse of the USSR which meant that there was no longer superpower competition for influence through aid. This was particularly true of Somalia, which had been so dependent on superpower rivalry. With this lack of superpower competition over the region, Bush's decision to invade might seem rather anachronistic. Indeed, it was the US, in March 1992, which vetoed a proposed monitoring operation by the UN (apparently because of the cost), restricting the UN instead to delivering humanitarian aid. So why did Bush suddenly change his mind? To get closer to a possible answer we must turn to the general problems that face American capital now and in the recent past.


1. The importance of oil in the post 1945 world

Since the Second World War, the car industry has been the linchpin of capital accumulation. It has been the key industry in the Fordist Mode of Accumulation. The Fordist Mode of Accumulation represented a compromise between the demands of capital and the needs of the Western proletariat. As an approach to industry, it allowed increased surplus value to be produced alongside increasing real wages. With Fordism, the rate of profit did not have to be sustained by raising the rate of exploitation through the "super-exploitation" of colonial labour, nor by the appropriation of monopoly profits through the restriction of the domestic market. Instead, the rate of profit was sustained through the production of relative surplus-value and the expansion of the domestic market for consumer goods. Thus, particularly after 1945, capitalism became based on mass production and mass consumption; capitalist corporations no longer sought to restrict production so as to maximize prices but rather sought to cut prices and maximize sales ("pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap").

The rapid expansion of the car industry, the Fordist industry par excellence, required the expansion of the coal, power and steel industries. But coal production, vulnerable to the militancy of miners, was becoming too risky for capital as a general source of energy. The dependency on oil for the smooth running of the car economy developed into a mad dash for the stuff in capital's desperate search for a general alternative energy source to coal.

2. Growth of oil production in the Middle East

With the growth of oil production in the Middle East came the rapid modernization of social relations in previously traditional societies. The emergence of a national bourgeoisie with means to establish a national strategy of capital accumulation was accompanied by the appearance of an oil-producing proletariate. In the late 1970s, proles from Mexico to Nigeria to Iran used the higher price of oil to demand a better standard of living, higher wages, schools, hospitals etc. The price of oil went up to keep up with these demands. Thus much of the wealth generated by the higher oil prices imposed by OPEC went to proletarians instead of being invested in the industries which require high levels of technology and energy.

In the Third World, various socialisms and nationalisms emerged as powerful ideologies to mobilize the emergent oil-producting classes behind the projects of national accumulation (over and against that of global accumulation of Western capital). Nasser in Egypt, the Ba'athist and Communist Parties in Iraq, Gaddafy in Libya and the PLO are all cases in point. While movements such as these divided the proles and inhibited the development of autonomous expressions of proletarian militancy, thus helping capital-in-general, they also threatened to some extent the particular interests of Western capital. There was always the threat of Middle Eastern countries which had adopted these ideologies going over to the state capitalist Eastern bloc or cutting themselves off from Western capital in some other way, thus operating against the interests of capital-in-general.

3. Islam fostered as "moderate" alternative to Stalinism

As a modernizing project, the ideologies of National Accumulation had to be secular. But to people in nations only recently unified and who defined themselves largely in terms of tribal or other allegiances, nationalism alone was clearly insufficient. Hence, in order to mobilise traditional sectors (peasants etc.), there was the need to reconcile secular national modernization with Islam. Indeed, there is no necessary conflict between Islam and the interests of capital. Although the Koran prohibits interest, there are ways of evading this, and capitalist developments have been uninhibited in many Moslem countries. The religion was therefore promoted by pro-Western conservative regimes as a safe alternative to stalinism, to prevent popular support for radical nationalist ideologies and to divert the class struggle. For example, Israel promoted Hizbullah in the Gaza strip, General Zia promoted Islam in Pakistan, the US supported moslem fighters against the Soviet-backed regime in Afganistan, and the religion is still used effectively in Saudi Arabia.

4. The policy backfires

In many cases, however, Islamic fundamentalism is getting out of control as far as Western capital is concerned. Islamic practices threaten to cut off large areas from the world market, just as stalinism threatened to do. Paraphrasing (and reversing) Tronti, while it is true that capital may sometimes objectively force the proletariat into certain choices, it is also true that the proletariat makes these choices work against capital.

The first sign that the policy of using Islam to guarantee national capital accumulation and a place in the world market had backfired was the Iranian revolution. The revolution was sparked by oil strikes and the proletarian seizure of the oil wells; it was the proletariat who destroyed the Shah's regime. The mullahs managed to recuperate and suppress this, however, and channel it into a form of Islamic fundamentalism that went far beyond the intentions of Western puppets such as the Shah.

With the collapse of stalinism as an embodied ideal and a potential patron, and with the discrediting of Arab nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as the potential replacement ideology. Islam has historically been a religion of resistance and independence for much of the world's population. Fundamentalism has been posited by followers as the true opposition to (Western) Christianity - and, by extension, as an alternative to democracy and capitalism. Islam is a more worldly, materialistic religion than Christianity, and easily accepts a role as a political force. Communalistic and egalitarian precepts to accept responsibilities to relatives and to fellow moslems (regarded as forming a single "nation") can hamper capital accumulation. All these factors make Islamic fundamentalism both a likely substitute for stalinism for both the oppressed Third World proletariat, who have little hope of overthrowing world capitalism by themselves, and the US bourgeoisie, which might require an external enemy in order to unify itself. Like stalinism, the ideology of the "export of the revolution" - so feared by Western capital - simply serves to consolidate counter-revolution at home.


1. The new threat

But the perceived threat to the interests of Western capital is both real and illusory. The threat is real in that Islam is indeed a powerful means of mobilizing the poor against the interests of Western capital. Evidence for this real threat comes from the increasing damage caused to the functioning of the Algerian and Egynptian economies by fundamentalist movements and terrorist groups. But the danger is exaggerated to provide a necessary external threat through which to mobilize the American bourgeoisie.

In the past, the American bougeoisie was mobilized by the stalinist threat. Faced by the threat of stalinism, military expenditure became a surrogate industruial policy. This surrogate industrial policy became particularly important with the relative decline of the US as an economic power and the need for restructring to meet competition from Japan and the Pacific Rim. In contrast with previous administrations, Reagan abandoned all hope of defending the general competitiveness of American industry. The policy of competitive devaluation of the dollar was dropped; interest rates were pushed up to finance the growing budget, and trade deficits and the dollar were allowed to soar. Large swathes of the rust-belt industries in the North Eastern states were devastated. Under the guise of national security, state investment was able to circumvent the vested interests of the old industries and find its way to the more dynamic leading edge of productive Ameican capital. SDI ("Star wars") is the most well -known example of this. Although militarily preposterous, it allowed capital to be shifted from rocket technology and the aerospace induistry to the computer software and electronics industries. Indeed, SDI represented a massive state subsidy for these leading edge industries at a critical stage in their battle with Far East competitors. More than this, however, Reagan also managed to re-orientate the world accumulation of capital around American military production. With more and more American mainstream industries falling behind to foreign-based competition, the American consumer could no longer be relied upon to buy American. However, military demand came fromthe goverment which could bias its specifications in favour of American-based capital. Through large military expenditures, the centre of gravity of the world accumulation of capital would shift towards military production where American-based capital would have a competitive advantage. In this way, the US could reassert its economic hegemony.

But this use of military expenditure as a surrogate industrial policy, overriding particular interests in favour of general US interests in the name of National Security, has been in crisis since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the mounting budget deficits. It is no longer sustainable. Hence, American capital might be argued to be facing two choices. "Strategy A" entails renewing the policy of military accumulation as a surrogate economic policy by raising the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism. "Strategy B" would be to intervene directly in the economy with money financed through defence cuts.

2. Bush's belated invasion

This brings us directly back to the mystery of Bush's belated invasion of Somalia. We can conclude by asking two questions regarding the manoeuvre. Prompted by the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism in the Horn of Africa and North Africa generally, was the invasion an attempt to bounce Clinton into "strategy A" on behalf of the military/industrial faction of US capital? And, even if this is not the case, how far did the invasion address the real problems for Western capital of Islamic expansion in the area? The answer to the latter question may become clearer in the coming months.


World Revolution (161; February 1993) suggested as one of the two main objectives of the military deployment the USA's wish "to signal to its two main imperialist rivals - Germany and France in the first place - that the US will not hold back any longer from anywhere in the world." (p. 4).

Organise! (30; April-June 1993) commented: "This forward camp for the USA on the East African coast can allow it to intervene against the interests of the French (or European) ruling class. It could intervene in Chad, in Zaire, throughout North Africa where French interests are under threat, in particular in Algeria." (p. 6). However, the article also points to the function of the operation of countering the menace of Islamic fundamentalism.

See for example Sylvia Pankhurst (1951) Ex-Italian Somaliland. London: Watts & Co.

It is important to note in regard to this that the debt crisis suited many African dictators as much as Western capitalists; maintaining the constraints imposed by debt can be a way of maintaining internal order in African countries.

IMF Surveys of African Economies. Volume 2 (1969). Washington.

See Aufheben 1, page 19, footnote 38.

See the Midnight Notes pamphlet When Crusaders and Assassins Unite, Let the People Beware (1990)

Clearly, capital is not a unitary force, and particular "modernizing" capitals have on occasion been able to use Third World nationalism against rival capitals. Thus, in 1956, the US effectively sided with the nationalist government of Egypt by refusing to support French and British intervention to protect the latters' "ownership" of the Suez canal.

We can infer from the call by Gadaffi in May this year that all fundamnetalists should be kiled without trial that this idelogyt is getting beyond the control of the islamic-socialists and is threatening them too.


Decadence: The Theory of Decline or the Decline of Theory? Part I

The notion that capitalism must inevitably decline and, by implication, that history is on our side, has been a dominant idea that has shaped much marxist and revolutionary thought, particularly that of Trotskyists and left communists. In the wake of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc it has become more important than ever to challenge such notions of capitalist decline and decadence. In the first part of our critique we examine the development of the various theories of capitalist decline that emerged out of the collapse of the Second International up until the end of the Second World War.

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

Part 1/ Part 2 / Part 3

A] Introduction
We are subjects faced with the objective reality of capitalism. Capitalism appears as a world out of control - the denial of control over our lives. But it is also a world in crisis. How do we relate to this crisis?

One understanding that has been dominant among critics of capitalism is that capitalist crisis, especially a prolonged and severe crisis such as we are presently in, is evidence that capitalism as an objective system is declining. The meaning of decline is either that it has created the basis of 'socialism' and/or that it is moving by its own contradictions towards a breakdown. Capitalism, it is said, is a world system that was mature in the Nineteenth Century, but has now entered its declining stage. In our view this theory of capitalist decline or of the decadence of capitalism hinders the project of abolishing that system.

It might seem a bad time to critique the theory of decadence. In the face of a widespread disillusion with the revolutionary project and with a lack of a working-class offensive there is an understandable temptation to seek refuge in the idea that capitalism as an objective system is after all past its prime, moribund, heading inexorably towards collapse. If the subjective movement for revolutionary change seems lacking, the severity of the present world crisis offers itself as evidence that the objective conditions will bring about a change in the prospects for revolution.

In the theory of decline a number of issues are intertwined - crisis, automatic breakdown, the periodising of capitalism into ascendant and decadent phases, the notion of transition and the ontological question of the relation of subject and object. At a general level we might say the theory of decline represents a way of looking at the crises of capitalism that sees them expressing an overall downward movement. A complication in looking at the theory is that it has numerous versions. Among those presenting themselves as revolutionaries the two principal variants of the theory are those of Trotskyism and left-communism which although similar in origin are substantially different in the way they effect their politics.1 For some left-communists politics is virtually reduced to propagandising the masses with the message of capital's decadence, while for many Trotskyists the theory is often more in the background informing their theory of crisis and organisation if not their agitational work.

Essentially the theory suggests that capitalism as a system emerged, grew to maturity and has now entered its decline. The crises of capitalism are seen as evidence of a more severe underlying condition - the sickness of the capitalist system. Capitalist development brings about steadily increasing socialisation of the productive forces and at a certain point the capitalist forces of production are said to have moved into conflict with the relations of production. The concept of the decline of capitalism is bound up with a theory of the primacy of the productive forces. The driving force of history is seen as the contradiction with the relations of production. It is 'quintessentially' a marxist theory taking its understanding of the basic marxist position from the Preface to the Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy2 .

For most versions of the theory the change from mature to declining capitalism is said to have occurred at a time around the First World War. The present form of capitalism is then characterised by declining or decaying features. Features identified with this change are the shift from laissez faire to monopoly capitalism, the dominance of finance capital, the increase in state planning, war production and imperialism. Monopoly capitalism indicates the growth of monopolies, cartels and the concentration of capital which has now reached the point of giant multinationals disposing of more wealth than small countries. At the same time in the phenomenon of finance capital, large amounts of capital are seen to escape linkage to particular labour processes and to move about in search of short term profits. In the increase in state planning the state becomes interpenetrated with the monopolies in various ways such as nationalisation and defence spending - this is capital getting organised. This planning is the state trying to regulate the workings of capitalism in the interests of the big firms/monopolies. Statification is seen as evidence of decay because it shows the objective socialisation of the economy snarling at the bit of capitalist appropriation; it is seen as capitalism in the age of its decline desperately trying to maintain itself by socialistic methods. The state spending and intervention is seen as a doomed attempt to avert crises which constantly threaten the system. War production is a particularly destructive form of state spending, where large amounts of the economy are seen to be taken up by essentially unproductive expenditure. This is closely related to imperialism which is seen as the characteristic of capitalism in the age of its decline. The 'epoch' is in fact said to be initiated by the division of the world between the great powers who have since fought two world wars to redistribute the world market. Wars and the threat of war are seen as evidence that capitalism's only way of continuing to exist is by destruction, it is suggested that if it can not save itself by other methods capitalism will plunge us into a war.

At the present unrewarding time for revolutionary politics it might then seem desirable to seek support for a revolutionary position in a theory offering an analysis of the objective development of history that shows capitalism on the way out. On the other hand some of the developments that have put pressure on a revolutionary position so making a theory of decline attractive undermine some of the presuppositions of at least some versions of the theory. The crisis of social democracy and literal collapse of the Soviet Union has been presented as a triumph of capitalism and as the end of history. In the West and East it used to be possible to point to an inexorable advance of socialistic forms as apparently concrete evidence of the movement of history being a progress towards socialism or communism. The notion that socialism represented progress was underpinned by the idea that capitalism had entered a declining or decadent phase. It was said that the socialisation of the productive forces was in sharp contradiction with private appropriation. Now with a move towards privatisation of nationalised concerns in the west, and the privatisation of the ruling class itself in the East, the idea that there is an inevitable movement towards socialism - an idea which has been so dominant on the left for the last 100 years - now stands undermined and the notion that history is on our side no longer seems plausible. With the failure of what was seen as 'actually existing socialism' and the rollback of social democratic forms, the identification of socialism with progress and the evolution of human society is thrown into doubt. It would seem that what has suffered a breakdown is not capitalism but history.

Abandonment of the idea that the historical development of the productive forces is a progress towards socialism and communism has resulted in three main drifts in thought: 1) The abandonment of the project of abolishing capitalism and a turn to reformism of the existing system by the 'new realists', 'market socialists' etc. 2) The post-modern rejection of the notion of a developing totality, and denial of any meaning to history resulting in a celebration of what is, 3) The maintenance of an anti-capitalist perspective but identification of the problem as 'progress' or 'civilisation', this romanticism involves the decision that the idea of historical movement was all wrong and what we really want to do is go back. These directions are not exclusive of course; post-modernist practice, to the extent it exists, is reformist while the anti-progress faction has roots in the post-modern attack on history. In the face of the poverty of these apparent alternatives it is understandable that many revolutionaries would wish to reaffirm a theory of decadence or decline - it is asserted that communism or socialism is still the necessary next stage of human evolution, that evolutionary course might have suffered a setback but we can still see in the crisis that capitalism is breaking down. However in the face of unsatisfactory drifts in theory it is not the case that the only alternative is to reassert the fundamentals, rather we can and must critically re-examine them.

We can see the theory of decline represented by two main factions (of the left?) - Trotskyism and left-communism. With the hard left-communists the decadence theory is at the forefront of their analysis. Everything that happens is interpreted as evidence that decadence is increasing. This is exemplified in the approach of a group like the International Communist Current (ICC) for whom capitalist crisis has become chronic, 'all the great moments of proletarian struggle have been provoked by capitalist crises'. [pI] The crisis causes the proletariat to act and to become accessible to the 'intervention of revolutionaries'. The task of the revolutionaries is to spread the idea of capitalist decadence and the tasks it puts on the historic agenda. 'The intervention of revolutionaries within their class must first and foremost show how this collapse of the capitalist economy demonstrates more than ever the HISTORIC NECESSITY for the world communist revolution, while at the same time creating the possibility for realizing it.' [p III]3 The model is one of the objective reality of capitalist decadence, arising from its own dynamic, which makes world communist revolution necessary and possible, with the job of revolutionaries being to take this analysis to the class who will be objectively predisposed to receiving the message due to their experience of the crisis. So far no luck! Still, for the theory's proponents the decadence can only get worse; our time will come.

For the Trots the theory is less up front but it still informs their analysis and practice. In comparison with the purist repetition of the eternal decadence line by the left-communist upholders of the theory, the Trots seem positively current in their following of political fashion, but behind this lies a similar position. Despite their willingness to recruit members by connecting to any struggle, Trotskyist parties have the same objectivist model of what capitalism is, and why it will break down. They gather members now and await the deluge when, due to capitalism's collapse, they will have the opportunity to grow and seize state power. The position of orthodox Trotskyism is expressed in the founding statement of the Fourth International in which Trotsky writes:

The economic prerequisite for the proletarian revolution has already in general achieved the highest point of fruition that can be reached under capitalism. Mankind's productive forces stagnate... [p8] The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only 'ripened'; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole of mankind. The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership. [p9]4

A significant difference in the theories is that the Trotskyist version historically identified the former Soviet Union as a (politically degenerated) part of the economically progressive movement of history while for the left communists it has exemplified the decadence of the period. Thus the Trotskyist theory of decline, which tended to see the Soviet Union as progressive and proof of the transitional nature of the epoch, has been more bothered by the collapse than the left-communists for whom it was just state capitalism and for whom its fate was just grist to the mill of the notion of capitalism's permanent crisis. Despite their antipathy to other parts of the 'left wing of capital's' program, it is the general statements by Trotskyists about the decadence of capital that the left commies find themselves in agreement with. In fact the ICC even think that the inadequacies of the Trotskyist theory stem from it not having a proper conception of decadence. The underlying similarity in the theories can be identified in an account of their history. Both the Trots and the left-communists claim the mantle of the heritage of the worker's movements. Both trace their heritage through the Second International, and their argument is whether it is in Lenin and Trotsky or figures such as Pannekoek and Bordiga that the classic marxist tradition is continued after 1917 or some such date. If then we wish to understand and assess the theory of the decline of capitalism, we need to trace its history back to Second International Marxism.

[i] B] The history of the concept and its political importance [/i]
The theory of capitalist decadence first comes to prominence in the Second International. The Erfurt Programme supported by Engels established the theory of the decline and breakdown of capitalism as central to the party's programme:

private property in the means of production has changed... From a motive power of progress it has become a cause of social degradation and bankruptcy. Its downfall is certain. The only question to be answered is: shall the system of private ownership in the means of production be allowed to pull society with itself down into the abyss; or shall society shake off that burden and then, free and strong, resume the path of progress which the evolutionary path prescribes to it ?[p 87] The productive forces that have been generated in capitalist society have become irreconcilable with the very system of property on which it is built. The endeavour to uphold this system of property renders impossible all further social development, condemns society to stagnation and decay. [p 88] The capitalist social system has run its course; its dissolution is now only a question of time. Irresistible economic forces lead with the certainty of doom to the shipwreck of capitalist production. The erection of a new social order for the existing one is no longer something merely desirable; it has become something inevitable. [p 117] As things stand today capitalist civilisation cannot continue; we must either move forward into socialism or into barbarism. [p 118] the history of mankind is determined not by ideas, but by an economic development which progresses irresistibly, obedient to certain underlying laws and not to anyone's wishes or whims. [p119] 5

As well as this insistence on the inevitable collapse of capitalism by its inner contradictions, the Erfurt Programme also contained eminently reformist goals and tactics and it was these that dominated the Second International whose practice became to build a set of socialist institutions and work through parliament. In this program we see the recurrent themes of the theory of capitalism's decadence: the identification of the revolutionary project with the evolutionary progress of society; the ascribement of primacy to the economic laws of development of capital; and the reduction of revolutionary political activity to a reaction to that inevitable movement. Though it is insisted there is a need for political activity, it is seen to be at the service of an objective development. Socialism is seen not as the free creation of the proletariat but as the natural result of economic developments which the proletariat becomes heir to. It is this conception shared by those who present themselves as heirs of the 'classical marxist tradition' and thus the Second International that we must shake off. The Erfurt Program was not just a compromise between the 'revolutionary' position that capitalism was coming to an end and the reformist remainder: this 'revolutionary' part had already converted the revolutionary conception of capitalism's downfall into a mechanistic, economistic and fatalistic one.

