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

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 Since Aufheben is a developing project, some of our own ideas have already been superseded.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)



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.


Aufheben #25 (2020)

Aufheben #25 articles will be published here whenever they become available.


Property Guardianships: Squatters paying rent?
Intakes article providing the first critical analysis of the rise of and resistance to property guardianships.

Conspiracy theories - a new introduction (2020)

New preface to Aufheben's article from 2016

We have put together a new preface to our 2016 article on conspiracy theories to coincide with three things:
(1) we've managed to correct all the typos in the original text:
(2) Some friends in the USA are publishing the article as a pamphlet (see our Facebook page for details)
(3) Conspiracy theories are seemingly significant again and their proponents present them as the true opposition to the state.

Conspiracy theories introduction V2.pdf179.25 KB

Property Guardianships: Squatters paying rent?

Property guardianships might be considered the housing equivalent of the ‘gig economy’. ‘Flexibility’ on the part of the tenant means giving up the usual tenancy rights and protections. This arrangement has now become a global business model with a number of multinational companies involved. We argued back in Aufheben 13 (2005) that:

the very ubiquity of housing in our everyday lives has often meant that the political and social importance of housing is overlooked by those interested in the social question. Yet, as one of the central elements in the reproduction of labour power, housing is above all a class issue.

In this issue, we return to housing with an Intakes article that provides the first critical analysis of the rise of and resistance to property guardianships. It was important to get the perspective of those with experience of living in and of organizing against property guardianships. So this article is partly written by activists involved in one local campaign, alongside an investigation of the history and operation of this housing model.

Property Guardians FINAL.pdf1.55 MB

About Aufheben

A brief introduction to the Aufheben group and magazine.

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.

Aufheben #01 (Autumn 1992)

Aufheben Issue #1. Contents listed below:

Aufheben01.pdf6.33 MB

Aufheben #1 Editorial

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.

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.

EMUs in the class war

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!

Lessons From The Struggle Against The Gulf War

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!

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

[b]Editors' Introduction[/b]

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?

"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.

Aufheben #02 (Summer 1993)

Aufheben Issue #2. Contents listed below:

Class Decomposition In The New World Order: Yugoslavia Unravelled

(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.


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.

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.

B] The history of the concept and its political importance
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.15This 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
  • 3. ICC pamphlet, The Decadence of Capitalism.
  • 4. The 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!
  • 8. Capital 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".
  • 10. Kautsky denied Marxism contained a theory of breakdown but he defended one nonetheless.
  • 11. Reform 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.
  • 13. Accumulation 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.
  • 38. The 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.

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'.

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.

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)

Aufheben Issue #3. Contents listed below:

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.


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

Part 1/ Part 2 / Part 3

In the second instalment of this, our radical soap-opera of theoretical controversy, we critically examine three important revolutionary currents that went beyond the objectivism of orthodox Marxism - Socialism or Barbarism, the Situationist International, and the Italian autonomist current, as well as attempts to reassert the orthodox line.

Part Two

The subject of this article is the theory that capitalism is in decline or decay. This characterisation of 'the epoch' is associated with the schema that capitalism's youth was the period of mercantile capitalism that lasted from the end of feudalism until the middle of the nineteenth century, its mature healthy period was the laissez faire liberal period in the second half of the nineteenth century, and that its entry into the period of imperialism and monopoly capitalism with its forms of socialisation and planning of production marks the start of the transitional epoch towards post capitalist society.

In Part I we looked at how this idea of the decline or decadence of capitalism has its roots in Second International Marxism and was maintained by the two claimants to the mantle of true continuers of the 'classical Marxist tradition' - Trotskyist Leninism and Left or Council communism. Both these traditions claimed to uphold proper Marxism against the reformist Marxists who had ended up defending capitalism. We suggested that a root of the practical failure of the Second International was that theoretically 'classical Marxism' had lost the revolutionary aspect of Marx's critique of political economy and had become an objectivist ideology of the productive forces. The idea of the decline of capitalism upheld by these traditions is the sharpest expression of their failure to break from objectivist Marxism. After the Second World War, while Trotskyism and Left-communism maintained their position despite the counter evidence of the greatest boom in capitalist history, a number of revolutionaries attempted to develop revolutionary theory for the new conditions, and it is to these currents that we now turn.