The Legacy of Marx
By adopting a theory of capitalist breakdown the Second International identified itself as the 'marxist' section of the workers movement. Indeed for most members of the Second International as for most members of Leninist parties today, Marx's Capital was the big unread work that proved the collapse of capitalism and the inevitability of socialism. The substance of the split in the First International is clouded by the personal acrimony between Marx and Bakunin. Following Debord, we can recognise that both Marx and Bakunin then, and the anarchist and the marxist positions since then, represent different strengths and weaknesses of the thought of the historical workers' movement. Organisationally while Marx failed to recognise the dangers of using the state, Bakunin's elitist conception of a hundred revolutionaries pulling the strings of a European revolution was also authoritarian. While 'marxists' have developed theory to understand the changes in capitalism but have often failed to ground that theory in revolutionary practice, the anarchists have maintained the truth of the need for revolutionary practice, but have not responded to the historical changes in capitalism to be able to find ways for this need to be realised. While the element of truth in the thought of anarchism must always be present in our critique, if we wish to develop theory we must address the marxist strand of that movement. 6

The question that arises then, is whether the Second International adopted the valuable point from Marx's side. As well as personal differences the split in the First International between Marx and Bakunin reflected a serious division on how to relate to capitalism. Marx's critique of political economy was a move away from a moral or utopian critique of capitalism. It marked a rejection of the simple view that capitalism is bad and we must overthrow it in favour of the need to understand the movement of capitalism to inform the practice of its overthrow. Marx and Bakunin's reactions to the Paris Commune show this. Bakunin applauded the action and tried to organise his hundred revolutionaries in the immanent revolution; Marx, while identifying the communards as having found the forms through which capitalism can be negated, thought the defeat showed the weakness of the proletariat at that time. What Marx's critique of political economy did was give a theory of capitalist development in which it is recognised that capitalism is a transitory system of class rule that has arisen from a previous class society but which is dynamic in a way beyond any previous system.

The Erfurt Program and the practice of the Second International represented a particular interpretation of the insights of Marx's critique. The theory of the decline of capitalism is an interpretation of the meaning of Marx's insight that capitalism is a transitory system, an interpretation that turns the notion of a particular dynamic of development into a mechanistic and determinist theory of inevitable collapse. If we think that there is a value in Marx's work, a value that most marxists have lost, then what is it? Marx analysed how the system of class rule and class struggle operates through the commodity, wage labour etc. Capitalism is essentially the movement of alienated labour, of the value-form. But that means that the 'objectivity' of capitalism as the movement of alienated labour is always open to rupture or alteration from the subjective side. An irony in the split in the First International is that Bakunin considered that Marx's 'economics' were fine. He did not recognise that Marx's contribution was not an economics but a critique of economics and thus a critique of the separation of politics and economics as well.7 As we shall see, the Second International in their adoption of Marx's 'economics' made the same mistake of taking the critique of political economy offered to revolutionaries as an economics rather than as a critique of the social form of capitalist society.

Behind the breakdown theory is a notion of what socialism is: the solution to 'the capitalist anarchy of the market', the freeing of the forces of production from the fettering relations of private capitalist appropriation. Capitalism is seen as an irrational economy and socialism is seen as equivalent to a fully planned economy. The theorists of the movement were convinced that the movement was on their side, focusing on Marx's ideas that the joint stock system "is an abolition of capitalist private system on the basis of the capitalist system itself."8 They thought the further socialisation of production evidenced in the extension of credit and joint-stock companies into trusts and monopolies was the basis for socialism. At some unspecified date a revolution would occur and the capitalists would lose their tenuous hold on the socialised productive forces which would fall into the hands of the workers who could continue their historic development.

This is an optimistic reading of the lines of capitalist development which gives the agency for social transformation to capital's drives towards centralisation and co-ordination. To base one's theory on how capitalism transforms into socialism on passages such as that above is founded on the belief that Capital volumes I-III gives a complete systematic and scientific account of capitalism and its destiny. It is to see Capital as essentially complete when it is not.9 Engels prepared volumes II and III for publication, in which as in volume I, although there are intimations of capitalism's mortality, there is no finished theory of how capitalism declines and breaks down. Engels himself was tempted towards such a theory by the sustained depression of the 1870's and 80's, though he never finally settled on one. It was this crisis and Engel's speculative position on it that encouraged Kautsky to make capitalist collapse central to the Erfurt programme and it was the replacement of depression by a prolonged boom from the 1890's that then prompted the revisionist debate.

Revisionism and its False Opposition
The major proponent of revisionism was Bernstein, his opponent at first Kautsky but later and more interestingly Luxemburg. On one level Bernstein was arguing for the party to bring its theory into line with its tactics and to embrace reformism wholeheartedly. However the focus of his argument and the revisionist controversy was his insistence that the conception of economic decline and breakdown included in the Erfurt program had been proved wrong by the end of the long depression and that the changes in capitalism - e.g. the growth of cartels, of world trade and of the credit system - showed it was able to resolve its tendency towards crisis. Bernstein argued that the legacy of Marx was dualistic, on the one hand a 'pure science of Marxist socialism', on the other an 'applied aspect' which included its commitment to revolution. The notion of decline and breakdown and the revolutionary position it implied was, Bernstein argued, scientifically wrong and it, and the dialectical element in Marx that prompted it, should be eliminated. In the heated arguments Bernstein and Kautsky engaged in a battle of statistics on whether the breakdown theory was correct. 10

The important point about the revisionist debate was that both Kautsky and Bernstein were agreed on tactics - the furious dispute about theory hid a complicity about practice. What Kautsky defended and what Bernstein attacked was a caricature of revolutionary theory - theory become ideology due to its separation from practice. Moreover it was closer to Engel's Marxism than the ideas of Marx. Kautsky gained his credibility from his association with the two old men but his contact was almost exclusively with Engels. Kautsky continued the process started by Engels - in works such as the Dialectics of Nature - of losing the subject in a determinist evolutionary view of history.

When revolutionaries like Luxemburg intervened they were supporting a position that already contained the negation of a consistent revolutionary position. Luxemburg's criticism of Bernstein was at a deeper level than Kautsky's in that she recognised the extent to which his reading of Marx had lost its dialectical revolutionary aspect and had reduced it to the level of bourgeois economics. While Kautsky tried to argue that there was no problem of dualism in Marx's Capital, that the notion of the collapse of capitalism and the need for revolution was absolutely scientific, Luxemburg saw there was a dualism: 'the dualism of the socialist future and the capitalist present... the dualism of capital and labour, the dualism of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. ... the dualism of the class antagonism writhing inside the social order of capitalism.' 11 In this we can see an attempt to reclaim the revolutionary perspective from the scientism of the Second International. However as she came to develop her own position on the collapse of capitalism a different form of dualism came to the fore. Her position was irreconcilably split between on the one hand revolutionary commitment and on the other an objectivist theory of capitalist collapse. Her theory of collapse was founded on a rereading of Marx's schemas12 to show the eventual impossibility of the reproduction of capital when their purpose, although they indicate the precariousness of capitalist reproduction, is to show in what conditions it is possible. Surprisingly for someone who was committed to mass revolutionary action from below, her theory of capitalist crisis, decline and collapse was based entirely at the level of circulation and the market, and thus does not involve the proletariat at all. At the level of the schemas everyone is simply a buyer or a seller of commodities, and the workers can thus not be agents of struggle.

Luxemburg's theory of decline is premised on the postulation that capitalism needs external non-capitalist markets to absorb surplus profit and when these are exhausted its collapse is inevitable. This did not mean she was not committed to political combat; she did not suggest we should wait for the collapse, arguing that the proletariat would and had to make the revolution before that. But her position was nonetheless economistic, in that it postulated the collapse of capitalism from purely economic disequilibrium even though it was not economistic, in the sense of say the orthodox Second International theory which relied on those economic forces to bring about socialism. Luxemburg was a revolutionary and she participated in the revolution in Germany, but her conception of the capitalist process was wrong, based as it was on a misunderstanding of the role of Marx's schemas. However she thought that the scientific case had to be proven that capitalism could not expand indefinitely and it is in this imperative we find the key to the vehemence of the 'breakdown controversy'.

The left of the Second International saw those who denied the bankruptcy of capitalism moving towards reformism and they conceded that such a move was natural for "If the capitalist mode of production can ensure boundless expansion of the productive forces of economic progress it is invincible indeed. The most important objective argument in support of a social theory breaks down! Socialist political action and the ideological import of the proletarian class struggle cease to reflect economic events, and socialism no longer appears an historic necessity."13 For those who follow Luxemburg the reason to be revolutionary is because capitalism has an irresolvable crisis due to a purely economic tendency towards breakdown which becomes actualised when its foreign markets are exhausted. Capitalism's collapse and proletarian revolution are seen as essentially separate, and their connection lying only in the idea that the former makes the latter necessary.

While Luxemburg was absolutely committed to revolutionary action, and unlike Lenin was sure that such action had to be the self-action of the proletariat, she dualistically held that what made that action necessary was the fact that capitalism would otherwise collapse into barbarism. In that she was wrong; capitalism will only collapse through proletarian action. What needed to be argued with Bernstein was not that capitalism cannot resolve its problems by its own forms of planning (although it cannot ever permanently resolve its problems because they are rooted in the class struggle), for that only demands a socialist planned economy. What actually needed arguing was that the debate over whether the problems of capitalism could be resolved within capitalism or only by a socialist planned economy was missing the point. These problems are not our problems. Our problem is that of the alienation of not controlling our lives and activity. Even if capitalism could resolve its tendency towards crisis, which it cannot do because such a tendency is an expression of class antagonism, it would not answer our problem with it.

But here's the rub. The socialist economy as envisaged by Second International marxists was a solution to capitalism's problems, and as such was state capitalism. The better left social-democrats14 identified socialism with proletarian self-emancipation, but their underlying conflict with the state capitalist position of both the right and centre of the party became displaced on to a conflict with the revisionists over the question of economic collapse. This is not to say that the SDP and the Second International were simply a state capitalist party. They represented millions of workers real aspirations and it was often workers who had been members of Second International parties that took a lead in communist actions. But ideologically the Second International had state capitalist goals and those who went beyond these such as Luxemburg did so contradictorily. A part of that contradiction is represented in the maintenance of an objectivist theory of decline.

Bernstein attacked Kautsky and the Second International orthodoxy on the inevitability of breakdown and socialist revolution for fatalism and determinism, in favour of social reformism and the abandonment of revolutionary pretensions. But in point of fact the notion of deterministic economic evolution was the perfect counterpart of reformism. The breakdown theory of the Second International implied a fatalistic conception of the end of capitalism, and thus allowed reformism as an alternative to class struggle. The theory of decline/decadence put forward by the revolutionaries was different to that implicitly contained in the Erfurt Program, for in people such as Luxemburg and Lenin the notion of economic collapse gets identified with the end result of a final stage of capitalism - imperialism/monopoly capitalism. In recognising the changes in capitalism they were in a curious way closer to Bernstein than Kautsky; they marked their opposition to his reformist conclusions by emphasising their commitment to the inevitability of breakdown. It was precisely those changes which Bernstein thought showed capital's resolution of any tendency to collapse, which they saw as expressive of it entering the final stage before its collapse.

The political question of reform or revolution gets bound up with a falsely empirical question of decline. For the left Social-democrats it is seen as essential to insist capitalism is in decay - is approaching its collapse. The meaning of 'marxism' is being inscribed as accepting that capitalism is bankrupt and thus that revolutionary action is necessary. Thus they do engage in revolutionary action, but as we have seen, because the focus is on the objective contradictions of the system with revolutionary subjective action a reaction to it, they do not relate to the true necessary prerequisite of the end of capitalism – the concrete development of the revolutionary subject. It seemed to the more revolutionary members of the movement such as Lenin and Luxemburg that a revolutionary position was a position of belief in breakdown while the theory of breakdown had in fact worked to allow a reformist position at the start of the Second International. The point was that the theory of capitalist decline as a theory of capitalism's collapse from its own objective contradictions involves an essentially contemplative stance before the objectivity of capitalism, while the real requirement for revolution is the breaking of that contemplative attitude. The fundamental problem with the revisionist debate in the Second International is that both sides shared an impoverished conception of the economy as simply the production of things when it is also the production and reproduction of relations which naturally involves people's consciousness of those relations.15 This sort of economism (seeing an economy of things not social relations) tends towards the notion of the autonomous development of the productive forces of society and the neutrality of technology. With the economy seen in the former way, its development and collapse is a technical and quantitative matter. Because the Second International had this naturalistic idea of the meaning of the economic development of capitalism, they could maintain a belief in capitalism's collapse without any commitment to revolutionary practice. Because the left identify breakdown theory as revolutionary, Lenin could be surprised at how Kautsky, who wrote the Erfurt Program version of that theory, could betray the revolutionary cause. When the left fought against the mainstream's complicity with capital they brought the theory of breakdown with them. Thus the radical social democrats such as Lenin and Luxemburg combine revolutionary practice with a fatalistic theoretical position that has its origins in reformism.

To say that the Second International was guilty of economism, has become a common place. We have to think what it means in order to see whether the Trots and left-communists who might criticise the politics of the Second International have gone beyond its theory. It is our case that they have not, that they retain an impoverished Second Internationalist theory of the capitalist economy and its tendency towards crisis and collapse with political and social struggle promoted by this crisis at the economic level. This fails to grasp that the object we are faced with is the capital-wage labour relation i.e. the social relation of class exploitation that occurs right across capitalist society: the areas of reproduction, production, political, ideological are all intertwined moments of that relation and it is reproduced within the individual him or herself.

Radical Social Democracy
It was with the radical social democrats such as Luxemburg, Lenin and Bukharin that the full conception of a decadent epoch of capitalism is arrived at - the notion that at a certain stage - usually around 1914 - capitalism switched into its final declining stage. Luxemburg's The Accumulation of Capital is one source of the theory of decline but most revolutionaries then and now disagreed with her account.16 Other left social democrats such as Bukharin and Lenin founded their theory of imperialism and capitalism's decadent stage on Hilferding's Finance Capital. In this work Hilferding linked new features of the capitalist economy - the interpenetration of banks and joint-stock companies, the expansion of credit, restriction of competition through cartels and trusts - with expansionist foreign policy by the nation state. Hilferding, while seeing this stage as the decline of capitalism and transition to socialism, did not think capitalism would necessarily collapse or that its tendency towards war would necessarily be realised, and his politics tended towards reformism. The theories of Bukharin and Lenin produced after 1914 saw imperialism and war as the unavoidable policy of finance capital, they identified this form of capitalism as decisively the decline of the system because of the natural progression of finance capital and monopoly capital to imperialist expansion and war whose only further development had to be proletarian revolution.17

Lenin's Imperialism, which has become for his followers the crucial text for the modern epoch, defines the imperialist phase of capitalism 'as capitalism in transition, or, more precisely, as moribund capitalism.'18 For Lenin, in the capitalist planning of the large companies it is 'evident that we have socialisation of production, and not mere "interlocking"; that private economic and private property relations constitute a shell which is no longer suitable for its contents, a shell which must inevitably decay if its removal is artificially delayed; a shell which may remain in a state of decay for a fairly long period, but which will inevitably be removed.'19 Lenin's text, like Bukharin's Imperialism and World Economy, which was a great influence on it, adopts Hilferding's analysis of the 'final stage of capitalism' - monopolies, finance capital, export of capital, formation of international cartels and trusts, territorial division of the world. But whereas Hilferding thought that these developments, particularly the state planning in this stage of 'organised capitalism', were progressive and would allow a peaceful advance to socialism, Lenin thought they showed that capitalism could not develop progressively any further. The continuity between the reformist theory of the Second International and the 'revolutionary' theory of the Bolsheviks in terms of the conception of socialism as capitalist socialisation of production under workers' control is one of the keys to the failings of the left in the Twentieth Century. Hilferding writes:

The tendency of finance capital is to establish social control of production, but it is an antagonistic form of socialization, since the control of social production remains vested in an oligarchy. The struggle to dispossess this oligarchy constitutes the ultimate phase of the class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat.

The socializing function of finance capital facilitates enormously the task of overcoming capitalism. Once finance capital has brought the most important branches of production under its control, it is enough for society, through its conscious executive organ - the state conquered by the working class - to seize finance capital in order to gain immediate control of these branches of production... taking possession of six large Berlin banks would mean taking posession of the most important spheres of large-scale industry, and would greatly facilitate the initial phases of socialist policy during the transition period, when capitalist accounting might still prove useful 20

Henryk Grossman, who as we shall see is one of the key theorists of decline, refers to this conception as 'the dream of a banker aspiring for power over industry through credit... the putchism of Auguste Blanqui translated into economics.' 21 Yet compare this with Lenin to whom Grossman feels nearer:

Capitalism has created an accounting apparatus in the shape of the banks, syndicates, postal service, consumers' societies, and office employees' unions. Without big banks socialism would be impossible.

The big banks are the "state apparatus" which we need to bring about socialism, and which we take ready-made from capitalism; our task here is merely to lop-off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus, to make it even bigger, even more democratic, even more comprehensive. Quantity will be transformed into quality. A single State Bank, the biggest of the big.. will be... the skeleton of socialist society.'22

Whilst Hilferding thinks this take over of finance capital can be done gradually, Lenin thinks it requires revolution but both identify socialism with the taking over of the forms of capitalist planning, organisation and work.

Imperialism as the stage of monopoly and finance capital was, for Lenin, capitalism's decadent stage. Luxemburg, though with a different analysis, had the similar conclusion that collapse was inevitable. In the internecine debates Leninists accused Luxemburg of a fatalism or spontaneism and of not believing in the class struggle. But although Luxemburg and Lenin differed in their analysis of imperialism their conception of capital's end was essentially the same - the development of capitalism heads towards the collapse of the system and it is up to revolutionaries to make it socialism and not barbarism. Neither of these thinkers were against class struggle; for both the idea is that the development of capitalism has reached a crisis point, thus now we need to act.

However, behind the similarity between Lenin and Luxemburg on the notion of capital entering its final stage there lay a considerable difference, in that while Luxemburg had to an extent criticised the statist model of socialist transformation held by Social Democracy, Lenin had not. In the arguments within social democracy following the Bolshevik revolution, Leninism was accused of voluntarism and defended as reasserting class struggle. What it was actually about was Lenin's maintaining of an objectivist position on what socialism is: the development of an objective dialectic within the economy combined with a voluntaristic view that it could be built. He rode the class struggle to get there - or more favourably responded to it and was carried forward by it - but when in power he started from above to develop the economy because that was what he identified socialism with. Lenin and the Bolsheviks made a political break from Second International marxism, specifically from the orthodox stages theory which implied for Russia that there had to be a bourgeois revolution before there could be a proletarian revolution. But this was not a fundamental break from the Second International's economistic theory of the productive forces. Trotsky's theory of the permanent revolution, which the Bolsheviks effectively adopted in 1917, was not premised on a critique of the reifed notion of the development of productive forces held by the Second International, but on an insistence on seeing such development at the level of the world market. The prerequisite for socialism was still seen as the development of the productive forces narrowly considered, it was simply seen that in its decadent highest stage capitalism would not provide that development for Russia.23

The Bolsheviks accepted that Russia needed its productive forces developed and that such development was identical with capitalist modernisation; they voluntaristically chose to develop them socialistically. The nature of combined and uneven development under imperialism meant that because capitalism was failing to develop itself, the Bolsheviks would have to do so. Of course they expected support from a revolution in Western Europe but in the introduction of Taylorism, capitalist specialists etc. we see that the task which the Bolsheviks identified as socialist was in fact the development of the capitalist economy. These measures were not pushed on them by the pressure of events, they were part of their outlook from the beginning. In the same text from before the October revolution quoted earlier Lenin admits that "we need good organisers of banking and the amalgamation of enterprises" and that it will be necessary to "pay these specialists higher salaries during the transition period." but don't worry he states:

We shall place them, however under comprehensive workers' control and we shall achieve the complete and absolute operation of the rule 'he who does not work, neither shall he eat.' We shall not invent the organisational form of the work, but take it ready-made from capitalism - we shall take over the banks, syndicates, the best factories, experimental stations, academies, and so forth; all that we shall have to do is to borrow the best models furnished by the advanced countries.24

While Hilferding had seen the role of state planning in the stage of 'organised capitalism' as the basis for a peaceful transition to socialism, Lenin was convinced of the need to take power. But he was in agreement that capitalist planning was the prototype for socialist planning. For us revolution is the return of the subject to herself, for Lenin it was development of an object . The defence of Lenin is that socialism was not possible in Russia so he waited for revolution in Germany. But his conception of socialism, like that of the Second International from which he never effectively broke, was state capitalism.

Within the Bolshevik and Second International conception the socialisation of the economy under capitalism was seen as neutral and unproblematically positive, with the anarchy of circulation being seen as the problem to be got rid of. But capitalist socialisation is not neutral; it is capitalist and thus in need of transformation. The Bolshevik measures are a direct product of their adherence to the Second International identification of socialism with planning. The notion of decline and decay is seen as evolving from the contradiction between the increasing socialisation of the productive forces - the increasing planning and rationality of production versus the anarchy and irrationality involved in capitalist appropriation through the market - the former is good, the latter bad. The solution implied by this way of conceiving the problem with capitalism is to extend planning to the circulation sphere as well, but both these sides are capitalist - the proletariat does not just take over capitalist control of the labour process and add control over consumption, it transforms all areas of life - the social regulation of the labour process is not the same as the capitalist regulation.