We will look at three groups which broke from orthodoxy - Socialism or Barbarism, the Situationist International and the Italian workerist/autonomist current. We will also consider the re-assertion of the theory of decline and the rejection of decline within objectivism.

1 The break with orthodoxy

i) Socialism or Barbarism
Socialism or Barbarism(S or B), whose principle theorist was Castoriadis (aka Cardan or Chalieu), was a small French group that broke from orthodox Trotskyism. It had a considerable influence on later revolutionaries. In Britain the Solidarity group popularised its ideas through pamphlets that still circulate as the most accessible sophisticated critique of Leninism.

Undoubtedly one of the best aspects of S or B was its focus on new forms of workers' autonomous struggle outside their official organisations and against their leaders.1 S or B, though small, both had a presence in factories and recognised proletarian struggles beyond the point of production.

Part of what allowed S or B to get down to this theorisation and participation in the real forms of workers struggles was a rejection of the reified categories of orthodox Marxism. In ]Modern Capitalism and Revolution Cardan summed up this objectivism as the view that "a society could never disappear until it had exhausted all its possibilities of economic expansion; moreover the 'development of the productive forces' would increase the 'objective contradictions' of capitalist economy. It would produce crises - and these would bring about temporary or permanent collapses of the whole system."2 Cardan rejects the idea that the laws of capital simply act upon the capitalists and workers. As he says "In this 'traditional' conception the recurrent and deepening crises of the system are determined by the 'immanent laws' of the system. Events and crises are really independent of the actions of men and classes. Men cannot modify the operation of these laws. They can only intervene to abolish the system as a whole."3 S or B took the view that capitalism had, by state spending and Keynesian demand management, resolved its tendency to crisis leaving only a softened business cycle. Cardan's attack on orthodox Marxism's adherence to a Nineteenth century crisis theory in mid-Twentieth century conditions had bite. Conditions had changed - in the post war boom capitalism was managing its crises.

But rather than take this position as undermining the objective basis for revolutionary change S or B affirmed a different way of conceiving the relation of capitalist development and class struggle. As Cardan puts it, the "real dynamic of capitalist society [is] the dynamic of the class struggle." Class struggle is taken by this to mean not just the constantly awaited date of revolution, but the day to day struggle. In this turn by S or B within their theory of capitalism to the everyday reality of class struggle and their attempt to theorise the new movements outside of official channels we see the turn from the perspective of capital to the perspective of the working class. In the mechanical theory of decline and collapse the orthodox Marxists were dominated by capital's perspective, and such a perspective affects ones politics as well. The rejection of the crisis theory was for S or B the rejection of a concomitant politics for as Cardan points out, the objectivist theory of crisis holds that workers' own experience of their position in society makes them merely suffer the contradictions of capital without an understanding them. Such an understanding can only come from a 'theoretical' knowledge of capital's economic 'laws'. Thus for the Marxist theoreticians workers:

Driven forward by their revolt against poverty, but incapable of leading themselves (since their limited experience cannot give them a privileged viewpoint of social reality as a whole) ... can only constitute an infantry at the disposal of a general staff of revolutionary generals. These specialists know (from knowledge to which the workers as such have no access) what it is precisely that does not work in modern society...4

In other words the economics involved in the theory of capitalist decadence goes hand in hand with the vanguardist 'consciousness from outside' politics of What Is To Be Done.

In the attempt to recreate a revolutionary politics S or B rightly rejected the orthodox conception that the link between objective conditions and subjective revolution was that the crisis would get worse and worse forcing the proletariat to act, with the Party (through its understanding of 'the Crisis') providing leadership. Indeed, in the absence of crisis but with the presence of struggle, the rejection of the traditional model was a help rather than a hindrance. At their best S or B turned to the real process of class struggle, a struggle that was more and more against the very form of capitalist work. As they put it:

The humanity of the wage worker is less and less threatened by an economic misery challenging his very physical existence. It is more and more attacked by the nature and conditions of modern work, by the oppression and alienation the worker undergoes in production. In this field there can be no lasting reform. Employers may raise wages by 3% per annum but they cannot reduce alienation by 3% per annum.5

Cardan attacked the view that capitalism, its crises and its decline, was driven by the contradiction of the productive forces and private appropriation. In place of this he argued that in the new phase of 'bureaucratic capitalism' the fundamental division was that between order-givers and order- takers, and the fundamental contradiction was that between the order-givers' need to deny decision-making power to the order-takers and simultaneously to rely on their participation and initiative for the system to function. In place of the notion of crises of capitalism on the economic level Cardan argued that bureaucratic capitalism was subject only to passing crises of the organisation of social life. While the notion of a universal tendency towards bureaucratic capitalism with the crucial distinction being between order-givers and takers seemed useful in identifying the continuity between Eastern and Western systems - in both situations proletarians don't control their lives and are ordered about - such a distinction fails to grasp that what makes capitalism distinct from other class societies is that the order givers have that position only because of their relation to capital, which in its various forms - money, means of production, commodity - is the self expansion of alienated labour. The tendency towards bureaucracy does not replace the laws of capitalism, particularly the fetishism of social relations, rather it expresses them at a higher level. The return of crises in the early seventies showed that what Cardan termed bureaucratic capitalism was not a once and for all transformation of capitalism that abolished economic crises but one particular form of capitalism in which crises tendencies were temporarily being controlled.

Cardan and S or B thought they had superseded Marx in identifying as the 'fundamental contradiction' of capitalism that between capital's need to "pursue its objectives by methods which constantly defeat these same objectives", namely that capitalism must take the participative power away from workers which it actually needs. In actual fact this contradiction, far from being an improvement on Marx, is but one expression of the fundamental ontological inversion Marx recognised at the root of capitalism - the process where people become objectts and their objects - commodities, money, capital - become subject. Of course capital has to rely on our participation and initiative because it has none of its own. Capital's objectivity and subjectivity is our alienated subjectivity. While the ideology that flows from capital's social relations is that we need it - we need money, we need work - the other side is that it is totally dependent on us. S or B's 'fundamental contradiction' does not grasp the full radicality of Marx's critique of alienation. In other words they presented as an innovation what was actually an impoverishment of Marx's critique. We can however understand that their theory was a reaction to a Marxism, whether Stalinist or Trotskyist, that had lost the fundamental importance of Marx's critique of alienation and become an ideology of the productive forces, a capitalist ideology.

Moreover, in not really grasping the root of what was wrong with orthodox Marxism S or B allowed some of its problems to reassert themselves within their own ideology. One could say that, in their identification of the order giver's reliance on workers control of the production process and their councilist wage labour based program,6 S or B showed the extent to which it remained stuck in the councilist perspective that some of its concrete studies of workers' resistance should have moved it away from - i.e. the perspective of the skilled technical worker. The perspective and struggles that were to bring the post-war boom to a crashing end were those of the mass worker. Whereas the radical perspective of the skilled worker, because s/he understood the whole productive process, tended towards the notion of workers control whereby the capitalist parasite could be dispensed with, the struggles of the Taylorised mass worker tended towards a rejection of the whole alienated labour process - the refusal of work.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Cardan's critique of Marx and Marxism is what it identified in Capital as the root of orthodox Marxism's sterility. What's wrong with Marx's Capital for Cardan:

is its methodology. Marx's theory of wages and its corollary the theory of the increasing rate of exploitation, begin from a postulate: that the worker is completely 'reified' (reduced to an object) by capitalism.7 Marx's theory of crises starts from a basically analogous postulate: that men and classes (in this case the capitalist class) can do nothing about the functioning of their economy. Both these postulates are false... Both are necessary for political economy to become a 'science' governed by 'laws' similar to those of genetics or astronomy...It is as objects that both workers and capitalists appear on the pages of Capital. ...Marx who discovered and ceaselessly propagated the idea of the crucial role of the class struggle in history, wrote a monumental work ('Capital') from which the class struggle is virtually absent!8