The economistic position of Second International marxism shared by the Bolsheviks dominated the worker's movement because it reflected a particular class composition - skilled technical and craft workers who identified with the productive process.25 The view that socialism is about the development of the productive forces where they are considered as economic is a product of the lack of development of the productive forces considered as social26 . One could say that at a certain level of development of the productive forces the tendency for a state capitalist/socialist program was dominant and a truly revolutionary communist position harder to develop. The communist project was adopted by many workers but they did not manage to realise it. There is a problem in looking at history with the question whether it was possible for any particular revolution to win. It did not win then. Communism is never possible in the past only from the present to the future. What we can do is look for reasons why the project of communism was not realised then to inform our efforts to realise it now. What happened was a battle of forces in which the forces of capital increasingly took the form of a state capitalist worker's party. In considering the productive forces as neutral when they are capitalist the Bolsheviks become a capitalist force. In Stalinism the ideology of the productive forces reached new heights of crassness but while it had differences it also had continuity with the ideas of Trotsky and Lenin. The crushing of workers by the German Social Democrats and by the Russian Bolsheviks both expressed the victory of capital through the ideology of state capitalism. This is not to deny that there would be communist development but such a development would be the conscious acts of the freely associated producers and not the 'development of the productive forces', which presumes their separation from the subject.27 It would not, as the Bolshevik modernisation program did, have the same technical-economic content as capitalist development. Communism is not built from above, it can only be the movement of proletarian self-emancipation.

The Heritage of October
The two main proponents of the theory of decadence/decline trace their lineage to this period of war and revolution. And of course there were objective factors supporting the theory - the war was catastrophic28 and it did appear that capitalism was clapped out. Yet the revolution failed.

The Trotskyist form of Leninism has never made a successful break from the Second International conceptions of what constitutes the crisis of capitalism and thus what socialism should be. While Lenin adopted the theory that capitalism had entered its period of decay, he also insisted that no crisis was necessarily final. Trotsky on the other hand does write of inevitable collapse. His politics after 1917 was dominated by the idea that capitalism was in or approaching a final crisis from which revolution was inevitable. Trotsky's marxism was founded on the theory of the primacy of the productive forces and his understanding of the productive forces was crude and technical, not so very different from Stalin's: "Marxism sets out from the development of technique as the fundamental spring of progress, and constructs the communist program on the dynamic of the productive forces."29 When still part of the Soviet bureaucracy, Trotsky's mechanistic notion of the productive forces led him to justify militarisation of labour and to accuse workers resisting Taylorism of 'Tolstoyian romanticism'. When in exile it led his criticism of the Soviet Union to focus not on the position of the workers, whom he'd always being willing to shoot, but on its lack of technical development. He states "The strength and stability of regimes are determined in the long run by the relative productivity of their labour. A socialist economy possessing a technique superior to that of capitalism would really be guaranteed in its socialist development for sure - so to speak automatically - a thing which unfortunately it is still impossible to say about the Soviet economy."30 On the other hand there was something that made Russia an advance on decadent capitalism: "The fundamental evil of the capitalist system is not the extravagance of the possessing classes, but the fact that in order to guarantee its right to extravagance the bourgeoisie maintains its private ownership of the means of production, thus condemning the economic system to anarchy and decay." 31

The Soviet Union for Trotsky was progressive because although it had a ruling strata living extravagantly, with planning it had gone beyond capitalist irrationality and decay. It was backward because it lacked technical development. The orthodox Trotskyist defence of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state was premised on the model of economic development which sees state control and planning as progress. Because of the change in the relations of production, or what for Trotsky amounted to the same thing the property relations, the regime was somehow positive.32 This position was the logical expression of the theory that capitalist socialisation is positive, private appropriation negative, thus that if one gets rid of private appropriation - private property - you have socialism, or at least the transition to socialism. One can call it socialism but it is state capitalism.

The Falling Rate Of Profit
Trotskyism as a tradition thus betrays its claim to represent what was positive in the revolutionary wave of 1917-21. The importance of the left and council communists is that in their genuine emphasis on proletarian self-emancipation we can identify an important truth of that period against the Leninist representation. However in the wake of the defeat of the proletariat and in their isolation from its struggle, the small groups of left communists began to increasingly base their position on the objective analysis that capitalism was decadent. However there was development. In particular Henryk Grossman offered a meticulously worked out theory of collapse as an alternative to Luxemburg's. Instead of basing the theory of collapse on the exhaustion of non-capitalist markets he founded the theory on the falling rate of profit. Since then, nearly all orthodox marxist theories of crisis have been based on the falling rate of profit. In his theory, which he argues is Marx's, the tendency for the rate of profit to fall33 leads to a fall in the relative mass of profit which is finally too small to continue accumulation. In Grossman's account capitalist collapse is a purely economic process, inevitable even if the working class remains a mere cog in capital's development. Grossman tries to preempt criticism:

Because I deliberately confine myself to describing only the economic presuppositions of the breakdown of capitalism in this study, let me dispel any suspicion of 'pure economism' from the start. It is unnecessary to waste paper over the connection between economics and politics; that there is a connection is obvious. However, while Marxists have written extensively on the political revolution, they have neglected to deal theoretically with the economic aspect of the question and have failed to appreciate the true content of Marx's theory of breakdown. My sole concern here is to fill in this gap in the marxist tradition.[p 33]34

For the objectivist marxist the connection is obvious, the economic and the political are separate, previous writings on the political are adequate and just need backing up with an economic case. The position of the follower of Grossman is thus: 1/ We have an understanding of economics that shows capitalism is declining, heading inexorably towards breakdown. 2/This shows the necessity of a political revolution to introduce a new economic order. The theory of politics has an external relation to the economic understanding of capitalism. Orthodox theories of capitalist crisis accept the reduction of working class activity to an activity of capital. The only action against capital is a political attack on the system which is seen to happen only when the system breaks down. Grossman's theory represents one of the most comprehensive attempts to declare Marx's Capital a complete economics providing the blueprint of capitalist collapse. He insists that "economic Marxism, as it has been bequeathed to us, is neither a fragment nor a torso, but represents in the main a fully elaborated system, that is, one without flaws."35 This insistence on seeing Marx's Capital as being a complete work providing the proof of capitalism's decay and collapse is an essential feature of the worldview of the objectivist marxists. It means that the connection between politics and economics is obviously an external one. This is wrong; the connection is internal but to grasp this requires the recognition that Capital is incomplete and that the completion of its project requires an understanding of the political economy of the working class not just that of capital. But Grossman has categorically denied the possibility of this by his insistence that Capital is essentially a complete work.

While left-communists maintained the classical general identification of decadence with the imperialist stage of capitalism, Grossman's more abstract theory rooted in the falling rate of profit tendency in Capital was enthusiastically adopted by many council communists, most prominently Mattick. Against this trend Pannekoek made an important critique. In The Theory of the Collapse of Capitalism36 Reprinted in Capital and Class, 1, 1977 and can be found online here. Pannekoek, apart from showing how Grossman distorts Marx by selective quotation, develops some arguments that point beyond objectivist marxism. Although in his own way still a believer in the decline of capitalism, Pannekoek starts to make an essential attack on the separation of economics from politics and struggle: "Economics, as the totality of men working and striving to satisfy their subsistence needs, and politics (in its widest sense), as the action and struggle of these men as classes to satisfy their needs, form a single unified domain of law-governed development." Pannekoek thereby insists that the collapse of capitalism is inseparable from the action of the proletariat in a social and political revolution. The dualism involved in seeing the breakdown of capitalism as quite separate from the development of revolutionary subjectivity in the proletariat means that while the working class is seen as necessary to provide the force of the revolution, there is no guarantee that they will be able to create a new order afterwards. Thus "a revolutionary group a party with socialist aims, would have to appear as a new governing power in place of the old in order to introduce some kind of planned economy. The theory of economic catastrophe is thus ready made for intellectuals who recognise the untenable character of capitalism and who want a planned economy to be built by capable economists and leaders." Pannekoek also notes something that we see repeated today37 ; the attraction of Grossman's theory or other such theories of breakdown at times in which there is a lack of revolutionary activity. There is a temptation for those who identify themselves as revolutionaries to:

wish on the stupefied masses a good economic catastrophe so that they finally come out of the slumber and enter into action. The theory according to which capitalism has today entered its final crisis also provides a decisive, and simple, refutation of reformism and all Party programs which give priority to parliamentary work and trade union action - a demonstration of the necessity of revolutionary tactics which is so convenient that it must be greeted sympathetically by revolutionary groups. But the struggle is never so simple or convenient, not even the theoretical struggle for reasons and proofs.[p 80]

But, as Pannekoek continues, opposition to reformist tactics should not be based on a theory of the nature of the epoch but on the practical effects of those tactics. It is not necessary to believe in a final crisis to justify a revolutionary position; capitalism goes from crisis to crisis and the proletariat learns through its struggles. "In this process the destruction of capitalism is achieved. The self-emancipation of the proletariat is the collapse of capitalism."[p 81, our emphasis] In this attempt to internally link the theory of capitalism's limits with the movement of the proletariat Pannekoek made an essential move. How to grasp this linkage requires further work.

Fourth International and Left-Communism: Flipsides of the Objectivist Coin
While the small bands of left and council communists mostly adopted a theory of decadence the other claimant to the mantle of continuer of the marxist tradition -Trotskyism - was also making it central to their position. At the foundation of the Fourth International they adopted Trotsky's transitional program The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the 4th International. In this text the mechanistic conception of the capitalist economy and its decline which had previously justified the position of the bureaucracy, now meant that attempts by Stalinists "to hold back the wheel of history will demonstrate more clearly to the masses that the crisis in mankind's culture, can be resolved only by the Fourth International. [...] The problem of the sections of the Fourth International is to help the proletarian vanguard understand the general character and tempo of our epoch and to fructify in time the struggle of the masses with ever more resolute and militant organisational measures."38 It might seem churlish to accuse the Trots over something written 50 years ago at a time of depression and impending war when it seemed more reasonable. Moreover, while it is the case that the orthodox trots will hold to every word, in Britain at least, revisionism is the order of the Trotskyist day. However the revisionist SWP and more revisionist RCP still hold to the essential thesis of decline induced crisis and the need for leadership. Trotsky's writings are marked by a rigid dichotomy between the objective conditions that is the state of the economy and the subjective, namely the existence or non-existence of the party. Capitalist crisis is an objective process of the economy and the decadence of capitalism will make that crisis severe enough to create an audience for the party which supplies the working class with the needed subjective element of consciousness and leadership. This conception of the relation between objectivity and subjectivity has to be contested.

What we are saying is not that proponents of decadence or decline do not believe in revolution - they quite manifestly do. (The theory of decline is not a theory of automatic breakdown. Most of its proponents recognise that capital can generally gain temporary escape if the working class let it, but it is a theory which sees an inevitable tendency to breakdown coming from capital's own development and which sees the subjective problem as bringing consciousness into line with the facts). Our criticism is that their theory contemplates the development of capitalism, the practical consequences of which being the fact that the trots move after anything that moves in order to recruit for the final showdown while the left communists stand aloof waiting for the pure example of revolutionary action by the workers. Behind this apparent opposition in ways of relating to struggle, they share a conception of capitalism's collapse which means that they do not learn from the real movement. Although there is a tendency to slip into pronouncements that socialism is inevitable, in general for the decadence theorists it is that socialism will not come inevitably - we should not all go off to the pub - but capitalism will breakdown. This theory can then accompany the Leninist building of an organisation in the present or else, as with Mattick, it may await that moment of collapse when it becomes possible to create a proper revolutionary organisation. The theory of decay and the Crisis is upheld and understood by the party, the proletariat must put itself behind its banner. That is to say 'we understand History, follow our banner'. The theory of decline fits comfortably with the Leninist theory of consciousness, which of course took much from Kautsky who ended his commentary on the Erfurt Program with the prediction that the middle classes would stream "into the Socialist Party and hand in hand with the irresistibly advancing proletariat, follow its banner to victory and triumph."39

After the Second World War both the Trotskyists and Left-communists emerged committed to the view that capitalism was decadent and on the edge of collapse. Looking at the period that had just passed the theory was did not appear too unrealistic - the 1929 crash had been followed by depression through most of the thirties and then by another catastrophic war. Capitalism if not dying had looked pretty ill. Apart from their similar theories of decline both currents claimed to represent the true revolutionary tradition against the Stalinist falsification. Now, while we might say the left and council communists upheld some important truths of the experience of 1917-21 against the Leninist version upheld by the Trots, the objectivist economics and mechanical theory of crisis and collapse which they shared with the Leninists made them incapable of responding to the new situation characterised as it was by the long boom. The revolutionaries of the next period would have to go beyond the positions of the last.

After the Second World war capitalism entered one of its most sustained periods of expansion with growth rates not only greater than the interwar period but even greater than those of the great boom of classical capitalism which had caused the breakdown controversy in the Second International. A crisis ensued within Trotskyism because their guru had categorically taken the onset of the war as confirmation that capitalism was in its death throws and had confidently predicted that the war would herald both the collapse of capitalism and proletarian revolution to set up workers states in the West and to sort out the bureaucratic deformations in the East.40 Trotsky had closely identified his version of marxism with the perception of capitalist bankruptcy and had written that if capitalism did recover sustained growth and if the Soviet union did not return to its true path then it would have to be said that "the socialist program , based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society ended as a Utopia."41 The tendency of orthodox Trotskyist groups from then on was to deny the facts and constantly preach that crisis was imminent.42

The fragments of left-communism were not so limited by identification with one leader's analysis (moreover many of their theorists were still alive). However, they like the Trots tended to see the post war expansion of capital as a short lived reconstructive boom. Essentially all these representatives of the theory of the post-WW1 proletarian offensive could offer was the basic position that capitalism had not resolved its contradictions - it just appeared to have done so. The basic thesis was right of course - capitalism had not resolved its contradictions - but these contradictions were expressing themselves in ways not grasped by the mechanistic theory of decline and collapse because it did not fully grasp the contradictions. The problem of how to relate to these contradictions in the post-war boom with its pattern in the advanced countries of social democratic politics, Keynesian economics, 'Fordist' mass production and mass consumerism, was the problem facing revolutionaries of this period.

When struggles started breaking out the new generation of radicals were antagonistic to the rigid schematic account of capital's crisis held by the old left. While the left-communist sects accepted this stoically many of the Trot groupings opportunistically followed the concerns of the New Left but only to grab recruits into their organisations who could then be persuaded of the doctrine of economic collapse. There were a number of groups - Socialism or Barbarism, the Situationist International, the autonomists - who attempted to escape the rigidities of the old workers movement and to re-develop revolutionary theory. In the second part of the article we will now look at some of the most important of them as well as at attempts to reassert a revised version of the theory. Some of the questions asked and the answers to which are important for us were: What form was the struggle taking in these new conditions? What was the meaning of communism? How was revolution to be reinvented?

  • 1 A reformist conception that development towards socialism is an inevitable process witnessed in the steady increase in the socialisation of the productive forces and the growth of the welfare state has also been widespread. The emphasis of this article will be on those who see capitalist decline as part of the revolutionary project.
  • 2 Here Marx writes, "the guiding principle of my studies can be summarised as follows. In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage of development of their material forces of production…At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or - this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms - with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution…No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society…In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society." Preface to the Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, p. 20-21
  • 3ICC pamphlet, The Decadence of Capitalism.
  • 4The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Forth International (1938), reprinted 1988 by the Workers Revolutionary Party who state that "its message is more relevant than ever".
  • 5 Karl Kautsky, The Class Struggle [Erfurt Program], (Norton Company, 1971). The Erfurt program was the official statement of the politics of the Social-Democratic Party from 1891 until after the First World War.
  • 6 Our task is to contribute to the revolutionary theory of the proletariat which neither orthodox Marxism nor anarchism represents. But the Marxist strand of the historical worker's movement has developed the most important ideas we need to address.
  • 7 Of course if Bakunin hadn't given Freilgrath his copy of Hegel's Logic who then lent it to Marx then Marx might not have arrived at such a total understanding of capitalism!
  • 8Capital Vol. III, p. 570.
  • 9 The view that Capital was a complete work providing a full prescription for the end of capitalism was a position adopted by disciples but not by Marx himself. Kautsky once asked Marx when he would produce his completed works. Marx replied "they would first have to be written".
  • 10Kautsky denied Marxism contained a theory of breakdown but he defended one nonetheless.
  • 11Reform or Revolution, p. 40.
  • 12 Marx's schemas of reproduction in Vol.II of Capital identify certain proportions that must exist between the production of means of production and means of subsistence if capitalist reproduction is to take place.
  • 13Accumulation of Capital, p. 325.
  • 14 Lenin was not particularly on the left. He was a good Second International Marxist working in Russian conditions who saw Kautsky as a betrayer of the proper social democratic (hence state-capitalist) position.
  • 15 See Colletti, 'Bernstein and the Marxism of the Second International' in From Rousseau to Lenin.
  • 16 Except the ICC.
  • 17 Lenin suggests it is not enough for the proletariat to react subjectively to the war, the war itself must prepare the objective grounds for socialism: "The dialectics of history is such that the war, by extraordinarily expediting the transformation of monopoly capitalism into state-monopoly capitalism, has thereby extraordinarily advanced mankind towards socialism. Imperialist war is the eve of social revolution. And this is not only because the horrors of war give rise to proletarian revolt - no revolt can bring about socialism unless the economic conditions for socialism are ripe - but because state-monopoly capitalism is a complete material preparation for socialism, the threshold of socialism, a rung on the ladder of history between which and the rung called socialism there are no intermediate rungs." 'Impending Catastrophe and How to Avoid It', Lenin, Collected Works, 25, p. 359.
  • 18 Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (Progress Publishers, 1982), p. 119.
  • 19 Ibid., p. 119-20.
  • 20 Hilferding, Finance Capital, pp. 367-368.
  • 21 Grossman, The Law of Accumulation and the Breakdown of the Capitalist System: Being also a Theory of Crises, p. 52.
  • 22 Lenin, 'Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?', CW, 26, p. 110.
  • 23 Is there mileage in the Situationist criticism that Trotsky's was a theory of 'limited permanent revolution' while what is needed is a 'generalised theory of permanent revolution'. Situationist International Anthology p. 65.
  • 24 Lenin, op. cit.
  • 25 See Bologna, 'Class Composition and the Theory of the Party at the Origins of the Workers' Councils Movement' in Telos, 13, (Fall) 1972.
  • 26 This is why Marx's statement that the greatest productive force is the revolutionary class itself, is so important.
  • 27 As Marx remarks in the Grundrisse productive forces and relations are but two sides of the social individual.
  • 28 The word decadent does seem apt for a system that flings millions to their deaths but this would be to slip into a moral use of the term that the proponents of the theory would be the first to reject.
  • 29 Revolution Betrayed, p. 45.
  • 30 Revolution Betrayed, pp. 47-48.
  • 31 Revolution Betrayed, p. 19.
  • 32 The only Trotskyist grouping to adhere to a state-capitalist theory of the Soviet Union has done the theory much discredit by continuing to uphold a state-capitalist program i.e. a Second International idea of socialism. In part II we will consider whether the revisionism of the neo-Trotskyist SWP (International Socialists) amounts to a sufficient break.
  • 33 Capitalists gain profit by making workers work longer than necessary to replace the value of their wage. The rate of exploitation is then the ratio between the surplus labour workers are forced to perform and the necessary labour, i.e. that which represents their wages. In value terms this can be expressed as surplus value/variable capital (wages) or s/v. However the workers also maintain the value of the machinery and materials going into production at the same time as they are creating new value. The value of their product can then be divided into a portion representing constant capital such as machinery and materials - c, an equivalent of their necessary labour - v, and surplus value - s. Capital's tendency is to increase the organic composition of capital - increase c relative to v. As the capitalists rate of profit is s/(c+v), if c increases the rate of profit falls. This is of course only at the level of a tendency and the interplay with counteracting tendencies (such as an increase in exploitation and devaluation of fixed capital) needs to be considered. At an abstract level this tendency can be said to exist but whether an inexorable process of capitalist decline can be said to develop from it is precisely the point of argument.
  • 34 The Law of Accumulation and Breakdown of the Capitalist System: Being also a Theory of Crises.
  • 35 H. Grossman, 'Die Anderung des Ursprunglischen Aufbauplans des Marxschen 'Kapitals' und ihre Ursachen' quoted in Rubel on Karl Marx, p. 151.
  • 36
  • 37 Grossman's book has just been translated into English with an introduction by an RCP member.
  • 38The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Forth International, pp. 11 and 23.
  • 39 The Class Struggle, p. 217.
  • 40 "The war will last until it exhausts all the resources of civilization or until it breaks its head on the revolution". Writings 1939-40, p. 151. He was also certain that the Stalinist oligarchy would be overthrown as a result of the war. Trying to deal with this particular contradiction of their master's thought with reality led the American SWP to claim in November 1945 that he was right, only the second World War had not ended!
  • 41 In Defence of Marxism, p. 9.
  • 42 The SWP likes to claim that with its theory of the permanent arms economy it escaped the imminent crisis problematic of orthodox Trotskyism. In actual fact the Permanent Arms Economy theory was originally introduced as a stopgap to explain the temporary delay to the arrival of the big slump. As the slump continually failed to arrive the SWP then called the Socialist Review Group gradually elaborated the notion into a full scale theory.