Cardan has recognised something crucial - the relative marginalisation of class struggle by the very method adopted by Marx in Capital. It is this closure of the issue of class struggle and proletarian subjectivity in Capital that is the theoretical basis of the objectivist theory of decline. Cardan's reaction is to abandon Capital. Similarly Cardan makes a central point of his attack on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall an assertion that Marx believed that the real standard of living and wages of the working class is constant over time.9 However this is not the case. Capital holds this as a provisional hypothesis - part of the provisional closure of subjectivity in Capital. Marx was always aware that what counts as the necessary means of subsistence is a point of struggle between the combatants but in Capital he holds it constant expecting to deal with it in the 'Book on Wage Labour',10 a book that was never written. Thus the value of labour power is dealt with in Capital only from the point of view of capital because here Marx was essentially concerned with showing how capitalism was possible. For capitalism to exist it must reify the worker, yet for the worker to exist and to raise the level of her needs she must struggle against this reification. In Capital Marx presented the proletariat with an account of how capitalism operated. Such an account is one part of the project of overthrowing capitalism but only a part. The problem with objectivist Marxism is that it has taken Capital as complete. Thus it takes the provisional closure as final. Cardan's criticisms grasp an important one-sidedness to Capital, and it is the failure to recognise that one-sidedness that leads to the one-sidedness of orthodox Marxism.11

However understandable in the context of the post war boom, Cardan and S or B's rejection of the theory of crisis and later of Marx was an overreaction that itself became dogmatic. Cardan and many other S or B theorists like Lyotard and Lefort became academic recuperators. While adopting Cardan's ideas gave revolutionaries an edge on the Leninists in the fifties and sixties, when crisis returned in the seventies those who continued to follow him ironically showed the same dogmatism in denying crisis in the face of its obvious reappearance as the old lefties had in insisting on it during its absence. What one might say is that although the substance of the theory of S or B was wrong, the importance of the group was not their alternative theory of capitalism nor the later ravings of Cardan but rather the way their critique of orthodox Marxism pointed the way for later revolutionaries. S or B pointed towards a rediscovery of the revolutionary spirit in Marx, which is nothing more than an openness to the real movement happening before our eyes.

ii) Situationist International
One of the most important parts of S or B's analysis was their recognition that workers were struggling against alienation in the factory and outside. The situationists developed the critique of the modern forms of alienation to a new peak, subjecting the capitalist order of things to a total critique. Rather than saying revolution depended on the capitalist crisis reducing the proletariat to absolute poverty the situationists argued that the proletariat would revolt against its materially-enriched poverty. Against the capitalist reality of alienated production and alienated consumption the situationists put forward a notion of what is beyond capitalism12 as the possibility of every individual participating fully in the continuous, conscious and deliberate transformation of every aspect and moment of our lives. The refusal of the separation of the political and the personal - rejection of the sacrificial politics of the militant and thus the critique of objectivist Marxism in a lived unity of theory and practice, objectivity and subjectivity, was one major contribution of the Situationist International(S.I.). In fact one could say that in recognising that revolution had to involve every aspect of our activity and not just the changing of the relations of production the situationists reinvented revolution, which Leninism had wrongly identified with the seizure of the state and continuation of an economically determined society.

While S or B fetishised their rejection of Marx the situationists recovered his revolutionary spirit.13 The chapter of Debord's Society of The Spectacle - 'The Proletariat as Subject and as Representation', is an acute study of the history of the workers' movement. In terms of the question of crisis and decline14 one of the most important of Debord's points is his criticism of the attempt to ground the proletarian revolution on past changes in modes of production. The discontinuity between the tasks and nature of the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions is crucial. The proletarian aim in revolution is not the wielding of the productive forces more efficiently; the proletariat abolishes their separation and thus abolishes itself as well. The end of capitalism and proletarian revolution is different to all previous changes so we cannot base our revolution on past ones. For a start there is only really one model - the bourgeois revolution - and our revolution must be different in two fundamental ways: the bourgeoisie could build up their power in the economy first, the proletariat cannot; they could use the state, the proletariat cannot.15

These points are crucial to an understanding of our task. The bourgeoisie only had to affirm itself in its revolution, the proletariat has to negate itself in its. Of course orthodox Marxists will admit there is something different about the proletarian revolution but they do not think through its implications seriously. In the notion of the decline of capitalism the analogy is made to previous systems in which the old order runs out of steam and the new one has grown ready to take over with a simple capture of political power to accompany economic power. But the only change between modes of production that corresponds to this was the transition from feudalism to capitalism, and the transition from capitalism to socialism/communism must be different because it involves a complete rupture with the whole political/economic order. The state cannot be used in this process because by its nature the state is an organ to impose unity on a society riven economically while the proletarian revolution destroys those divisions.16

Part of what led orthodox Marxists to the notion of socialism as something constructed through the use of the state is their bewitchment by Marx's 'Critique of Political Economy', through which they become political economists. Now while Marx's work was not political economy but its critique it had elements that allowed this attenuation of the project. As Debord writes:

The deterministic-scientific facet in Marx's thought was precisely the gap through which the process of 'ideologization' penetrated, during his own lifetime, into the theoretical heritage left to the workers movement. The arrival of the historical subject continues to be postponed, and it is economics, the historical science par excellence, which tends increasingly to guarantee the necessity of its future negation. But what is pushed out of the field of theoretical vision in this manner is revolutionary practice, the only truth of this negation.17

What this describes is the loss of the centrality of 'critique' in the assimilation of Capital by the 'classical Marxist' tradition. In losing the importance of this fundamental aspect to Marx's project their work descends into 'Marxist political economy'. As we mentioned in relation to Cardan a theoretical root of objectivist Marxism is the taking of the methodological limitations of Capital as final limitations in how to conceive of the move beyond capitalism.

However if the problem of the objectivists was how they took Capital as the basis for a linear model of crisis and decline, a problem with the situationists was the extent to which they reacted to this misuse of the Critique of Political Economy by hardly using it at all. For the situationists the critique of political economy becomes summed up as the 'rule of the commodity'. The commodity is understood as a complex social form affecting all areas of life but its complexities are not really addressed. The complexities and mediations of the commodity form - that is the rest of Capital - are worth coming to terms with. The commodity is the unity and contradiction of use value and value. The rest of Capital is the unfolding of this contradiction at ever higher levels of concreteness. This methodological presentation is possible because the beginning is also a result. The commodity as the beginning of Capital is already the result of the capitalist mode of production as a totality, is thus impregnated with surplus value and an expression of class antagonism. In other words the commodity in a sense contains the whole of capitalism within it. More than that the commodity expresses the fact that class domination takes the form of domination by quasi-natural things. That the situationist critique could have the power it does is based on the fact that 'the commodity' does sum up the capitalist mode of production in its most immediate social form of appearance. However, particularly with regards to questions like that of crisis, the mediations of that form need to be addressed.

Instead of rejecting Capital (or ignoring it) what should be emphasised is its incompletion, that it is only one part of an overall project of 'capitalism and its overthrow', in which the self-activity of the working class has the crucial role. What the work of the situationists did, in their re-emphasis on the active role of the subject, was to pose 'the only truth of this negation'. To emphasise this, against all the scientific Marxists, the Althussarians, the Leninists etc., was right. In a fundamental sense it is always right. Orthodox Marxism, lost in political economy, had lost the real meaning of revolutionary practice. The situationists regained this crucial element in Marx by preferring the earlier writings and first chapter of Capital. The ideas of the situationists, which were a theoretical expression of the re-discovery of revolutionary subjectivity by the proletariat, inspired many in '68 and since then. They are an essential reference point for us today. But this re-assertion of the subject in theory and in practice did not defeat the enemy at that time - instead it plunged capital into crisis.