14 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on December 19, 2009

bump, because I've gone and formatted it nicely.

However, I notice that footnotes are missing. Could anybody add them?


14 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Spassmaschine on December 20, 2009

I can add them, but the current input format won't allow me to edit the article.


14 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on December 20, 2009

can you now?


14 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Spassmaschine on December 21, 2009

yep, though you'll need to change the format back again now, to make the footnotes work properly!


14 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on December 21, 2009


Where did you get the text of the footnotes from? A physical copy of the magazine?

If you had time to do parts two and three as well at any point it would be much appreciated...


14 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Spassmaschine on December 21, 2009

Nah, got them off the old geocities aufheben page via
happy to do the other parts at some point.

Intakes: 'Rostock or: How the new Germany is being governed'

In this abridged translation of an article originally published in Wildcat (Germany), it is shown how the state is using the issue of racism to develop its 'social strategy of tension'.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 26, 2006

The 'Intake' article this issue is taken from #60 of the German magazine Wildcat (Shiraz e.V. - Postfach 301206 - 50782 Köln), a copy of which was sent to us with the request that it be circulated.

The text seeks to give an overview of the relationship between capitalist restructuring and immigration in Germany. Whilst we are well aware that the Fascists pose a real threat to German immigrants, the idea that they threaten to take state power in Germany (the '4th Reich') is a product of the media and some anti-fascists. Despise this the 'fascism/anti-fascism trap' appears to be working; with the state focusing on right-wing violence in an attempt to make the public forget about the social and political crisis. Thus the stale tries to exploit the majority's rejection of the extreme-right by imposing new laws (e.g. high sentences for 'violent crimes', 'against right and left extremism', increased surveillance etc....) which it then portrays as 'democratic'.

But the state has been unable to completely co-opt the anti-fascist movement. This was shown by the clashes between the left and the police at the government sponsored 'anti-racist' demonstration in Berlin on November 8th 1992, where Kohl was heckled by large sections of the crowd. And the recent murders of five Turkish women in Sollingen were followed by two nights of rioting and looting as the community vented its anger on the police and capitalist property. Indeed Turkish youths have begun to organise themselves into gangs to protect their communities from the far-right, resulting in running battles between themselves and the fascists.

Yet despite these actions the German state, with the help of the media, has managed to secure the general consensus that legal foreign workers are OK, whilst asylum seekers should be deported as rapidly as possible under the new 'fast-track' procedure.

Rostock or: How the New Germany is being Governed

Although the burning of ZASt (the central office for asylum claimants] in Rostock was made a symbol by the media and the Left, it is necessary to locate violence against asylum seekers in the general context of class struggle and capitalist restructuring currently occurring in Germany (and throughout Europe in general). This requires a detailed analysis which relates the riots in front of the asylum camps to housing shortages, rising unemployment, restructuring of the factories, state labour market policy, juvenile rebellion and so on. So far we have only partial answers to these questions, and there has been a tendency for anti-fascists to become fixated with re-runs of '33. But it is clear that the state is seeking to manipulate the conflicts around the 'asylum problem' in order to try out a new form of politics within Germany, i.e. a strategy of tension. The riots in front of the asylum camps nearly all had a common pattern: a heating up of the situation by the state, letting go of fascist groupings, protection of the riots against interventions by anti-fascists. Thus the riots serve as a smoke screen in an effort to distract the German working class from the welfare cuts decided last summer, and act to legitimise the further militarisation of the repressive apparatus. The attacks on foreigners are to enable a stronger hierarchisation of the labour movement and a fragmentation of the class. To a degree the state's policy is succeeding with a rise of racism within the class.

Migration into metropolis

The destruction of possibilities for self-reproduction by capitalist development or non-development, wars, starvation in the case of Africa, the changes in the East, etc., are sparking off migration movements on a worldwide scale. Millions of people are trying to reach regions where they are able to secure their survival (in a better way). Only a small percentage of these people have a chance of reaching Europe (due to large distances, and the high costs of travelling) and many of those who do arrive here are caught and turned back at the borders. However those who succeed in breaching 'fortress Europe' are subject to racist attacks both by the state apparatus and right-wing groups. At the moment, in all Western European countries intensified conflicts are taking place between natives from the lower layers of society (workers, welfare recipients, petit-bourgeois) and immigrants searching for self-reproduction possibilities; brawls between Greek and Albanian workers, attacks on Africans in Italy and France, arson against refugees' homes and street riots in Germany. The fact that the 'multicultural middle-classes' show up less doesn't mean they're less racist: for them, refugees initially provide no competition in the housing and labour markets, their kids don't have the problems of overcrowded school classes with a high percentage of foreigners, and asylum camps or ZASt are rarely if ever located in their neighbourhoods. In Germany, the demand for cheap labour has traditionally been met by immigrants. Until recently assimilated immigrants were able to secure wages approaching the levels of the worst paid Germans. Now German capitalists are trying to counteract this by a hierarchisation of immigration and a slowing down of the assimilation process. This is being accompanied by the implementation of seasonal contracts, and the use of casual workers from Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, CSFR, Bulgaria, Russia for much lower wages.

An illegal workforce is much cheaper for the single entrepreneur, but these 'illegal' immigrants pay no taxes or social contributions. However the German social system can only be financed by the immigration of a young workforce, whose education didn't cost the German state anything, and who are working here and filling up the coffers of the health insurers and pension funds, whilst receiving few, or no payments if they go back to their native countries. Thus the state has a financial interest in a legal regulation of migrant work. For this purpose, the Grundgesetz [provisional constitution of the BRD] article 16 which guarantees the individual the right to claim asylum and to stay in Germany until a court has decided upon the individual case is dysfunctional: after recruitment stoppage and the obligatory visa. it becomes the only way to legally come to Germany. It excludes the conditions of the free market and actually prevents the taking up of a job. But the concentration of immigrants in 'asylum houses' has served to make the refugees visible as a 'problem' whilst preventing contacts with other proletarians. Until now, this has worked quite well, preventing common struggles (e.g. for decent housing). But the bureaucratic process hinders people from starting a 'normal' job. At the moment less than 10% of those caught crossing the border illegally say they are claiming 'asylum'; most of them want to 'work' here and would rather get deported and try again soon than be subject to displacement in the camps under bureaucratic control. The most rational solution for capital (to let the workforce in) would be an immigration law. But such a law would be a de facto recognition of the rights of immigrants, hence other measures are being debated in order to provide a stronger hierarchisation of the 'foreign population' in Germany. But the pogroms are needed, too, to create the necessary 'pressure for action' for a change of the Grundgesetz and other measures - and to show the immigrants that they are second class people who are merely tolerated whilst they are willing to do the jobs Germans won't.

Crisis of the political class - crisis against the workers

The scenario of hostility against foreigners, supported by both the state and media, takes place in the context of the deepest political crisis in German history. Central to this crisis is the breakdown of the political machinery; the parties are failing in their role of recuperating the desires of the working class in order to sustain capital. Now the parties only represent themselves, and no one pretends otherwise. The system of the party-state doesn't function anymore. Although the parties are co-operating in a great coalition of crisis-management, neither the SPD nor the ruling coalition have a political programme. Compared to this, the slogans of the right-wing parties seem simple and understandable: against the 'Islamisation' of Germany, against the ECU, the few available flats for Germans etc... Thus the traditional parties are losing votes, as a significant section of the electorate refuses to vote or casts its vote for right-wing and populist parties. This is particularly so in the former GDR, where the collapse of the civil rights movement has been followed by the emergence of a new scandal-ridden political class. With its nationalisation, the church, in GDR times an 'oppositional force', finds itself in a deep crisis. Accepting separate wage levels for East and West Germany, the unions have also gambled away previous successes. The financial crisis of the state is also sharpened by the high costs of re-unification (i.e. payments for unemployment in the East, the building-up of the infrastructure, subsidies to capitalists willing to invest). The high interest rates serve to keep the state budget financeable and to slow down the boom. But this crisis is not a specific 'German problem'. In France and Italy, already the Gulf War had been used for a slow-down. The re-unification of Germany first resulted in a separate development. But after the summer of '91, unrest also grew among the West German workforce, despite both the metal union IGM and the public sector unions calling off strikes. Since then, the ruling class has turned to a policy of high interest rates, a social pact, i.e. a great coalition (and in our context: the deliberate escalation of the 'asylum problem', resulting in the introduction of new asylum laws on July 1st 1992). Now, simultaneously there is a slow-down of the boom, with factories being restructured for lean production, resulting in record levels of unemployment, the social cuts are deepening, and higher taxes and interest rates are eroding the value of wages.

As a result of a policy of high interest rates conducted through the European Monetary System, Germany is exporting its debts and unemployment into the other European countries - that is, into national economies already much deeper in crisis. The unrest in Greece and Italy shows that the bourgeoisie can't escape class struggle through the export of capital, They merely alter the location of this struggle. On this level, too, the Maastricht treaties have shown where Europe is heading: towards economic unification whilst delaying it at a political level, thus the illusion of 'social democratic' control of the EC has been postponed indefinitely. The reunification of Germany was conducted in a similar fashion as there was no 'political ' decision in a parliamentary sense, neatly illustrating the abdication of the political class. But, if an economic imperialism, ruled by anonymous bureaucrats and emergency governments, is capital's vision of future government, it would necessitate a substantial sharpening of repression in advance. In this case a strategy of tension would seek to drive the multi-party apparatus into coalition whilst repressing the social opposition. Whether it gets this far depends on working class resistance. We must remember that the ruling class are not heading towards Europe voluntarily, but because they are unable to survive in a national form - our aim must be to help them to an all-European funeral instead!


Review: The State Debate and Post Fordism and Social Form

Theorising the relation between state and capital is an important task. This review article looks at two important contributions to the understanding of this problem and places them in the context of the failed strategies of the left.

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

School, the police, social workers, the DSS, prisons....the proletarian rebel knows full well that the state is her enemy!

This immediate experience of the repressive nature of the state is a vital touchstone against those that would urge us to elicit state power to our advantage. Yet a simple gut reaction to the state is not enough; it is necessary that we understand both what the state is and how its role and function in the class war is changing. This has become vitally important in recent years. With the rise of the New Right under the libertarian banner of minimising the state, we are confronted with the wholesale privatisation of state provisions. In the face of the war of all against all of the market, state provision of welfare and the NHS etc. all too often seems the preferable false choice. Without a clear understanding of what the state is, and how its role and function is changing, it is all too easy to be led into either defending in isolation a simplistic anti-state position - a position that all too frequently ends up as seeing the state as simply an instrument of some grand conspiracy of capital - or else abandoning an anti-state perspective in practice and relapsing into liberal campaigns that seek simply to lobby the state for various reforms.

It is therefore vitally important that we develop our theory and understanding of the state. But where should we begin?

Together The State Debate and Post-Fordism and Social Form provide perhaps the most sophisticated Marxist theory concerning the state that has been developed in the last two decades, and both are worth consulting in order to come to an understanding of what the state is and how its role and functions are changing in the present period of capitalism.

The State Debate and Post-Fordism and Social Formare the first two books in a series that seeks to bring to a wider audience various debates and discussions that have emerged within the Conference of Socialist Economists, and its journal Capital & Class, over the past decade. As collections of papers by leading Marxist academics that make few concessions to the lay reader both these books appear at first sight rather formidable, if not dry and inaccessible to the non-initiated. However, the editorial introductions to both of these volumes go a long way towards placing these debates in context and seek to show how the collection of articles are not simply an irrelevant academic debate but a debate that has profound political and practical implications. Indeed the editors of both volumes see themselves as partisans in fierce polemic, and they make no pretence of presenting an unbiased selection of papers. As Simon Clarke, the editor of The State Debate, readily admits:

"The papers by Colin Barker, Joachim Hirsch and Bob Jessop provide a flavour of other sides of this debate. However, I make no apologies for the balance of the collection, or for the partisanship of this introduction".

Clarke, and Holloway and Bonefeld, the editors of Post-Fordism and Social Form, can be seen as on the same side in the underlying polemic that runs through both volumes. In this polemic Clarke, Holloway and Bonefeld side with those who seek to attack the prevailing structuralism and technological determinism of much modern Marxist theories of the state and the development of modern capitalism, which has led to the increasingly popular notions of Post-Fordism and the Post-Fordist state, by an insistence on seeing both the state and capital not as structures but as class struggle. The implications of which Holloway and Bonefeld make quite clear in the conclusion to their introduction to Post-Fordism and Social Form:

"There are two crucial issues in the discussion of Fordism and the Fordist state. The first is the nature of the present crisis. Is capitalism already on the way to overcoming the international crisis and to establishing a relatively stable basis for a new period of prosperity, as the post-Fordism thesis suggests, or are we still in the middle of a prolonged and quite unresolved crisis of overaccumulation, as Clarke suggests? The answer to this question affects dramatically how one sees the propects of world development and the urgency of the socialist destruction of capitalism. It is important to remember that the last major crisis of capitalism was resolved only through the destruction of millions of workers... . The second issue is how one understands the driving force of capitalist development. Given that there are major changes taking place in the pattern of capitalist social relations at the moment, how is one to unerstand these changes? As the replacement of one model by another, driven forward by the objective tendencies of capitalist development, or as a process taking place through constant, hard-fought struggle? If the former, we are confronted by a new reality, a closed structural-functionalist world which we are powerless to change, and all we can do is adapt or cry out in despair. But if the latter, we are faced with no 'reality' other than the reality of a constant struggle, a struggle of which we are inevitably part."

The State Debate And Post-Fordism and Social Form

For Clarke, the selection of papers he presents in The State Debate represent a re-emergence of a debate that originally began in the early 1970s and culminated in State and Capital : A Marxist Debate in 1978. Indeed, The State Debatecould be seen as sequel to this earlier work. As a consequence, Clarke in his introduction sets out by tracing the development of this debate of the 1970s and placing it within its wider political and historical context.

For Clarke, the debate in the 1970s arose from the inadequacies of the traditional Marxist theories of the state that been inherited from the two wings of classical Marxism. On the one hand the Leninist theories of state monopoly capitalism saw the state as simply an instrument of monopoly capitalism which had to be smashed before a socialist state could be constructed through which the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' could then be imposed. On the hand reformist and revisionists theories took the state as being simply a neutral instrument that could be wielded to the advantage of which ever class was able to assume the reins of government.

For Clarke, both the Leninist and reformist approaches to the state ran into problems with the electoral advance of social democratic parties in the 1960s. The theory of state monopoly capitalism was unable to account for how it was possible for social democratic parties to take charge of the state apparatus and hence it was unable to provide an adequate theoretical basis to inform the politics of those socialists within such parties. At the same time the reformist approach was unable to define the limits of state power. It was therefore unable to explain the difficulties facing socialist in exercising state power to the advantage of the working class.

So, for socialists attempting to advance socialist policies within the state apparatus both the theory of state monopoly capitalism, which denied the possibility of democratic socialism, and reformist theories, which denied the obstacles and limits to democratic socialism, traditional Marxist theories had ceased to be adequate. But there was a further inadequacy which, as we shall see, for Clarke was to prove even more important. Both these strands of traditional Marxist theory centred on the question of seizing state power. For the largely libertarian orientation of much of the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s such an orientation towards state power was irrelevant. It was in response to this situation that the first attempts were made to develop a Marxist theory of the state, which gave rise to the great debate between Milliband and Poulantzas.

Miliband began by raising the all important question of why it was that the state, even if it had a democratic constitution and the majority of the population were working class, acted in the interest of the capitalist class? Why was it that even democratic states were capitalist states? Drawing from the empirical and commonsensical traditions of British academia Miliband's answer to this was simple enough. The state acted in the interest of the capitalist class: firstly because the leading positions within the state apparatus were held by members of the bourgeoisie; and secondly because the economic power behind capitalist lobbyists was far greater than other interest groups. Thus although the state may be democratic, and while it may be open and pluralistic, the economic power of capitalists interests and the bourgeois sympathies and perceptions of those running the state apparatus meant that the policies of the state were dominated by the minority interests of the bourgeoisie.

Miliband's theory of the state implied that it was not sufficent for socialist to capture office. It was necessary for any socialist Government to be backed up by a mass extra-parlimentary movement that could counter the political and economic pressures that would be brought to bear against socialist policies both within and outside the state apparatus. Yet as Clarke observes, Miliband's theory of the state:

"...was unable to conceptualise the limits to the exercise of state power on behalf of capital, except to the extent that such exercise met with popular resistance. This laid Miliband's account open to the charge of offering an 'instrumentalist' theory of the state, which ultimately reduced the state to an intrument of the capitalist class, and a 'voluntarist' theory, which saw the limits to state power in the organisation, will and determination of the contending classes."

In Britain, where even the leadership of the Labour Party was dominated by public school and Oxbridge graduates, and the state was infused by notions of class privilege, the ideas of Miliband may have appeared not only sufficient but even self-evident. However, they soon became contested by the far more sophisticated theories emanating from France which were being put forward most forcefully by Poulantzas.

For Poulantzas it was simply not enough to say that the state apparatus was dominated by members of the bourgeoisie. In fact there were many instances where the state was run by classes other than the bourgeoisie, or was run by a distinct faction of the bourgeoisie, yet they still were capitalist states that ultimately ensured the dominance of the general interests of capital. Indeed, the problem for Poulantzas was to explain how the state could be capitalist without the bourgeoisie necessarily having to act as the ruling political class.

Simply put, the answer Poulantzas offered to this problem was that the state could only act within certain limits that were determined by the capitalist mode of production. The state could only function if it had the power to raise taxes and command material resources; but, so long as the material reproduction of society was based on the capitalist mode of production, this power ultimately depended on the success of capitalist accumulation. If the state persistently acted against the interests of capital then sooner or later the conditions for capital accumulation would be undermined, the economy would be thrown into crisis and the state would find it increasingly difficult to command the material resourses it needs to function.

So, for Poulantzas, insofar as society was structured by the capitalist mode of production, the state was always 'determined in the last instance' by the need to sustain capitalist accumulation. Yet within such structural limits Poulantzas suggested there was a large degree of relative autonomy for state policy and political action. Political conflict would necessarily arise between various classes and factions over the determination of state policy and this would give rise to the formation of various class alliances and 'hegemonic blocs' between the dominant classes and factions through which the state was run.

As Clarke points out, although both Miliband and Poulantzas went beyond the traditional Marxist theories of the state, they were still bound by the old socialist project of contesting state power. Such a political imperative was increasingly divorced from the practical political struggles that were being fought in the 1970s in which the struggle was primarily against the state rather than for it. As Clarke himself puts it: "This perspective was increasingly remote from the popular struggles which were developing through the 1970s, which confronted the state more and more directly not as the prospective instrument of their liberation, but as the principal barrier to the realisation of their aspirations."

This point became increasingly apparent to many within the CSE from their analysis of contemporary struggles around housing and labour processes. It was this that led Holloway, Picciotto, Clarke along with others, to attempt to develop the theory of the state further, so as to consider not only the capitalist content of the state but also its form: that is to not only understand what the capitalist state must do but how it must do it. For a theoretical starting point for such a theoretical project, that would allow them to break from the Poulantzas and Miliband framework, they looked to the state derivation debate that had been developing independently in Germany.

For the German theorists any Marxist theory of the state had to begin with the categories of Marx's Capital. For them Capital was not simply a Marxist political economy that was counterposed as a radical alternative to bourgeois political economy, and to which a Marxist sociology, a Marxist political science and so forth could be simply added in accordance with the given disciplines of bourgeois social science. Rather Capital was a critique of political economy as such. It sought to go beyond the analysis of the bourgeois economy to grasp capitalist society as a totality. In doing so Marx's critique had to expose the readily apparent objective categories of bourgeois political economy - money, commodities, capital etc., as reified social relations that assumed the social form of things, and which in turn gave rise to idea of political economy or economics as a distinct 'objective social science'.

As a consequence, these German state theorists did not simply set out to develop a Marxist theory of the state within the confines of 'political science', as both Miliband and Poulantzas had sought to do, but rather sought to derive the state form from the very categories of Marx's Capital, and then, in doing so, show how the sphere of politics manifests itself as being both distinct and separate from that of the economy.

The implications of this approach was that the state was not presupposed as something separate from capital, which then had in some way to be articulated to it, as either an instrument or as a relative autonomous structure and apparatus, but was rather a manifestation of the essential social relations of capital that necessarily has to present itself as something separate and distinct from capital and the 'economy'. In short, within capitalism, we have to begin by recognising that the state is capital!