In the new period opened up by the proletarian offensive in the late sixties and seventies an understanding of the crisis - including its 'economic' dimension - would once again need to be a crucial element of proletarian theory. But the situationists had essentially adopted Socialism or Barbarism's position that capitalism had resolved its tendency towards economic crisis.18 Debord's critique of the bourgeois outlook lying behind the scientific pretensions of the upholders of crisis theory had its truth, but he was wrong to dismiss the notion of crisis completely. In The Veritable Split, Debord and Sanguinetti at least admit the return of crisis saying that "Even the old form of the simple economic crisis, which the system had succeeded in overcoming... reappears as a possibility of the near future."19

This is better than Cardan's attempt even in his '74 intro to another edition of Modern Capitalism and Revolution to deny the substantial reality of the economic crisis.20 Cardan even accepts the bourgeois belief that it is all an accident caused by the oil shock. But whilst Debord and Sanguinetti's position in admitting the return of crisis is better, we see no attempt by situationists to really come to terms with that return. As The Veritable Split opens "The Situationist International imposed itself in a moment of universal history as the thought of the collapse of a world; a collapse which has now begun before our eyes."21 In fact The Veritable Split is generally characterised by the notion that capitalism's final crisis has arrived - though that crisis is seen as a revolutionary one.

In The Veritable Split the description of the period opened up by May '68 as one of a general crisis is basically correct, however it was also inadequate. Although in the wake of May '68, the Italian Hot Autumn etc. to judge the epoch thus is perhaps forgivable what was needed was a real attempt to come to terms with the crisis. That would have required some grasp of the interaction of the rebelling subject and the 'objective' economy, and that would have required a look at the rest of Capital.

2 Return of the Objectivists

When economic crisis did return with a vengeance in the early seventies the defenders of the traditional Marxist notion that capitalism was in terminal decline seemed vindicated.22 As well as thinkers of the old left like Mandel for Trotskyism and Mattick for the council communists new figures like Cugoy, Yaffe and Kidron23 emerged to champion their version of the proper Marxist theory of crisis. The political movements connected with such analyses also experienced a growth. There was major disagreement between the theories produced, but what most shared was the perspective that the return of crisis was to be explained solely within the laws of motion of capitalism as explained by Marx in Capital.The question was which laws and which crisis tendency was to be emphasised from Marx's scattered references.

i) Mandel and Mattick
Mandel and Mattick, as the father figures, offered influential alternatives. Mattick essentially had kept Grossman's theory of collapse alive through the period of the post-war boom. That is, he offered a theory of capital mechanistically heading towards breakdown based on the rising organic composition of capital and falling rate of profit. His innovation was primarily to analyse how the Keynesian mixed economy deferred crisis through unproductive state expenditure. He argued that though such expenditure could temporarily stop the onset of a crisis this was only because of the general upswing in the economy following the war. The successful manipulation of the business cycle was seen to be dependent on an underlying general healthiness of profits in the private sector. When the underlying decline in the rate of profit had reached a critical point then the increase in demand by the state would no longer promote a return to conditions of accumulation and in fact the state's drain on the private sector would be seen as a part of the problem. His argument then, was that Keynesianism could delay but not prevent the tendency to crisis and collapse inherent to the laws of motion ofcapital. One of the main advantages of his analysis was to make the theory of crisis basic to the internal contradictions of capitalist production. Mattick thus avoided the fashionable focus on capitalism being undermined by the defeats of imperialism represented by third world revolutions. He thus does not deny the revolutionary potential of the Western working class. However their class struggle for him would be a spontaneous response to the eventual failure of Keynesianism to prevent the crisis of accumulation. The laws of capital from which crisis was seen to originate and the class struggle were totally separate. What his analysis fundamentally lacked was an analysis of how the class struggle occurred within the period of accumulation. Capitalism's crisis cannot be understood at the abstract level with which Mattick deals with it.

Mandel, the Belgian economist, offered in Late Capitalism a multicausal approach. He defines six variables, the interaction of which is supposed to explain capitalist development. Only one of these variables - the rate of exploitation - has any relation to class struggle but even here class struggle is only one among other things that determine this variable.24 The history of capital is the history of class struggle among other things! The main other thing being the nature of uneven development and thus the revolutionary role of the anti-imperialist countries. He thus describes the history of the capitalist mode of production as driven not by the central antagonism of labour and capital but that between capital and pre-capitalist economic relations. On the one hand he asserts his orthodoxy in claiming that late capitalism is just a continuation of the monopoly/imperialist epoch discerned by Lenin, but he also rehabilitates the theory of long waves of technological development which overlays the epoch of decline giving it periods of upturn and downward movement. The long waves are driven by the agency of technical innovation.

But neither in Mandel's technology driven long waves, nor the rising organic composition driven falling rate of profit thesis, is there is recognition of the extent to which technological innovation is a response to class struggle. Technological determinism of one form or other lies behind objectivist Marxism, which is why the autonomist critique of the objectivist view of technology is so important.25 It is necessary to relate capitalist accumulation and its crises to the class struggle. The Keynesian/Fordist period had been one in which working class struggle had been expressed largely in steadily rising wages, where the unions as representations of the working class had directed struggle against the tyranny of the labour process into wage claims. By winning steady increases in wages the workers forced capital to increase productivity by intensifying the conditions of work and making ever more labour saving investments, which in turn allowed it to continue to grant the workers rising real wages. In this sense, as we shall see the autonomists argued, working class struggle for a period had become a functional moment in the circuit of capital: a motor of accumulation. But before looking at such analysis it is worth noting that some thinkers in the objectivist camp did break from the decline problematic and attempt a more sophisticated analysis of the post-war period. The Regulation Approach(RA) was open to new ideas like the autonomist analysis of Fordism. However another major influence was structuralism and this kept the RA within the boundaries of objectivism.

ii) The Regulation approach
The RA is significant because it attempted to develop theory in relation to the concrete reality of modern capitalism. RA figures such as Aglietta and Lipietz broke from the orthodox positions on the periods of capitalism and on what capitalist crisis represented. The orthodox periodisation of capitalism was that it grew with mercantile capital, becomes mature with competitive laissez faire, and then declines and prepares the conditionsfor socialism in the period of monopoly and imperialism. The orthodox position on crisis was that in healthy capitalism it was part of a healthy business cycle while in 'the epoch of wars and revolution' it is the evidence of its underlying decline and always quite possibly the terminal breakdown crisis of the system as a whole. In terms of periodisation the RA introduced the notion of 'regimes of accumulation'. That is that the stages of capitalist development are characterised by interdependent institutional structures and patterns of social norms. In terms of crisis the RA suggested that prolonged crisis could represent the structural crises of the institutions of regulation and social norms connected with the regime.

So for example they reinterpreted the division between laissez faire and monopoly capitalism as the move from the 'regime of extensive accumulation and competitive regulation' that had existed before the First World War to a regime of intensive accumulation and monopolistic regulation after the Second World War, with the period in between a period of the crisis of one regime and transition to the next. The problem for the orthodox Marxists had been to fit the post-war period into their notion of the 'transitional epoch'. They might do so by calling it a new stage of 'state monopoly capitalism', but their problem was that monopoly should represent the end of capitalism rather than its growth. The RA said that far from being a period of decline the post war period saw the consolidation of a regime of intensive accumulation. This period they saw as characterised by Fordist production methods and mass consumption, the incorporation of consumer goods as a major part of capitalist accumulation, and at the international level American hegemony. At its core the regime is seen as founded on the linkage of rising living standards and rising productivity. In the light of the RA the '70s are then a new period of structural crisis, but this time of the regime of intensive accumulation. Like Negri and the autonomists the RA sees one part of the crisis as the delinkage of wage increases and productivity and the undermining of the social consensus. The breakdown of productivity increases brings out the fiscal crisis of the state as it remains committed to accumulative increases in public spending while the economic base - real sustained growth - for such a commitment is undermined. At the international level there is also the breakdown of favourable conditions of world trade as American hegemony is undermined. The point in relation to the decline thesis is that the crisis is not a death agony but a severe structural crisis out of which capital could come if it re-establishes a regime of accumulation.