Of all the German state theorists it was J. Hirsch who was most influential in Britain, and it was his version of state derivation that served as the inspirational source for the attack on the Miliband-Poulantzas orthodoxy, that was collected together by Holloway and Picciotto in the seminal : The State and Capital: A Marxist Debate. However, even then, as Clarke admits, there were vital differences between Hirsch and his British adherents, the full significance of which only began to emerge with Hirsch's attempts to reformulate his theory of the state in the light of the new French regulation school in the early 1980s. It is these differences that underpin the arguments and polemics fought out in the articles collected together in both The State Debate and Post-Fordism and Social Form.

As Holloway and Bonefeld make clear in their introduction to Post-Fordism and Social Form, Hirsch had been preferred over other German state theorists of the 70s because he went furthermost in escaping from the 'capital logic' approach, that was prevalent within much of the German debate, which tended to see the state form as simply a function arising from the needs of capital for an apparently independent social form above competitive battle of contending capitals. Indeed Hirsch had insisted that the form of the state had to be logically derived before any functions could be ascribed to it. As a consequence the state form could be seen as subject to class struggle.

In so far as there were differences between Hirsch and his British followers it was over the importance of historical analysis. Indeed, in their introduction to The State and Capital, Holloway and Piccitto had criticised Hirsch for taking the emergence of the state form, and with it the manifest separation of the economic from the political, as a 'once and for all' historical act, rather than one that had to be repeatedly reimposed through class struggle. However, at the time this difference was seen mainly as a matter of emphasis which only implied the need to supplement Hirsch's state theory with more historical orientated analysis.

With Hirsch's reformulation of his theory of the state in the 1980s it became clear that this difference of emphasis between logic and history was symptomatic of more fundamental differences that arose from Hirsch's failure to fully break with the functionalism of the 'capital logic' approach. In his articles reprinted in both The State Debate and Post-Fordism and Social Form , Hirsch attempts to give his theory an historical dimension by adopting the French regulation approach that saw the crisis in capitalism of 1970s as a shift from a Fordist 'mode of accumulation', involving mass production and mass consumption, to a post-Fordist mode of accumulation of flexible specialisation etc. For the French regulation school, this shift in 'mode of accumulation' which centred on the process of production, demanded a wider shift in the regulative institutions of society that ensured the overall reproduction of capital and labour. This, for Hirsch, implied a change in state form from a Fordist to a post-Fordist state, which he then sought to analyse.

In embracing the French regulation school so as to historicise his theory of the state, Hirsch relapsed into structuralism. Indeed, as Holloway and Bonefeld point out, Hirsch takes up many of the structuralist concepts of Poulantzas. As a result, Hirsch falls into the ultimately determinist and fashionable view of the 1980s which saw the emergence of a post-Fordist/post-modernist era as the inevitable outcome of the development of the objective laws of capitalism, with all the political implications of accepting the 'new realities' of the end of the working class and the rise of designer socialism that this implied.

In The State Debate and Post-Fordism and Social Form these political implications are drawn out and ruthlessly criticised at a theoretical level. As such we find several lines of attack. Firstly there are those at the level of method through which the regulation school and Hirsch's reformulation of state theory is attacked on the basis of its disarticulation of class struggle and structure, its underlying technological determinism, and its misreadings of Marx. While secondly there are those on a historical level which raise questions over the precise periodisation of capitalism into pre-Fordist, Fordist and post-Fordist modes of accumulation. Through all these lines of attack, as we have already noted, the underlying argument against the structuralist orthodoxy is that capital is class struggle.

So what are we to make of Post-Fordism and Social Formand The State Debate? Quite clearly we must side with the editors in their polemic against the post-Fordist etc. With Hirsch retreating into the comfort of his professorship, insisting that we understand everything before we act:

"...we must come to a clear understanding of the trends in social development and of changes within capitalist formations. Only then can we realise the relevance of movements and conflicts and the conditions for social-revolutionary politics in today's society, and only then will we be ready for political action."

Or Jessop who, in failing to fully recognise the political implications of the regulationist theory and the reformulation of the state approach, blithely suggest they provide a 'good framework for a research programme'; our sympathies are clearly with Clarke, Holloway, Bonefeld et al.

Yet if we consider the polemic more closely we can only take sides with certain reservations. Firstly, on closer inspection, it becomes clear that Clarke, Holloway, Bonefeld et al in making their polemic against the post-Fordists, fail to critically situate themselves and their relation to the left. Indeed, the sheer vehemence of Holloway and Bonefeld's attack on the post-Fordism is perhaps in some sense due to their belief that post-Fordism, and with it designer socialism, is nothing other than a betrayal. Yet the degree to which these theoretical comrades were originally on the side of 'real socialism' in the first place is never adequately considered. Secondly, the insistence that capital is class struggle, while vital in the polemic against structuralism is not without its own problems and ambiguities.

Let us first consider our reservations concerning Clarke, Holloway, Bonefeld et al with regard to their situation and relation to the left. For this we should perhaps look a little closer at Clarke's introduction to The State Debate. While this introduction seems a reasonably comprehensive contextualisation of the debate and its origins there are two points that are not adequately addressed and which gives us clues to the politcal position of Clarke, Holloway, Bonefeld et al's. Firstly Clarke does not really explain why the debate over the state became silenced in the late 1970s. He states that the debate was primarily for 'political clarification' and alludes to the changing political climate but does not tell us anything further. Secondly, he does not discuss in any detail the political context that led to the re-emergence of the debate in the 1980s nor its political significance.

In order to draw out the implications of these omissions we must seek to place Clarke's history of debate into the wider and more explicit context of the crisis of the New Left of the late 1970s and the failure of the left strategies of the 1980s.

The crisis of the New Left

In the wake of the proletarian offensive of the late 1960s and early 70s the New Left broke into two parts. On the one side there were, what have since become known as, the new social movements; feminism, ecology, squatting, gay liberation, black liberation etc. All these movements, whether 'oppositional' or 'alternative', combined a utopian vision for the transformation of society, preserving the communist hopes of the heights of the proletarian offensive, with practical everyday activity on the personal level. As a consequence these movements adopted a distinctly anti-state ideology and as such came to constitute what became known at the time as the libertarian left.

On the other side, in the face of the 'political and social realities of the post '68 era' many in the New Left turned towards reviving the organisations of the traditional left. Thus not only was there a resurgence of Trotskyism (at least in Britain) either in revised or in traditional forms, but also a concerted attempt to renovate the old Stalinist Communist Parties! So rather ironically, while the New Left had originally emerged as a reaction against the excesses of Stalin that had resulted in the invasion of Hungary in 1950s, less than twenty years later many New Leftists re-entered the Communist Parties so as to reform and rehabilitate them. This resulted in the emergence of Eurocommunism which sought to distance the Communist Parties of Western Europe from the ideological commitment to 'proletarian revolution', a commitment that had in effect served to reduce the Western Communist Parties to being little more than a tool of USSR foreign policy during the Cold War, in favour of a electoral strategy of capturing state power.

For the erstwhile students of the class of '68, who had now begun their 'long march through the institutions', Leninism, whether of the Stalinist or Trotskyist variety, offered a privileged role as leading intellectuals planning the political strategy on behalf of the working class. As these students of '68 became the lecturers of the 70s, Marxism became academically respectable. But this academic Marxism was dominated by the structural Marxism of Althusser: the arch renovator of the French Communist Party, who saw the party intellectuals as the sole producers of scientific truth. As Althusserain Marxism swept all before it, being championed by the vanguard of intellectual Marxists of the New Left Review , so Poulantzas, structural Marxism's representative in the field of political science, rose to pre-eminence.

This then is the broader context within which the Poulantzas-Miliband debate emerged. But by the late 1970s both the two separate wings of the New Left were in crisis. In Britain the proletarian offensive had been successfully contained into established political and economic channels and had as a consequence become diffused. Capital's counter-offensive had now begun. This had become clear when the Labour Party formally abandoned Keynesianism and embraced monetarism with James Callaan's speech to the Labour Party conference in 1976, and his subsequent letter of intent to the IMF. This was followed by a programme of drastic cuts in public expenditure and the complete abandonment of the Labour manifesto's commitments to make an 'irreversible shift of wealth in favour of working people'.

With the rise of the New Right and the first cold breezes of monetarism, the New Left was thrown into crisis. For the libertarian left the new political and economic climate threatened to reduce the space for building and experimenting with alternative structures and lifestyles, while the increasing power of the right exposed the weakness and lack of unity of the new social movements that were all busy 'doing their own thing'. At the same time, both the weakening of working class militancy and the open failure of the Labour Government, and its traditional social democratic project, had opened the way for the growing popularity of a more virulent right. The looming prospect of a Thatcher Government, along with the rise of the National Front, cast doubt amongst those on the 'far left' that only a few years earlier had been 'preparing for power' after the fall of the Heath Government.

The impact of this crisis was to stimulate an intense bout of self-criticism that was finally resolved in an all-embracing call for left unity. Perhaps one of the most important examples of this reaction, and one which Clarke, Holloway, Bonefeld et al politically connect to, was Beyond the Fragments. Beyond the Fragments was originally a discussion paper that brought together the various experiences of three women who had been active in both the feminist movement and various Trotskyist and 'far left' groups. As such it ably expressed the crisis confronting both the feminist movement and the more 'soft' Trotskyist groups such as the IMG that had sought to mobilise the new social movements within a Leninist framework.

By the late 1970s the feminist movement was in deep crisis. With the original impetus of 'consciousness raising' running out of steam, and in the changing political and economic climate, the womens' movement became racked with tensions and divisions that had been emerging between socialist and radical feminist. In the face of the general retreat of radical feminists into either mysticism or separatism, socialist feminists had become increasingly concerned that the feminist movement was becoming little more than a middle class ghetto that was failing to address the everyday concerns of working class women. A failing that was becoming ever more important with the threat to womens' rights posed by the rise of the right.

Yet, at the same time, socialist feminism had found the often authoritarian and depersonalised forms of organisation and politics of the 'traditional male left' in stark and uncomfortable contrast to forms of organisation and politics that had been developed within the feminist movement. What is more, their repeated efforts to reform such organisations and to reorientate their politics in a feminist direction had proved more than disappointing.

It was in this context that Beyond the Fragments emerged as an attempt to go beyond the failure of both the feminist movement and the Leninist left. Drawing on their experiences, the contributors to this work provided perceptive criticisms of both these movements, and implicitly the New Left in general. Yet for all its perceptiveness in detail, Beyond the Fragments failed to go far enough. It failed to see how the left could act as a means to recuperate struggles, and for all its criticisms of Democratic Centralism it failed to get beyond the idea of Party and social democratic politics. In refusing to impose a solution to the crisis of the New Left, in recoiling from the 'ultra leftism' of the autonomist movements that at the time were raging in Italy, Beyond the Fragments ended up as a vague appeal for an uncritical left unity. An appeal for unity that eventually ended up as a rallying cry to join the Labour Party!

Another response to the crisis of the late 1970s was the work of London-Edinburgh Weekend Return Group which became published as In and Against the State. This group of radical academics and professionals, of which Holloway was a leading member, sought to address the important question facing many of the class of '68 whose professional careers were coming into contradiction with their socialist beliefs. Indeed, the organisation of 'radical' professions were proliferating in the late 1970s whose pretensions were ably criticised at the time:

"These 'radical' specialists (radical lawyers, radical architects, radical philosophers, radical psychologists, radical social workers - everything but radical people) attempt to use their expertise to de-mystify expertise. The contradiction was best spelled out by a Case Con [an organisation of 'radical' social workers] 'revolutionary' social worker, who cynically declared at a public meeting, 'the difference between us and a straight social worker is that we know we're oppressing our clients'. Case Con is the spirit of a spiritless situation, the sigh of the oppressed oppressor; its the 'socialist' conscience of the guilt ridden social worker, ensuring that vaguely conscious social workers remain in their job, whilst feeling they are rejecting their role...The academic counter-specialists attempt to attack (purely bourgeois) ideology at the point of production: the university. Unwilling to attack the instituition, the academic milieu, the very concept of education as a separate activity from which ideas of separate power arise, they remain trapped in the fragmented categories they attempt to criticise. Non-sectarianism is the excuse for their incoherence..."

Using the concept of state form as their theoretical basis, Holloway and others sought to show how it was possible for 'radical' professionals, by identifying themselves as state workers, to contest the forms of state provisions so that the class struggle could be waged in as well as against the state. Whatever we may say against it, this work did raise important questions with regard to the need to go beyond simply defending state provision of welfare that was the common response of the left to the rise of monetarist policies, so as to challenge the form of state provision that had long served to demobilise the working class. Indeed, In and Against the State proved far more perceptive than Beyond the Fragments in its warnings over the dangers of using the Labour Party to seize local Government and was well aware of 'state workers' substituting themselves for their clients in the struggle in and against the state:

"When the crunch comes, when Whitehall's commissioners move in to deal with over-spending, will people in these areas unite to protect the councils that defend 'their' services? We hope so, but we fear not".

Yet for all this, In and Against the State, with its resolute 'non-sectarianism', ended up simply appealing for the left to take these concerns on board. It failed to see how the social democratic project of 'building socialism' was a necessary part of the state-form and its demobilising of the working class. As a result it too ended up in the movement for an critical left unity which subsequently underlay the mass stampede into the Labour Party.

The left's strategy in the 1980s

It was this left unity, that preceded the influx of much of the New Left into the Labour Party at the end of the 1970s, which brought an end to the original debate over the state. Within the broad church of the Labour Party all the former divisions were dissolved in the common project of 'democratising' and capturing the Labour Party for the left and seizing control of local government as a stepping stone towards winning the next election. This not only culminated in the near victory of Tony Benn in the deputy leader elections in 1982, and the changes in the Labour Party constitution, but also, and more importantly, with the fall of the GLC into hands of the left.

The capture of the GLC allowed the co-existence of various tendencies within a broad 'right on' left populism. Erstwhile eurocommunists could practice implementing an alternative economic strategies for an economy which was, after all, 'bigger than that of many Third World countries'. The neo-Gramscian proponents of establishing a cultural hegemony of the left could revel in the numerous festivals put on by the GLC, while the various new social movements found official recognition in the appointment of various committees and officials.

Yet you did not have to be a reader of Class War to know that the GLC was one big gravy train for trendy middle class professionals. The appointment of numerous highly paid professionals to look after special interest groups such as blacks, gays women etc. did little to 'empower' the class. Indeed, they often worked against the class by dividing people into special interest groups. In Lambeth the lefty council did not hesitate to evict squatters so that it could build a housing advice centre so that social workers could have a place to advise the homeless!

The politics of the GLC was often more to do with image than anything else. A point borne out not only by the insistence of renaming everything in 'right on terms', so that for instance professionals became known 'workers' (thus lawyers became 'legal workers' while accountants became 'finance workers' and so forth) but also in its gesture politics. Ken Livingstone's incessant need to maintain his reputation culminated in the London Transport fiasco when, after the law courts over-ruled the GLC's cheap fares policy, Red Ken threatened to defy the law only to back down at the last minute, in the end managing to pose for the cameras buying his ticket showing he wasn't such a 'red' after all!.

Clarke significantly avoids dealing with the left in the 1980s. While he declares his aversion to the dangers of a left populism, he is far from being unsympathetic to the politics of 'harnessing the resources of the local state' and concludes that while such strategies failed they should not be considered misguided. For as he says 'history judges the losers harshly'. This failure to criticise the politics of the GLC means that Clarke's introduction fails to draw out the full significance of the State Debate as part of a response to the immediate aftermath the defeat of this left strategy of the early 1980s.

For the rats fleeing the sinking ship of the left, the leap from the image politics of the GLC to the designer socialism of Marxism Today and its associated fads of post-modernism, post-Fordism post everything, was after all not that great. Indeed, it was the 'socialist planners' of the GLC that hailed post-Fordism as the way forward to regenerate London's economy, drawing as their model the Communist Party controlled municipalities of the 'Third Italy'. It is only by understanding the debate over the state and post-Fordism etc. as part of a wider polemic against what is perhaps seen as a betrayal, or at least a pessimistic turn, of erstwhile 'comrades' that we can appreciate much of the underlying verhmence that we find in many of the articles in both these volumes. And it is perhaps only through such an understanding that we appreciate the full political significance of this 'debate'.

This brings us to the second part of our reservations towards Clarke, Holloway, Bonefeld et at. The political ambiguities that we have outlined above are reflected in at the abstract theoretical level. While a comprehensive analysis of this beyond the scope of this review we should perhaps note a few salient points.

In Post-Fordism and Social Form we find Holloway and Bonefelds' repeated insistence against Jessop that capital is class struggle! Indeed this insistence is perhaps vital for them if they are to press home their polemic against what they see as the structuralist orthodoxy of much of Marxist theory. Yet while we must be sympathetic to this stress on class struggle we should perhaps retain certain reservations. Thus when they claim the backing of Marx by returning to Capital to derive the centrality of class struggle to Marx's own analysis then we must concur with Jessop when he indicates that the categories of Capital are very far from being explicitly embued with class struggle. Indeed, we would argue that in Capital Marx necessarily takes as his starting point the critical perspective of the bourgeoisie. A perspective through which class struggle is only implicit, or at the most marginal to the development of the exposition. As a result what strikes the reader who is aquainted with the importance of the question of class struggle for Marx is its apparent absence in the pages of Capital.

To understand what capitalism is, Marx was obliged to begin his critique from this critical perspective of the bourgeoisie. But from this perspective capitalism does appear as simply the autonomous movement of structures; capital developing in accordance with its own objective an inexorable laws. To make class struggle explicit we have to go beyond these categories. We have to invert them. The failure to do so can only generate problems particularly when we seek to return to Marx to derive our theory as form-analysis seeks to do.

Thus for example when Marx shows how labour takes the social form of value he presupposes the defeat and subsumption of the worker. Indeed, as self-expanding value, capital is the presupposition of the repeated subsumption of living labour; it is the triumph of dead alienated labour over the living. Capital is class struggle only in that it is not class struggle; that is in so far as it is the provisional defeat of the working class. A similar argument could be advanced for the state formas a defeat of the autonomous organisation of the working class.

It would be unfair to say that Holloway and Bonefeld etc. are completely unaware of this. Yet we may suggest that their failure to fully recognise this point leads them into certain ambiguities in order to preserve the value of their role within the state. Thus, for example, Holloway makes a distinction between state-form and the state apparatus which, as Clarke has pointed out, seems to imply that: "...the bourgeois state apparatus can somehow be given a socialist form."

So what then are to make of The State Debate and Post-Fordism and Social Form? Both Post-Fordism and Social Formand The State Debate provide a important analysis of the nature of the state and the current period of capitalism. An analysis that is for the most part directed against the prevalent structuralist and objectivist Marxist orthodoxy. As such we are sympathetic to them but with certain reservations. For us the struggle is not to 'build socialism' or to democratise capitalism, it is for communism. A project that demands no complicity with the recuperative strategies of the left and social democracy.


Aufheben #03 (Summer 1994)

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 25, 2006

Auto Struggles: The Developing War Against the Road Monster

From capital's point of view, the motor industry is both a vital element in a modern transport infrastructure, necessary for the expanded reproduction of a variety of sectors of the economy, and a locus of expansion in its own right. From the proletariat's perspective, the freedom offered by the car is merely a formal freedom; the consumer-citizen's freedom of movement has as its premise and its result the atomization and enslavement of the class in work and in leisure.

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005


Britain's first motorway opened in 1958 on a wave of auto-triumphalism. Motorways were presented as both an answer to 'the public's' transport requirements and an essential component of the modern infrastructure British capital needed to compete with its European counterparts.

The growth of bypasses (and bypasses round bypasses) has been promoted in the same way. These new roads appear to reflect a compromise between transport needs (of both freight and private motorists) and the needs for freedom from transport: the next road is always the solution to the congestion of the last one. And it's perfectly true; the growth of the car and its environment the road do represent a compromise. Increasingly, however, our relationship with motor vehicles and roads reveals the contradiction at the heart of this compromise: the products that promise to liberate us actually destroy our spaces and enslave us in work and in leisure.

What is of interest to revolutionaries is the way this revelation is not simply unfolding mechanically as an objective and quantitative relationship between natural resources and technical capacity. Such factors play a part insofar as we become more conscious of them; but the most important elements determining how many of us are coming to define our relationship with cars and roads are the growing struggles around road developments. These struggles have brought many people into direct and effective confrontation with capital, this despite the fact that such actions are understood by many of those involved in purely 'moral' or purely 'ecological' terms.

To suggest that many of those involved in these struggles do not have theory adequate to their own practice is not to say that they won't develop their ideas through their engagement in these struggles. Neither is it to say that we at Aufheben have a completed theoretical understanding of the struggle over roads. If we knew where the roads struggle was going we'd be there already. Instead, we are in a similar situation to many of those involved in this struggle - involved and trying to understand what's happening in order to involve ourselves more effectively. The present article is a contribution to this ongoing attempt to understand and act in these struggles.

Part 1: The importance of the car to the modern economy

Roads serve cars. In order to explain current struggles over roads we need to trace out the development of the forces that have led to the modern proliferation of motor vehicles. First, however, we will briefly rehearse some of the more well known arguments against roads.

Know the enemy

Much of the following is fast becoming common knowledge and hardly needs elaborating.

Pollution and health: Car fumes are linked to respiratory diseases such as asthma, particularly for children. The car is responsible for 90% of U.K. emissions of carbon monoxide; it also produces lead and benzene; all are poisonous gases. Among the other nitrous oxides the car produces is carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse gas. And if they can't gas you or destroy your climate they'll run you over: 4500 people die on Britain's roads each year. These deaths are depoliticized by referring to them as mere 'traffic accidents' or 'problems on the roads'; they are not in fact incidental and inevitable - they are a consequence of a particular mode of accumulation and social existence, and therefore contestable. They are part of a vicious circle, however; concerned for their kids' safety on the busy roads, an increasing number of parents now drive their offspring to school - so contributing to the problem they're attempting to avoid.

Land: In London, 25% of land is devoted to the car. Every mile of motorway takes up 25 acres of land. DoT figures forecast an increase in car numbers of up to 140% by 2025 to a total of 39,000,000; this would require a motorway 257 lanes wide between London and Edinburgh to accommodate them and an area twice the size of Berkshire to park them. Furthermore, the aggregate industry blights quarrying areas such as the Mendips, Snowdonia and the Scottish Highlands as it extracts 250,000 tonnes of sand and gravel for each mile of motorway. This destruction of trees and green areas amounts to a loss of a communal resource; the continued need for further road building is therefore incompatible with our need for countryside.

Energy: It might also be argued that, since more 'eco-friendly' alternatives to petrol are viable, oil is best reserved for use in plastics etc. However, this argument does not necessarily mean accepting the 'energy-crisis' thesis.

Who needs roads?

Do roads harm everyone's interests? Liberal critics of the road and motor industry add to the list of woes above the following points:

Roads are becoming increasingly less cost effective; the cost of 'improving' them is going up.

And as soon as new roads are built and old ones expanded, they fill up because increased road transport is encouraged. Congestion is therefore not improved and businesses pay the cost of traffic jams.

Finally the liberal critics argue that particular car/road capitals are cutting 'everyone's' throat in the long run because 'we' can't carry on indefinitely using resources in this way.

But, although particular capitals tend not to operate in terms of the future interests of capital in general, there is no reason in principle why a 'greener' capitalism can't be developed. (In fact, it is being developed right now to recuperate the developing 'green rage' into consumer channels.) So why has the car been preferred to more eco-friendly alternatives, such as rail transport? Tracing the development of the motor car industry - and thus road expansion - historically, we can observe a number of forces at work.

Capital needs transport

To put this history of car industry expansion in perspective, however, we need to point to capital's general requirements. Capital is a relationship which necessarily seeks to expand itself. Capital is, essentially, the boundless expansion of value (i.e. of alienated labour) - it is the need and striving to achieve such indefinite expansion. In other words, the economy must expand or die! Thus one important indicator used by economists to gage the health of an economy is percentage growth in gross national product.

>From the capitalist's perspective, one way of creating profit (i.e. surplus-value) more quickly, and hence speeding expansion, is to reduce turnover times; the capitalist always seeks a way of producing goods more quickly and getting them to market more quickly.

Expansion and faster turnovers require efficient transport. Raw materials need to be moved from their source (e.g. mines, farms etc.) to factories to make new commodities. These commodities in turn may need to be transported to further factories to modify their use-value and value before they reach shops. Finally they are transported to shops in order to realize their values in the realm of consumption.

The dynamic of the motor industry: from labour process to way of life

The need for the road-building programme is the need of an alien power. Roads are not simply for moving commodities about per se. Capital needs more roads simply because the motor industry still represents a key locus for its expansion.

As it has grown to serve the needs of particular capitals, the motor industry has developed new needs and desires of its own - desires which draw their energy, vampire-like, from the energy of its host, the proletariat, and which have pushed the motor industry into a pivotal position in its own right in developed economies. But how has it been able to do this?

Railways and the rise of industrial capitalism

A hundred years ago it was not roads, but the railways which were the dominant capitalist mode of land transport. Railways were the iron sinews that had drawn industrial capitalism to its feet. Indeed, the spread of railways across the globe was then synomous with the spread of industrial capitalism.

Providing the rapid and efficient transport of people and commodities over vast distances, railways had made possible the concentration of production in factories centred in large industrial cities. Whereas before production had been dispersed in traditionally based cottage industries and sold for the most part in local markets, the railways had made it possible to concentrate and totally reorganise production in huge factories that could supply both national and world markets. In this way the railways had facilitated the destruction of the old craft skills, which had given workers a large degree of control over their labour, and had thereby served to impose the real subsumption of labour under capital.

With workers concentrated in factories under the direct organisation and supervision of the capitalist and his functionaries, the railways provided the means for the further subordination of the worker to capital that came with the mechanisation of factory production. Mechanisation of production required huge quantities of steel to build and maintain machines and even greater quantities of coal to power them. It was the railways, that are so perfect for hauling bulk materials rapidly over large distances, which provided the vital means of transport without which mechanisation of production would have been impossible.

Yet the railways did not merely make industrial capitalism possible, the railways epitomised early industrial capitalism. The mechanical regularity of the machine that reduced the movements of the worker to its own rhythms in the factory were replicated in the punctual regularity of the railway timetables that confined movement of people to the discipline of precise departure times. The railways after all were the mechanisation of transport.

Having facilitated the development and concentration of industrial capitalism, by the end of the nineteenth century the railways had come to stand alongside iron and steel and coal as one of the central pillars of monopoly capitalism. But with the turn of century this era of capitalism entered into a period of grave crisis whose resolution saw the decline of railways and the rise of the motor industry as a central locus of capital accumulation.

The crisis of monopoly capitalism and the decline of the railways

The development of the factory system and the growth of huge industrial cities brought with it the emergence of the urban industrialised proletariat that stood opposed to capitalism. But capital was not simply confronted by the sheer numbers of the working class that were now concentrated together in the factory and the city but also by their growing power within production. Although the old craft skills that had given the traditional artisan control over his work had been swept away by industrialisation, many industrial workers had become able to define, develop and defend new industrial skills that were vital to the industrial production process. Such skills were evident on the railways as any other industry. The management could not hope to understand the complexities and idiosyncrasies of driving and stoking a steam engine any more than they could hope to develop the finely tuned ear of the wheeltapper.

In response to the growing power of the working class, the bourgeoisie pursued a policy of divide and rule. While attempting to repress the demands of the mass of unskilled workers, skilled workers were conceded higher wages while their limited control over production came to be tolerated. To pay for such concessions capital either had to cut the costs of raw materials by increasing the exploitation of the colonies or else by exploiting their monopoly positions to push prices up at the expense of non-monopoly and pre-capitalist sectors of the economy.

In most industries monopoly prices could only be obtained by restricting domestic production and thus severely limiting the scope for domestic capital accumulation. Consequently, this excess of both commodities and capital drove nationally based capitals to find foreign outlets. With the drive to export capital and commodities, and the need to secure cheap raw materials to cut production costs, international competition and imperialist rivalries intensified.

By the first decade of this century this intensification of international competition, together with the growing power and militancy of the unskilled working class, had reached the point where the capitalists were forced to begin to reconsider their compromise with the skilled workers. However, attempts to cut skilled wages and to wrestle back control over the production process through the introduction of Taylorism (i.e. scientific management through time and motion studies etc) only served to increase the militancy of skilled workers who now in increasing numbers began to flock to the banners of revolutionary syndicalism under the slogan of 'workers control of production!'.

With the mutual intensification of international competition and class conflict capitalism faced a severe crisis which threatened it very existence. The question of the day had become that of, war or revolution!

In 1914 war broke out and engulfed the capitalist heartlands of Europe. Three years later, after millions had been slaughtered in the trenches, revolution broke out in Russia which then sparked a wave of revolutionary movements across mainland Europe. After several years of bitter and intense struggles the revolutionary workers movements in Europe were both defeated and defused one by one by social democracy, fascism and stalinism. Yet despite such defeats, it was not until 1945, after another bloody world war, that capitalism was able to resolve the crisis of monopoly capitalism and establish the basis of a new era of accumulation centred around what has become known as the post-war settlement.

The post-war settlement and the rise of the car

With the class compromise of the post-war settlement, which was established in varying forms throughout the advanced capitalist nations, the working class, in effect, abandoned all hopes for the end of capitalism and relinquished much of its existing control within production. In return the working class was offered the welfare state, the promise of stable full employment and rising living standards.

Yet the post-war settlement, and with it the post-war boom, was only made possible on the basis of a new strategy and mode of accumulation - Fordism. Fordism was based on the mass assembly line production of standardised consumer goods which was made possible by the replacement of the skilled worker by semi-skilled assembly line workers, that then allowed management detailed control over the labour-process. With such detailed control, assembly line production opened up a huge potential for the application and refinement of 'scientific management' and automation which together opened the way for an enormous growth in the productivity of labour.

This scope for raising labour productivity meant that, within the bounds of increased productivity, both wages and profits could rise at one and the same time. With rising wages, and the relative secure employment offered by Fordist production methods, Fordism was then able to provide the basis for mass consumption which was a necessary condition for its own reproduction. The mass production of consumer durables created the effective demand for such consumer goods by creating a relatively prosperous working class.

The analysis of Fordism, and the institutions such as collective bargaining and Keynesian demand management that arose to ensure that the mass consumer demand was able to match the expansion of mass production, has been dealt with in great detail elsewhere. Our main concern here is to stress the centrality of the motor industry for Fordism.

Fordism, as it name indicates, was first pioneered by the Ford motor company in the 1920s, and further experiments were made in Nazi Germany with the development of the Volkswagen (the peoples car) and the building of the Autobahns across Germany in the 1930s. As such the motor industry became the model for whole number of consumer durables that followed its lead, such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines, hi fis etc

But the car was not merely the first in a line of consumer durables to be produced by Fordist production methods it was also the foremost. After housing the car has become the biggest purchase an ordinary consumer is likely to make, being the equivalent to several months wages. Furthermore, the production of a car involves a wide range of industries ranging from rubber, steel, plastic, electrical, oil together with support industries such as road construction, advertising and finance. The broad range of such economic linkages has meant that large and diverse sections of the modern economy have become dependent on car production to such a degree that car production has become an important economic indicator in its own right. As has been said 'when General Motors sneezes America catches cold!'.

But it not simply at an economic level that the car, as the exemplar of Fordist production, has served to sustain the post-war settlement and the partial truce in the class war. The car has played a prominent role in altering the life and conceptions of the working class which has served to consolidate the social and ideological conditions of the class compromise established within the post-war settlement.

With the post-war reconstruction of bombed cities throughout Europe the opportunity was taken by capitalist state planners to break up the old working class communities and relocate the working class in new tower blocs, new towns and 'Garden cities' and in the middle class suburban areas that had grown up in the inter-war era. This dislocation of the working class from the location of production was at first made possible by the development of public transport, but its further development was consolidated by growing car ownership.

This relocation of the working class, which was increasingly made possible by the spread of the car, was in many ways a major advance for many who were able to escape their old slums and claustrophobic communities for modern housing with inside toilets etc. But it was a gain that had its cost. With the break up of the old communities came the break up of the old working class solidarity to be replaced by the isolated individualism of the new sterilised housing estates. Neighbours are now never seen as they rush past in the motor cars and as neighbourhoods become more dangerous and unpleasant due to increasing traffic more and more people retreat into the comfort of their houses.

Thus the car has become a bubble, a sealed environment, a shield from the picket line; it renders relations more distant in the way that public transport cannot. For businesses, motor transport has become an ideal way to employ scab labour. Potential militancy by railway workers, who could gather together and organise co-ordinated shut-downs at stations and depots, preventing vast amounts of commodities and raw materials moving, could be bypassed with a fleet of individual contract lorry drivers. The lorry has almost become identified with the scab, particularly since the role of TNT in the News International dispute.

Thus although the working class is still concentrated in urban areas this threat to capitalism is mitigated by containing the working class as consumer citizens esconed in their little metal boxes, forever moving past one another in the incessant movement of traffic.

The car and bourgeois freedom

Crossland, the great labour politician of the 1950s who saw in the post-war settlement the advent of socialism, once said 'after one man one vote: one man one car!'. Clearly for the post-war ideologues, from Crossland to Thatcher the car epitomises freedom and democracy, and we would say indeed it does!

For the individual car ownership does offer a leap in freedom and opportunity. The freedom to go where and when you want. A freedom undreamt of for working class people of earlier generations. Indeed, for many learning to drive is the major break from the stifling restrictions of the family and the first step to adulthood.

Yet this increase in individual freedom serves to reduce the freedom of everyone else. Other car drivers now face that much more car congestion and delays; pedestrians, particularly mothers and children, become more restricted by the fear of death or serious injury by one more car; while people suffer more traffic noise and that much more pollution.

The freedom of movement offered by the car becomes increasingly a formal freedom, a representation of freedom, as everywhere becomes the same as it is tarmaced and polluted to make way for the car. As the car becomes the norm, the freedom of the car becomes a necessity, as the mundane acts such as shopping becomes impossible without access to a car. This has already become the case in Los Angeles and is rapidly approaching with the development of out of town super stores.

In casting us as consumer citizens the freedom of the car, like all bourgeois freedoms throws us into a war of all against all where other car drivers serve as merely obstacles and restrictions to our own inalienable right of movement. This inalienable right of movement consequently demands the duty to obey the highway code and traffic laws which is in turn enforced and guaranteed by the state. Through policing the roads and by giving an open ended commitment to provide new road space, the state ensures the bourgeois freedom of movement.

Yet as the volume of traffic grows at a rate faster than road construction the car has nowhere to go (except to take its owner to work) but yet has everything to say. The car has long since become less of a mere means of transport and more a means of identity. In curtailing the possibility of direct communication the car has to say what we are for us. Whether it is that we are upwardly mobile or a conscientious environmentalist the car says it all.

Although the working class offensive of the 1960s and 1970s which threw the Fordist mode of accumulation into crisis and forced a major restructuring of capital, this has not affected the continuing centrality of the car. Indeed the associated struggle of women and youth against the old patriarchal family structure which found its modern material expression in the family farther driven car designed with a wife and 2.4 kids, has long since been recuperated in the drive to sell cars to women and the young (and would be young).

So the car has not only become central to the accumulation of capital over the past fifty years, but has also become a vital means in consolidating the class compromise that has made such accumulation possible. The promise of physical freedom and mobility offered by the car has led to the political demobilisation of the working class.

Developing European markets

Infrastructures must be improved and updated in line with sources of raw materials and new markets. The European Union, for example, is an internal market, an attempt to integrate European national capitals and particular capitals within European Union nations to maximize the realization of surplus-value by stabilizing market relationships. The European Union has drawn up plans for the massive upgrading of a number of strategic road systems across Europe as part of a 'Trans European Route Network', an infrastructure to serve the needs of European capital as a whole by allowing greater efficiency in the movement of freight. The plans for British roads are centred around those trunk-roads serving the Channel Tunnel (e.g. the Folkestone to Honiton road, the M25 and all those roads coming off it) and the links between the Eastern ports of Harwich and the Western side of the country. Roads ministers talk of the individual elements of these roads (e.g. the A27, A35 etc. on the Folkestone-Honiton route) each being 'improved' independently but in fact they are being massively upgraded and augmented in conjunction to accommodate (and encourage) freight lorries. Aside from these public plans there are schemes that have been evolving 'organically' with the growth of bypasses. Now many new bypasses are to be linked up to form 'superhighways'. The widening of the M42, M6 and M1 is part of this process.

The increasing integration within the world market of the eastern European markets of Russia, Poland etc. represents further expanding needs by capital for road development. Raw materials and finished commodities now need to travel regularly across the whole of Europe, hence the EU's plan to integrate a road system all the way from Cork to Moscow.


Even without the efforts of the planner-union, particular capitals in the form of factories, retailers and road haulage firms are increasingly demanding and filling more road space. One trend which has been becoming more influential in this escalating need for road space and lorries is use by businesses of the 'just-in-time' system. The just-in-time system began as a production strategy aimed at economizing on time and space on the shopfloor by having efficient communications in the production process to ensure that only what was immediately required was built, thereby saving on warehouse/storage space. A firm using this system therefore attempts to save money by cutting down on warehouse workers, managers and bookkeepers etc. The just-in-time system reduces turnover time by reducing production time to the time actually spent in valorization itself - eliminating latent (i.e. potential) productive capital and unproductive labour.

Their 'economizing', their reduction of 'costs' is our intensification and rationalization of work. Just-in-time is essentially a method for imposing discipline on workers through surveillance and through their internalizing the regime's rules and needs.

Factories using the system have many small deliveries a day (instead of a single larger delivery) from their suppliers, many of who in turn would be adopting the system. This amounts to using the road itself instead of a warehouse! What they save on warehousing costs, we pay in terms of loss of environment and air quality!

Worse still, since the advent of the bar code, communications technology has allowed the just-in-time system to be extended to retailers. Major stores are increasingly moving to huge out-of-town sites and using less site space for warehousing; they use bar code scans at checkouts to determine which items are selling and have them delivered constantly from manufacturers and their own warehouses on other sites. These out of town stores choose greenfield sites not far from major roads to which they add service roads. Or if they cannot find a big enough out of town site near a major road, they will offer money to a local council for a 'bypass' which will then be used by their lorries. This is what has been happening, for example, in Yeovil with a proposed Sainsbury superstore.

The motor industry remains a key indicator in the world economy. The nexus of related industries which depend for their continued expansion on the car point to its crucial position. The massive growth of cars has required a massive growth of roads. In Britain and the USA the underdevelopment of the railways means that the roads are in many cases the essential artery for the creation of virtually all commodities and the realization of their value in the market place. Given all this how can cars and roads be neutral? They are forms of technology, and no technology is developed outside the class war. They represent a particular definition of progress; and all definitions of progress depend on who has the power to decide what is good and what is needed.

Having outlined how the vital roles played by the motor industry and road construction in the modern capitalist world, we will now move on to the new forms of opposition to the car/road vampire that have been developing in Britain in the last few years.

Part 2: Against the road/car empire! The nature of current struggles

The factory and beyond

The provisional truce of the post-war settlement was abruptly renegotiated in the late 1960s, a process which is still continuing. But the cracks were appearing long before then. Just as working class power forced capital to develop new modes of accumulation, these new modes created new social subjects with new forms of resistance. The intensification of the labour process and the institutionalization of struggle in collective bargaining gave rise to a trend towards the refusal of work itself in the 1960s, particularly in Italy, where the Turin motor factories were a central site of struggle in the 'hot Autumn' of 1969. The ongoing elimination of powerful sectors of skilled labour and this new refusal of work in the proletariat signalled the demise of the privileged position of the workplace itself in class warfare.

New social subjects

In the factory, capital responded with Neo-Fordism. This was an attempt to make work less mechanical and monotonous. It added flexibility, variety and a human face to alienation with the aim of getting workers to internalize the capital relation in the form of self-management and self-discipline (e.g. semi-autonomous work groups at Volvo); thus it was intended to preserve profitability by cutting down on absenteeism. Neo-Fordism came to British workplaces in 1980s and is still being contested today. Other, parallel, trends were already developing. Since the 1970s, capital has been attempting to restructure social relations by 'diffusing' the factory; this is an attempt to defuse the mass worker, the antagonistic work-refusing subject produced by Fordism. Capital has therefore been attempting to subsume social labour as a whole. At the same time, class antagonism was already being recomposed at a higher level, and struggles beyond the direct workplace were becoming more important.

The battleground of the diffused factory has developed and changed with the mounting attack on and defence of the social wage. Original methods have been found to use aspects of capital's 'victories' against the capital relation. The car features in many of these struggles, now not only as parts on a conveyor belt (exchange-value, bargaining chip) but also as use-value turned against capital itself. The car has become identified as the ubiquitous emblem of modern democratic identity. The very ubiquity of the car, particularly the expensive car, as both representation and embodiment of value, makes it a popular point of attack - as in the poll tax uprising of 1990, for example. However, the car itself can also be the very vehicle (pun intended) for the negation of the modern democratic practices of property ownership, representation, money and work. Cars were used effectively in the Los Angeles uprising of 1992 to loot and attack property, for example. Similarly, the riots of summer 1991 revolved around police attempts to clamp down on joy-riding and ram-raiding, activities which were in many cases popular in their local communities as both forms of entertainment (to watch as well as do) and alternative methods of providing means of subsistence.

Similarly, the burgeoning anti-roads movement is another expression of class antagonism and therefore an attack on capital. Anti-roads actions (occupations of land, 'monkey-wrenching', wasting construction companies' time and money etc.) are direct attacks on the intended expansion of a crucial capitalist industry.

It may be objected to this claim that many if not most of those involved in the many anti-road actions that have been taking place over the last two or three years do not necessarily understand their actions in anti-capitalist terms, that they do not have socialist or communist theories, and that this is the case because they have a coherent identity of struggle only in the sphere of culture (i.e. consumption and politics) - they are not directly connected with the means of production (the true 'levers of power'), and in their composition they are thoroughly heterogeneous (anti-roads campaigns are often made up of a odd alliances of respectable middle class types and unemployable eco-warriors); they are not therefore a true class force, a potential agent of fundamental transformation, in themselves.

Before examining in detail the practices and ideas of the anti-roads movement(s), let us digress for a moment to examine these claims, using our analysis of the class struggle since the Second World War developed above.

Against workerism and social science


The claim that the anti-roads movement, although a fight against some of the more obnoxious effects of capitalism, cannot in itself be an assault on capital is an argument associated with Leninism. Leninists would ask us to believe that anti-roads actions are only of value insofar as those engaged in them can understand (through their defeat or through party propaganda) that building the party is the only solution to their problems. They ask us to believe, in other words, that our own struggles, needs and oppression are not in themselves part of the class struggle and that we can only connect with the class struggle by building an abstract party in preparation for the 'real' struggle. The party's needs are thus privileged over our needs.

The Leninist argument is based on an outdated understanding of the proletariat. As we argued above, the demise of powerful sectors of the skilled working class and the extension of the factory to all aspects of society means that the ontological privileging of the industrial working class is no longer tenable. Certainly, during the time of the Second International, revolutionary strategy revolved around the power of certain sectors of skilled industrial workers, who, because of their skills and perspective, were in a position to bring about change simply by taking over existing means of production. But now, increasingly, everywhere is the factory, everywhere is the battleground: from the university to the dole, from the street to the office. In each of these areas capital has to impose control to ensure the (re)production of labour-power. Each of these areas is therefore capable of being an arena of struggle with the potential and the need to be an intrinsically valid moment of total transformation. By the same token, in analysing the significance of current anti-road struggles, it is not enough to look at people's class backgrounds (the 'odd alliances' mentioned above); it is also necessary to look at what people are actually doing, and the effects of their actions.

And why should we want to take over the existing means of production, anyway? They are not neutral; they were developed to oppress us - that is the function of Taylorist/Fordist/just-in-time practices. Taking over these 'levers of power' is simply to introduce further planning to capitalism. It is no coincidence that Luddite-type ideas are now common among militant sections of the young proletariat. Capitalism is now a world system, forever trying to subsume our activity in ever greater detail, and actions by any sectors to break the capital relation are all equally valuable. The proletariat isn't the 'workers' - it's the obverse of capital; and communism isn't an ideal or programme - it's the movement that carries out this negation of the capital relation.

Social science

A comparable argument against the significance of struggles like that of the anti-roads movement is made from an area of the social sciences that has become a growth industry since the late 1960s - the study of social movements. Weberian and postmodernist perspectives come to remarkably similar conclusions on this. But this is hardly surprising given their common origins in the attempt by liberal academia to recuperate revolutionary theory. These accounts of the 'new social movements' - anti-nuclear, gay, green, black and women's liberation etc. - argue against the validity of class analysis by accepting the Leninist definition of the class war then 'finding' that it longer exists. Instead, particular 'ideologies' (i.e. sets of ideas) give coherence and structural significance to collective actors, and define their difference from and supersession of the 'traditional ideologies' (practices and roles) of class politics Where it is allowed in the analysis, class conflict is understood as just one of many possible sites of collective conflict, one that is not of key ontological significance, and one that is fast going out of fashion.

These theorists avoid relating particular forms of oppression to the requirements of capital, and thus they exclude issues of how resistance might therefore entail resistance to capital, not just to particular loci of power based on 'moral positions' or 'counter-ideologies'. It is a function of their purely analytic perspective that they attempt to grasp the significance of 'new social movements' merely in their subjective aspects (their various ideas) and ignore their objective effects on capital - and thus how they might recreate themselves as a class subject. The sociologists limit the significance of the 'new social movements' to the particular, apparently disassociated aims of 'identity politics'; they exclude what such movements might share and therefore where their logic might lead them in relation to the totality. These academic perspectives, like their workerist political counterparts, deny the dynamic relation of the 'new social movements' to 'class politics'. These 'new social movements' theorists attempt to undermine a class understanding of these movements with their dull empiricist emphasis on differences of appearance; they attack with their theory the theory and practice of the proletariat by denying that capitalism is the issue and that it might be overthrown.

None of this means that we don't recognize the moments of dogma, liberalism and lifestylism in the 'new social movements'. Quite obviously, many of the new movements are consistently limited in their aims and actions or function only to disempower and channel away the energies of potential activists through bureaucracy and representational methods. Although the 'new social movements' are expressions of class antagonism, they have to discover this - and this is something that is by no means guaranteed. Thus we can accept that there may be an element of truth in the suggestion by the 'new social movements' theorists that such movements embody ideologies. But there never have been 'pure' movements. And a movement, like the current anti-roads movement, which stresses action without a conscious coherent political critique of capitalism is no worse (and is often better) than a Marxist theory - like so much Leninism - without a grounding in effective practice.

The current anti-roads movement

In describing the present state of the anti-roads movement, it may be useful to begin with its precursors. This is so because many of those involved in present anti-roads actions draw on the theoretical and practical heritage of certain other movements, whether they participated in them directly or whether they only know the ideas through literature, slogans and arguments.


What is now called the green movement in Britain has taken a number of different forms. For example, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE) was born as long ago as 1926 to meet needs not met by the National Trust. The CPRE's target was, and remains, 'urban sprawl'. Until the 1970s, 'green' campaigns like this remained the preserve largely of middle class types who would campaign in a traditional middle class way (i.e. public enquiries etc.).

Popular environmentalism

In the 1970s, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth emerged as a more populist force in green politics; these groups were able to attract a large number of young people who actually wanted to do something, so there were publicity stunts and direct attempts to 'save the planet' organized in the name of these groups. In the 1980s, however, FoE and Greenpeace became more professional in their approach. Now, much of their 'activity' involves commissioned reports and types of lobbying, with the bulk of the membership being reduced merely to raising money to pay for these experts to do their thing. At the same time that this was happening, the Green Party began to expand rapidly and extend its profile. However, a process paralleling in some ways the demise of FoE and Greenpeace took place here too; this led eventually to some of the more professionally minded 'leaders' leaving the Party to the liberal anarchist types.

In each case what has happened is that a need for 'action' of some sort - the very aspiration that made these green groups attractive to many people, particularly young people - has been met with the argument that change can only be effected through official channels. The failure of these groups in the eyes of would-be green activists has fuelled the popularity in the 1990s of Earth First!, a group which has put the emphasis unambiguously on action. At the same time, there is a trend (particularly since Twyford Down - see below) away from a purely 'NIMBYist' basis to groups opposing roads; the issue has become increasingly seen as affecting 'the planet' not just particular 'back yards'.

The British version of Earth First! will be discussed below. It takes its name and much of its ideas from the American Earth First! movement. Earth First! began in America as a number of individuals who were prepared to do whatever was physically necessary to defend the natural environment. Though their literature still carries the monkey-wrenching message, the character of the movement has become more liberal and their anti-human deep ecologism has softened.

'Direct action'

Other important precursors of the present movement(s) are the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). (particularly in its Greenham Common type manifestation rather than its manifestation as an organizer of national marches ), and the animal rights movement.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the peace movement (in Britain, at least) tended to overshadow the green movement, and the liberals and radical liberals who might otherwise be campaigning against nuclear power (and other environmental issues) were campaigning against nuclear weapons. Since the peace movement went into decline, the environmental movement has grown correspondingly.

>From these movements the anti-roads movement has inherited its radical liberalism and militant moralism and its range of methods (collective direct action, individual specialisms as well as lobbying and publicity stunts.) The CND technique of civil disobedience, on the mould of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, sits alongside the 'by any means necessary' doctrine of Earth First! and animal rights strategies. The coexistence of these currents is not simply due to theoretical incoherence on the part of those involved, or even mutual tolerance of different points of view. Their shared emphasis on morality (good and evil) has allowed them to coalesce in the new superordinate theme of saving all life on the planet (life and the planet being essentially good) from the evil road monster.

The present wave of anti-roads movements typically stress 'direct action', but this can mean a number of things. Borrowing from the CND tradition, the term often means civil disobedience or symbolic protest; but, borrowing from the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) tradition, it may also mean attacks on property, defined in law as criminal damage.

Many of the ideas and practices from these older movements (monkey-wrenching, setting up camps, non-violence, moral arguments) were used in the first major site of struggle, that at Twyford Down. The Twyford struggle not only consolidated some of these older themes as dogmas; it also produced new ideas and new practices as many people learned how to struggle directly for the first time.


Locals opposing the M3 extension at Twyford had already begun to realize that constitutional methods (lobbying, petitions, letters, public enquiries etc.) were a waste of time when a small number of people turned up and camped on the site where the construction work was due to begin. So began a long war of attrition, with a growing number of Donga dwellers, travelling eco-warriors and their local supporters occupying land, bridges and machines and sabotaging property in their efforts to save the land. For a while protesters were highly successful. At first, security men were bewildered and unable to respond effectively when people sat in front of bulldozers. Finally, however Group 4 security launched a mass assault on the protesters occupying the site.

In terms of the quality (methods) and the mass (numbers involved) of the anti-roads movement, the protest movement against the M3 development through Twyford was pivotal. Vast amounts of investment money were wasted through the protesters' delaying tactics, sabotage and the subsequent security costs. The events at Twyford led to recent changes in the law to shorten the appeal period for proposed trunk roads, the aim being to prevent opposition groups from organizing. In effect, the more traditional methods of green campaigns have been rendered even less effectual. But this is actually not a problem for the new movement which in many cases does not rely on these methods and indeed doesn't spend time on formal organizational issues. Despite the stress by many anti-roads groups that 'direct methods' will be a 'last resort', there is an increasing recognition that the constitutional methods are a waste of time and that public enquiries cannot be of use.

The decision last year to cancel (or at least postpone) the scheme to demolish Oxleas Wood, South-east London to make way for a road was due to the Twyford precedent. Another Twyford was feared when hundreds of people let it be known that they had pledged to hold hands round the bulldozers. A recent government document lists over 100 controversial road schemes, and includes some details of the nature of the opposition in particular cases, testifying to the growth in anti-roads campaigns since Twyford. For example, it states that 'Residents of Maisemore are leading ostensibly environmentalist campaign' and that 'Residents of the area north of the existing A38 are mounting a strong NIMBY campaign'.

The campaign against the M11 link road

The level of campaigning has varied across the country. But perhaps one particular struggle has stood out in the last year both in terms of the quality and quantity of the forces of opposition: the fight against the proposed M11 link road in east London.

History of the struggle

There have been plans to build a road linking the M11 with Hackney since as long ago as 1911. For a number of years, a relatively small number of locals have produced newsletters, held meetings, attempted to lobby MPs and engaged in all the other ultimately futile, methods to stop the road. However, as far as most people in the area (comprising Wanstead, Leyton and Leytonstone) are concerned, the collective campaign began in earnest in September 1993 when the developers' bulldozers first appeared. Most of the people who were sitting in front of bulldozers, occupying sites and trees and locking themselves on to JCBs with bicycle D-locks in September and October comprised experienced eco-activists who had moved to the area a few weeks previously. They included Twyford and Jesmond Dene veterans, such as Earth First!ers, the Dongas, Dragon, Rainbow and Flowerpot tribes, and individuals forming themselves into new anti-road groups, such as Reclaim the Streets and Road Alert who aimed to link up with the radical elements in Alarm UK and the traditional green campaign groups.

The fact that it was the nature-loving eco-warriors and not the urban locals who were involved at this stage was slightly paradoxical given that in these early skirmishes the issue was less 'trees' and 'green areas' but housing. The proposed link road would go through about 350 houses. The Department of Transport bought all these houses a long time ago and has been throwing people out of them for years. Once people are evicted, firms like those scumbags Squibb & Davies are brought in to make the houses uninhabitable: toilets are blocked and smashed, floorboards removed, stair cases demolished, doors and windows breezeblocked etc. to deter squatters. >From the beginning of the campaign, then, the defence and restoration of these houses as dwelling places was important. The empty houses in the area were treated not only as a general living resource to be defended, however, but also as weapons. The houses could be used not only as 'permanent' homes but also as places to crash for people coming up occasionally to join in the struggle and as bases for information and communication, meetings and coordination.

Although most local residents didn't want the road, they were not yet prepared to get directly involved in action against it. There seemed to be a feeling that, since the decision to build the road had gone ahead, and since the bulldozers had already arrived, there was nothing they could do about it. Things began to change when the developers fenced off George Green, Wanstead, to begin work in that area.

Continuing the peasants' revolt!

A short historical digression at this point. George Green used to be part of Epping Forest (could we make it part of Epping Forest again?). Now only a few trees remain, including (until December last year) a chestnut tree which was hundreds of years old. At the time of the enclosures (eighteenth century), the area was the scene of bloody battles as peasants fought to save the common land from the schemes of the money-system. George Green was said to be one of the few areas in the country where the enclosures were repelled and the land remained common.

The details of this story may be apocryphal, but it resonates with some of the events of November-December 1993. On Saturday 6th November, the peasant's revolt to reclaim the land from the designs of the money-system broke out again. And again our needs, as users of the planet, were successfully asserted over the insatiable and destructive needs of the handmaiden of the money-system - the road/car empire.

While the houses were perceived as private, and not a community natural resource, the Green was recognized by locals as a common facility; its 300 year old chestnut tree was perceived as of historical, practical and symbolic value to the local children. A children's tree-dressing ceremony organized by eco-warriors and local campaigners attracted a large number of local families who were dismayed to find that the developers had fenced off the land with nine-feet high hoardings in order to dig up the earth and cut down the tree. The first few that climbed over the fence were restrained by the security men. But then the kids started climbing in. The security men and cops didn't known what to do. And pretty soon there was nothing they could do because they were outnumbered inside the site. People then took over the site. The kids often led the way in this; for example, they demanded that the security men release those eco-warriors they were holding.

Immediately after a mechanical digger was occupied and made to leave the site, people spontaneously made practical use of this opportunity and began undoing the digger's work by carrying the earth back to the roots of the trees! The digger had made an enormous pile of earth, perhaps hundreds of tons; but people made a line and used bags to carry it all back to where it belonged.

De facto common land!

Still police and security men were doing nothing to hinder this action. Having seized the initiative, those involved quickly saw the need to act on their power and go further in reclaiming the land. So they pushed the fence down. Once the first bit went down, more people joined in. People acted fast and in unison, and eventually very little of the fence was left standing. The police intervened very late and by then most of the necessary work had been done. The 'site' had been transformed into de facto common land! Earth removal and flower planting by locals went of all over the weekend. By Monday, most of the earth had been returned. On Monday, security men were told by their bosses to get everyone off the 'site'. But this simply wasn't practicable. By dismantling the fence the boundaries of the site had been destroyed. It couldn't operate as a site any more.

To date, this event has been perhaps the high point of the campaign. Not only symbolically but also practically, it changed the shape and size of the struggle overnight. A tree-house was constantly occupied in the old chestnut tree which became a site for daily gatherings. The new people that were drawn in potentially provided the necessary numbers for further occupations of the land as well as other activities.

'Blue Tuesday'

A month after the Green was reclaimed from the developers, hundreds of people stood vigil all night after hearing rumours that an attack on the old chestnut tree was imminent. Two hundred pigs turned up at half past five in the morning and fought till the mid afternoon to remove people from in and around the tree and to prevent them from hindering the actions of the sheriff's officers, cherry-pickers and the mechanical digger which eventually felled all the trees in the area.

A lot of the locals who had gathered under the tree didn't know what to expect and were disillusioned by the action of the police. Although far bloodier crowd scenes than this have been witnessed in London in recent years, many of the locals perceived the police as 'excessively brutal'. However, this revelation about police priorities and the logic of democratic power has not necessarily translated into a greater commitment to direct and non-constitutional methods of action. Despite its lack of formal organization, the campaign is already characterized by a relatively consistent ideology (an ideology which is consistent over time rather than internally coherent, that is) which provides support for the persistence of certain practices and attitudes. Below we discuss how such ideas are perpetuated by the social situations of the struggle.

Fall of Wanstonia

The houses occupied by campaign members in Wanstead were declared 'The Autonomous Free Area of Wanstonia' in January this year. This was basically a publicity stunt. The well publicized 'fall of Wanstonia' (16 February 1994) also functioned as a publicity exercise for the campaign although it was at the same time a serious, committed and often courageous attempt to protect perfectly sound housing from the sheriff's bailiffs and 700 police who turned up to evict people. The DoT were so desperate to get on with the work that they began demolishing the houses when there were still people in and on the roofs of some of them. Since then, although activity has continued in Wanstead, the campaign's centre of operations has moved down the route of the proposed road to Leytonstone.

Composition of and relationships in the struggle

The battles in Wanstead have been just a small number of episode in a long term and continuing struggle. But the story of the initial victory and eventual (although provisional) defeat allows us to draw out a number of themes on the nature of this struggle as whole, themes which illuminate some of the dilemmas of the anti-roads movement generally.

'Locals' and 'activists'

Many of the new people who join the campaign have remained largely passive or auxiliary in their functions. Squat opening, eviction of security from houses and house restoration has attracted some local involvement (particularly in Leytonstone), but machine sabotage and demolition hindrance has been left largely to experienced eco-activists. Locals have often preferred to leave it to the 'experts'. Many of them also perceive internal difference in the campaign in terms of 'full-timers' and others. On this continuum there are at one end people who do nothing else but take part in the struggle and at the other end people who only turn up when they are not at work. Locals often admit that they have to much to lose in terms of jobs etc. and therefore won't engage in some activities that could mean injury or arrest.

But it would be easy to exaggerate the extent of this division of labour. Initiative and influence sometimes shifts in the struggle itself and the 'local' - 'eco-activist' distinction doesn't always hold up in practice. Thus, although many older residents have largely limited themselves to providing resources for the 'committed eco-warriors' (e.g. food, blankets and wood for the tree house), site occupation has been popular among local youth, who, since the first George Green struggle have been keen to act directly. The eco-warriors brought with them to this struggle a heritage of useful experience of methods, but locals of all ages were leading the fence pushing in November.


For those locals critical of the struggle the issue is one of 'outsiders' imposing themselves (and their 'hippy' lifestyles) on a respectable local community. This argument has been the main ideological weapon of the locals who want the road, including James Arbuthnot, the absentee MP (an irony he appears not to notice). Involved locals recognize that the issue isn't where people come from but what they are prepared to do; they simply want as many people as possible to help them fight the road. Eco-warriors add that one more road encourages still more cars and ruins the quality of air for everyone and adds to the global environmental crises. But perhaps the central issue is that the outcome of the events in Wanstead/Leyton/Leytonstone have consequences far beyond east London. Any kind of victory for those acting against this road here will both discourage the roads industry and encourage those involved in similar struggles in other parts of the country (just as Twyford and Oxleas Wood have inspired this struggle).

The housing issue

Twyford was about 'nature', 'science', 'history' and 'mysticism'; it was a relatively untouched green area historically associated with the Arthurian myths. A road through east London, however, presents more of a threat to human lungs and housing needs than to natural eco-systems and historic sites. A common source of outrage for many of those involved in the Wanstead struggle is the waste of what would otherwise be perfectly good houses just to build yet another road. The proposed road leads directly to Hackney, which has the highest concentration of squatters of any London borough; and all this at a time when squatting is under threat from new legislation to criminalize it. The sad irony is that, despite the current levels of homelessness, the squatting movement has been unable to contribute sufficiently to the anti-M11 struggle. The reclamation of houses has been too slow relative to the rate of their eviction and demolition, and even when houses have been restored there have sometimes not been enough people to inhabit them!

Some locals saw the tree occupation etc. important purely as a way of giving the campaign media publicity. But it was actually a very important delaying tactic, in itself a direct way of hindering the road scheme. The housing issue has therefore not been overshadowed by the struggle over the Green simply because 'green' issues were being fetishized. The focus on the tree and the Green, although symbolic of the struggle (green issue, community resource, living area etc.), remained at the level of a tactic in terms of its importance.


The unifying theme of non-violent direct action (NVDA) has also been an important inclusive strategy in the campaign against the M11 link road. Its prevalence in the campaign reflects both factors operating directly in the immediate situation, and the existence of pacifist ideology which has been imported from previous struggles but which is readily appropriated by people in the current situation.

Factors in the situation

We can identify two reasons, reflecting the nature of the situation in east London, that have favoured non-violence: firstly, a concern with getting others to join in, and hence with public (media) image; and secondly, the relative effectiveness of operating within the unwritten rules of civil disobedience.

Public support and media image

Campaign propaganda and activity often reflects the dilemma over whether the emphasis should be on appealing to or on shaping 'public opinion'. Those involved in the campaign in the Leytonstone and Wanstead area do not want to cater to every prejudice in an effort not to annoy and drive away the locals from the campaign - hence intra-campaign arguments for 'looking smart' in order not to alienate the middle classes have been rejected. Yet the usual 'practical' argument against violence has been that the campaign will lose 'public support' if we start punching cops etc - even in self-defence! It is argued that 'others' will be more sympathetic, and perhaps even get involved themselves, if the campaign is 'peaceful'.

It is true that the general 'peacefulness' of the eco-warriors has made them attractive to the locals, in spite of the former's 'hippy' appearance. In Wanstead, it has been one of the factors drawing in local people, many of whom are happy to commit inspiring acts of criminal damage but like to justify their action in moral terms. The principle of 'non-violence' allows these people to see their actions, and the more committed actions of the eco-warriors, as based on a 'better' principle than the law of the land and the rule of money. They recognize, in other words, that the road is about 'materialism' (big business, profits, 'government corruption') and see themselves as a force of opposition to this in a fundamental way.

However, it is not simply because the 'activists' are 'peaceful' that greater numbers of locals have been attracted and radicalized. Numbers have swelled because campaign actions have been seen to be effective in slowing down and resisting the progress of the road.

A second point in relation to non-violence as a way of encouraging 'public support' is that there are limits to this numbers game. As discussed above, not everyone is involved in the campaign to the same degree. This in itself can sometimes be a distinct advantage.

For example, actions such as site occupations benefit from people distracting security simply by hanging around; moreover, even the 'passive' supporters' actions, such as bringing food, have been vital in terms of both sustenance and morale. The numbers have maintained the campaign at a high level of daily activity; a small number would be picked off or tired out too soon by the constant action.

Nevertheless, though people involved in the campaign sometimes talk as if they want to get 'everyone' involved, it is obvious that the quality of potential supporters is at least as important as their sheer numbers. Thus, those who are likely to initiate and take part regularly in campaign activities - in the vanguard of the struggle, so to speak - are more valuable to the campaign than those 'supporters' who actually do very little beyond express opinions and listen to speeches. The more radical and committed need less to persuade them to take part, and will not be put off if campaigners sometimes get a bit 'rough' with police or security.

The point is, then, that 'public opinion', conceived as a homogeneous and largely passive perspective that needs to be appeased by careful presentation of a putatively acceptable image, may not be as important as campaigners sometimes think in determining the success of the campaign. Examples from labour disputes in recent history serve to illustrate this point. Despite its poor public (i.e. mass media) image, and the weight of 'public opinion' against them, the miners' strike of 1984-5 could have won. Conversely, despite the fact that 90% of public opinion was behind them, ambulance workers had little chance of succeeding in their dispute. Positive 'public opinion' is useless unless it translates into effective activity.

Concern with 'public opinion' inevitably leads to attempts to attract the mass media. It is of course necessary that people hear about forces of resistance; they cannot take part if they don't know about them, and sometimes publicity stunts are a part of this process. But if the media are encouraged to present positive images of the campaign because campaign activists stress their pacifist identity and their 'democratic rights' to protest etc., then where does that leave other aspects of the campaign? The price of courting the mass media in this way is the (pubic) disowning of effective but illegal tactics such as monkey-wrenching and even the popular assault on the George Green fences as an 'aberration'. To rely on appealing to the democratic prejudices of the media in order to get publicity means to risk allowing the mass media to set the agenda - to determine the shape and nature of the resistance.

In fact, campaigners may again be worrying too much about creating a positive media image. The bad local press the campaign received throughout 1993 did it little harm. Similarly, the larger-scale bad publicity endured by the anti-poll tax movement (both for the riots and the non-payment campaign) had few detrimental effects.

Effectiveness of NVDA

As was mentioned earlier, NVDA is a term than covers a variety of activities, including occupations, site invasions and attacks on property. The basic rationale behind most of these methods is to waste the developers' money and hence ultimately create a climate where it becomes politically unacceptable for the Government to bankroll them any more. It might be argued that broadly similar methods, when adopted by CND, didn't actually contribute much to government decisions not to step back from the arms race; the slowing down of the arms race was actually prompted by international political and economic developments. We will not deal with the economistic aspect of this argument here except to say that changing 'economic factors' need to understood in the light of class struggles. More to the point is the fact governments are not so free as the argument implies to pump money indefinitely into unpopular projects in order to defeat resistance. In the case of the M11 link road, the Department of Transport are apparently bankrolling the construction firm Norwest Holst up to the tune of £2 million. Actions by campaigners have already cost hundreds of thousands. The DoT may well be happy to put more money in, but such a decision would have repercussions beyond the closed doors of a Whitehall office; the money would have to come from somewhere, and the potential victims of any shift in spending priorities would obviously be resistant. Thus if people campaigning against the road continue to waste vast amounts of money through their actions, new areas of struggle could develop at the same time. The campaign of NVDA could therefore be effective beyond its own immediate focus of concern.

But if NVDA is an effective weapon against property and capital, then the forces protecting property and capital must oppose it. How effective is NVDA in dealing with these forces?

In the past, non-violent occupation of land etc. in green campaigns (anti-nuclear actions, for example) has had a certain level of effectiveness because the individuals involved were clearly middle-class types (i.e. valuable skilled mental labour-power) and therefore the cops were reluctant to lay in.

In the final battle for George Green and the chestnut tree, however, many of the people defending the tree were clearly visibly distinguishable as 'non-workers', eco-warriors or alternative types - the people that police tend to hate. Although there were also a large number of locals present, many of whom were recognizably middle-class, these people were also kicked, punched and thrown in the mud etc. Police violence seemed to be determined less by their appearance (and thus their class position) than by where people were standing or sitting.

Despite this, it is generally recognized that the police are usually less willing to get stuck in in this way to 'locals' than to those perceived as 'eco-warriors'; this has been the experience at other actions on the campaign. But because so many people involved are obviously not middle class, overall there is little material back up (i.e., valuable labour-power) to the non-violence argument. There is therefore correspondingly greater stress on the moral, psychological argument of 'shaming' the oppressors in their treatment of 'fellow human beings'.

Those involved recognize that the moral high ground is not enough. So they supplement it with other psychological weapons, such as humour - which they also use as a publicity stunt. Many humorous tactics are made up on the spot and can therefore take the police by surprise. Thus the sudden decision by many of those present on 'Blue Tuesday' to express their love for the police by hugging them was deeply disconcerting to the cops and left them confused as to their response.

It is difficult to say whether the Gandhian techniques alone actually prevented police being more violent than they could have been; quite possibly they did encourage a level of restraint. Similarly, it may well be true that the injuries sustained on 'Blue Tuesday' would have been worse had the cops not seen campaigners' cameras trained on them. Either or both of these factors may have enabled people to fight all day without numbers being depleted by serious injuries. The fighting - and thus the use of non-violence and cameras - did not, in the end, prevent the Green from being taken by the developers, but it certainly wasted a lot of their time and money.

Regarding the use of cameras, those involved reason that, since mass actions are non-violent, they can use cameras without risking arrest among their own numbers. They hope cameras will deter police and security from violence and that, when police etc. do use violence, pictures will facilitate complaints and prosecutions. This assumes not only that protesters will be non-violent but also that they won't break the law in any other way. The latter has been a mistaken assumption on a number of occasions, such as the first great fence removal.

A second potential problem relates to the point discussed above about appeasing the media with a presentation of the campaign as consonant with legality. The police argue that the campaign's regular actions against machinery and property (and in particular the mass attack on the fences in November 1993 and the attack on site property on a big day of action in January this year) give them grounds to suspect that the campaign will do similar things in the future. Therefore they have been obliged to police the campaign more proactively. Unless the campaign disowns and suppresses its vital and inspiring attacks on property, it will have difficulty arguing that the police's actions are 'unreasonable' in law. Democratic rights are part of an exchange process or equation. If you accept that you have rights within the law (in this case, the rights to protest, the rights to be moved by the police using only minimum necessary force, the rights for your trespass of a building site to be treated by police as a purely civil matter), then you must also accept your duties within that same law - i.e. the duty to respect property. The police's suspicions of the campaign are reasonable; the campaign's arguments against them are often inconsistent, though campaigners themselves don't often recognize this. Given what the campaign has done and may do again, legal arguments and video evidence of police 'crimes' may therefore count for little.

Ideological aspects of non-violence

If a strategy is shown to be effective in a particular time and place then it risks developing into a dogma that will be applied indiscriminately. The importance of non-violence was inherited from Twyford (and before that from CND among others) and is already seen by some people as a principle rather than just a tactic.

Strategy as dogma?

As a principle, the pacifist qualification of the campaign's direct action is based on notions of an ideal, good human nature or essence which transcends historical manifestations of human activity, including class differences. On this account, there is no qualitative difference between the violence the personifiers and protectors of capital use against us (in order to alienate and exploit us) and our violence against them (in order to liberate ourselves from this alienation and exploitation). On this account, our oppressors are also human beings 'just like us' and to harm them would be to 'descend to their level'. Thus, during one of the minor fence-wrecking incidents, when someone new to the campaign was heard to call the security protecting the site 'Scum' he was told not to do so because 'They are human beings like us'.

The logic of this dogma is that we might simply have to accept being assaulted, alienated and exploited if we can't stop it through non-violent methods. This grotesque Gandhian inversion of what counts as 'evil', which prefers the moral high ground of risking personal injury rather than injury to 'others', also leads to the type of situation where some of the bravest eco-warriors go to the absurd lengths of almost sacrificing themselves instead of their enemies' machines! Sometimes machines are regarded as targets 'only in the last resort'. This idealist ideology sees only individuals acting out personal consciences and not class members acting on the basis of their collective power. It confuses similarity of appearance (punching, kicking etc.) with the content and object of the action itself.

In practice, whether it is ideological or merely tactical, the NVDA/civil disobedience techniques involve an appeal to the 'humanity' of police, bailiffs and security guards. Methods such as locking yourself on to machinery and barrels of concrete, lying in front of diggers and climbing on to them involve making ourselves vulnerable and thus forcing our oppressors to acknowledge their 'humanity' and their shared commitment to democratic rights and duties (e.g. 'the right to protest as a civil liberty', the value of 'life'). Verbal arguments with these foes take the same form; instead of being treated as cops etc., there is often an attempt to ignore the real objecthood of these social categories and relate to them on a 'human' level ('what you're doing is wrong. Your children will never forgive you').

Limits to NVDA

If cops and security can be emotionally blackmailed or shamed into some kind of restraint or defeat by these tactics then we are all for them. Indeed, the methods have proved relatively effective in the campaign up till now: they have wasted a vast amount of money and engaged a lot of people.

But if non-violence is a tactical necessity at present, this does not mean that it will be so in the future. To the extent that it becomes petrified as a principle, it could become a serious problem to the resistance to the road if that movement of resistance grows and conflict becomes more likely. It has often been argued that use of violence by the campaign would 'give the cops the excuse' to trash everyone. Of course, cops don't always need 'excuses'; so long as they're physically capable, they trash you if they think you're effective, not just when you are 'violent'. They don't use violence against us simply because they are ignorant and immoral; they do it because it works. They are not dogmatic about it; they have evolved their violent methods through years of trial and error. We need to evolve our methods likewise in order to continue our effectiveness in the face of threats from the cops.

Practical protest

Before leaving this question of pacifism it is necessary to stress that in this struggle it is not usually an abstract dogma but a predicate of direct action. People didn't simply hope that if they stood around long enough shouting 'Let us in' the security and police would do so; they did it themselves by tearing the fences down. Despite a concern with legal efforts, the crucial importance of action directly to hinder the road construction process is clearly recognized. Moreover, although many of those involved criticize aggression and violence, much of the 'non-violence' is far from passive and stoical. Damaging machinery and other property doesn't usually count as 'violence', for example. And during the fierce struggle of 'Blue Tuesday', people didn't simply sit waiting to be dragged off; they pushed police lines back, and snarled, shouted and swore at police. Despite the pacifist rhetoric, they were often an impressively intimidating and aggressive force.

Input from Earth First!

Earth First! (UK) has had two main focuses of influence. The first was the American Earth First! (discussed above). The second source of influence came from various related European currents: the European anti-nuclear movement and the ALF, for example. As EF! began to form itself in Britain, different factions began to develop, reflecting the disparate influences of the new movement, over such issues of public image, use of violence, form of organization and so on. The more radical elements became disillusioned with EF!'s lack of thrust, and set up the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) as an underground movement. These radical elements also saw more need to link up with other forms of class struggle and hence get away from the usual middle class type of lobbyist ghetto organization that usually characterizes environmental groups.

Earth First! is associated with the slogan 'No compromise In the defence of Mother Earth!'. There are two elements implicit in this: the deep ecologism (also reflected in the very name Earth First!) and the principle of putting action before public opinion. This would appear to endorse monkey-wrenching and violence at the expense of courting the mass media, using the law and the support of locals. Yet in conference, where these issues have been debated, Earth First! has deliberately come out with a 'policy' of having no policy on either monkey-wrenching or violence. Again this appears to reflect two things. Firstly it seems to stem from the influence of liberal-anarchist tolerance of the particular decisions made by different Earth First! groups and individuals; many of those attracted to Earth First! are, again, ex-CND, liberal anarchists, 'hippies' etc. Secondly, it stems from a shrewd recognition of the importance of not turning a strategy into a dogma that defines the movement in stone.

Relatedly, Earth First!, unlike the typical leftist group, is not concerned with claiming credit for actions or with building its public profile as an organized group. It is more concerned that the action itself should take place. It is preferred that when actions take place - such as monkey-wrenching and other acts of sabotage - those responsible are understood to be non-aligned rather than members of named groups. Breaking a sharp 'ordinary person' versus 'revolutionary' distinction in this way again makes anti-road sabotage more inclusive and gives the authorities nothing to attack but 'ordinary people'.

Despite the radical potential of many of these ideas, the Earth First!/ELF dichotomy has meant that the former is often more radical in its rhetoric than it is in practice. Hence although Earth First! is an important current at the campaign against the M11, much of its distinctive contribution (monkey-wrenching, for example) has been outweighed by pacifism and media-oriented methods. This is not simply because Earth First! members have lost arguments against other elements; rather what usually happens is that Earth First! members themselves practice and preach an ideology that is far milder and less coherent that the literature produced in the name of that group.

Forms of organization

As with other anti-road campaigns, those involved in this struggle make a fuss about the fact that 'all the legal channels have failed'; they point out that the Government and the roads lobby 'did not consult the local community' and make the other democratic arguments. Despite this apparent concern with democracy, the campaign has certainly benefited from the fact that there is little democratic organization. This seems to have little to do with explicit arguments by Earth First! and other radicals against hierarchy, bureaucracy and formality. There is simply so much to do that there is no time to waste on electing committees, tedious voting procedures and any of the other long-winded nonsense we associate with democracy. There is a skeleton of organized duties (some people commit themselves to answering phones, providing food, handing out leaflets on particular days), but basically whoever is present simply does what is necessary.

The campaign has certainly benefited from the fact that there is little democratic organization.

There are several good things about this highly informal form of organization. Firstly, it means that the nature of particular actions at particular times determines the form of the collective, rather than the reverse which would be the case with a formal cumbersome committee framework. Secondly, and relatedly, there is space for the spontaneity necessary in many actions; people are not accepting a democratically imposed and predefined discipline beyond their shared commitment to the NVDA and eco ideology. Similarly, it means that there is still room for the specialist or 'expert'. Not everyone need know that ten people plan to trash some machinery for example. Why should they? Although anyone could do this kind of thing with a hammer and something to chuck in a fuel tank, it is not necessary for them all to be there. Although there is always a danger of an ALF-type division of labour developing between active specialists and passive masses, such a split is not likely to develop here because of the stress on numbers as the bread and butter of the campaign; what makes specialist monkey-wrenching possible is the existence of a large movement of people all getting involved in different ways; with so many people involved, culprits are not easily identified. A rigid and visible hierarchy would also allow the most active to easily recognized and picked off by the authorities. Lastly, although there has been little leftist interest in the campaign up to now, even if a particular party or faction wanted to take over, the lack of formal structure would make it impossible; there is no 'committee' to be voted on to in order to determine decisions and no decision making meetings to pack. This is not to say that people do not coordinate and that they do not have mass meetings. They certainly do, but decisions are not necessarily binding, and informality prevails.

And this is not to say that the 'organization' is perfect by any means. Plans are not enacted, things don't get done and a small number of people frequently do most of the work and become tired out or resentful - or resented as a clique. There are also frequent internal complaints about lack of communication (and lack of responsibility being taken). The lack of formal coordination may have functioned effectively in Wanstead because of the closeness of the community and the fact the Green was an excellent rallying point. But in Leytonstone the lack of formal organization and communication has just allowed houses to be picked off one by one by the scumbag demolition firms.

Some of these point about intra-campaign issues organization need to extended to the current anti-roads movement(s) as a whole. The struggle in east London has been the focus of the discussion here because it is already serving to some extent as a national focus for anti-roads struggles. But this process needs to be taken further. What is needed, we suggest, is a way of bringing together anti-roads struggles across the country into some form of nationwide movement that encompasses all of them. In short, we need the kind of concrete organization or coordination that will allow the struggle over roads to be recognized not merely as a series of only coincidentally related local issues and campaigns but as an issue of national significance, an issue that involves the country (and indeed Europe and the world) as a whole. A greater degree of commonality needs to be added to the existing diversity.


Progress and need

In both Britain and the USA, radical greens such as Earth First! have developed from a deep green anti-humanist position to embrace a recognition that human need is involved in most of the struggles they are engaged in. But this development has been uneven. The most advanced elements in the radical green movement recognize human need as an historical essence and thus make the connection explicitly between environmental issues and the requirement to smash capitalism. Most eco-warriors recognize that technology isn't neutral; science presents itself to them as what it is - an attack on natural resources (not to mention human need) to expand surplus-value. But for many of those involved in these struggles, this well-founded anti-progressivism and anti-scientism degenerates into both mysticism and a fetishized anti-workerism that sees workers as 'dull materialists' whose interests coincide with those of industry and techno-expansion simply because they say they need their jobs.

Despite this confusion, the common rejection of modern technological progress among eco-warriors find the right targets in terms of collective action more frequently than one would expect if it was entirely ideological or arbitrary. In the nineteenth century, railways were being built all over the place; this involved cutting holes in hills, knocking down houses, scarring green areas and natural habitats etc. - all the things that road development is doing now (although of course it is worse now because so little of these natural resources remain.) And at that time the railways were crucially linked with capitalist expansion; they were cause, product and symbol of the industrial revolution, the growing real subsumption of labour under capital. Yet people involved in the struggle against the M11 typically want to see more and better railways. This is a recognition, not only of the importance of human need in such struggles, but of the fact that human needs are always historical. We are against capitalist progress since it is always at our expense. We endorse the slogan of 'Not one more road', but we do not want to see the railways eliminated in an attempt to return to some ideal past. The point is that since there are virtually no needs (beyond those for community, understanding etc.) that are not historically specific, all needs are equally real. We have now evolved a need for a certain amount of mobility - due to the fact that one effect of the developing antagonism between capital and labour has been the creation of various modes of transport - and we will use some of these technologies to meet our need.

Future needs and forms of struggle

Just as the road building programme steps up one more gear so its antithesis has grown and flourished. Those involved in the anti-roads movement claim to perceive the 'tide turning' in their favour. There has certainly been a shift in the nature of struggles over capitalism's need for transport and control - and 'public opinion' is moving with it. Now, refusal to take the presence of bulldozers as the end of a campaign has become widespread; the closing of a public enquiry is no longer seen as the end of the matter.

But we don't see anything inevitable about this. The shape of future struggles depends on the outcomes of present ones. New sites of conflict are opening up but there is still a need for a lot more people to get involved because people are often spread too thinly over existing sites. One of the reasons for this article is the fact that critique is always necessary, because present forms of struggle eventually need to be superseded in order to overcome their limitations, limitations which reflect oppositional adaptations to these present forms. We only bother to make a critique of the anti-road movement because we think the movement is valuable and effective, and we find the courage and commitment of many of those involved an inspiration. One of the strengths of the movement has been its originality in finding new points of attack.

The issue of methods and strategies is crucially important right now as the Government introduces new legislation on public order in an attempt to undermine hunt sabs, travellers, ravers, squatting and mass trespasses. The last two are particularly relevant for the battle in east London and for other road struggles. Changes in the law could see a regression back to basic reliance on constitutional methods, persuasion of authorities etc. Or such changes could see a shift to a greater militancy born out of clearer recognition of the link between roads, the state and capital. Reliance on legal arguments may fall away as the law fails to provide even the pretence of an impartial mechanism of redress; people may come to recognize the law for what it is - an instrument of class oppression which will be changed by the state whenever the forces of opposition are effective within it.

Anti-roads campaigners in actions are often confronted by arguments from their opponents in terms of people's freedom to use cars. They respond often by pointing to the way this freedom encroaches on their freedom from pollution etc. But they need to make more connections. As we have argued above, freedom to drive is the freedom of an individual consumer. This personal partial freedom in the market place is premised on enslavement as a class member in the sphere of production and in the social factory: this is the essence of the Fordist deal. What links this personal freedom with class enslavement is the freedom of money as a social and physical force at work shaping our relationships. The dominance of the car/road empire is our real subsumption by money in the social car factory as a whole.

We suggested earlier that the anti-roads campaign could have effects beyond its conscious area of concern; that it could help activate other struggles. To make and recognize these links will allow the roads campaign to coordinate with other sectors of the proletariat and hit capital more effectively. For example, the privatization and running down of the rail network is working in tandem with the Government's current roads programme. We need to find some way of bringing these sites of conflict together in order to assert our needs over those of capital.

March 1994


Decadence: The Theory of Decline or the Decline of Theory? Part 2

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005