The RA's break with the rigid schema of orthodoxy appears a much more sophisticated and less dogmatic Marxist analysis. However there is no reversal of perspective to see the process from the point of the working class. The RA stays firmly within capital-logic simply layering a mass of complications on to the analysis. So although it might rightly see the crisis as an overall crisis of the social order, the fact that it sees capital not as a battle of subjects but as a process without a subject means that it falls into functionalism. It is assumed that the current restructuring of capitalism will successfully lead to the establishment of a new regime of flexible accumulation - post or neo-Fordism is deemed to be inevitable. Such ideas amount to a new form of technological determinism26 which, because it asserts the inevitable continuity of capitalism rather than its collapse, is attractive to reformist leftists rather than revolutionaries. So although we might be able to use some of their ideas, the RA is like its structuralist father essentially based on capital logic. Taking the point of view of capital is always going to be a tendency of the academic thinker paid by the state.27

Objectivist Marxism does partly grasp the reality of capitalism but only from one pole - that of capital. The categories of Capital which are based on the reifying of social relations in capitalism are accepted by this Marxism as a given rather than a contested reality. The subsumption of working class labour is taken as final where it is something that must be repeatedly made. The working class is accepted as a cog in the development of capital which develops by its own laws. Tendencies such as rising organic composition is taken as a technical law intrinsic to capital's essence while it and its counter tendencies are actually areas of contestation. It is necessary to come at the process from the other pole - that of the struggle against reification, which is what groups like Socialism or Barbarism and the situationists did. Their move away from crisis theory was understandable and a necessary part of rediscovering revolutionary practice in the post war boom. However when crisis resurfaced it was the objectivists who seemed to have the tools to grasp it. Yet they failed to come out with an adequate political direction from their theory. The idea was simply that they understood the crisis so people should flock to their banner. However in Italy there emerged a current whose rejection of objectivism included a a new way of relating to crisis.

3 The workerist/autonomist current

A strong tendency in the Italian New Left is represented by the 'workerist'28 theoreticians of the '60s such as Panzieri and Tronti and the autonomists of the late '60s and '70s in which Negri and Bologna come to prominence. They attacked the reified categories of objectivist Marxism. Attacking the objectivism of orthodox Marxism also brought into question the crisis-decline problematic that was so dominant. Part of the strength of this current was that rather than simply assert Marx against a straightforwardly reformist labour movement it had to deal with theoretically sophisticated and prestigious Marxism of the hegemonic Italian Communist Party. The PCI in its transition from Stalinism to Eurostalinism had shifted from contemplation of capitalism's general crisis to support for its continuing development. The workerists recognised that both positions shared a contemplative position on the capitalist economy and that what was needed was a reversal of perspective to look at capitalism from the point of view of the working class.

Raniero Panzieri, one of the initiators of the current contributing two fundamental critiques of orthodox Marxism. He attacked the false opposition of planning and capitalism; and the idea of the neutrality of technology contained in the ideology of the productive forces.

i) The false opposition of planning and capitalism
Panzieri argued that planning is not the opposite of capitalism. Capitalism, as Marx noted, is based on despotic planning at the point of production. Capitalism transcended previous modes of production by appropriating co-operation in the productive process. This is experienced by the worker as control of her activity by another. In nineteenth century capitalism this despotic planning contrasts with anarchic competition at the social level. Panzieri argued that the problem with orthodox Marxism and its theory of decline is that it takes this period of laissez faire capitalism as the true model, change from which must represent the decline of capitalism or transition to socialism. The conception Panzieri and later Tronti developed was that mid-twentieth century capitalism had to a certain extent transcended the opposition of planning versus market, becoming a more advanced capitalism characterised by the attainment of the domination of society by Social Capital; the progressive formation of a Social Factory. At the social level capitalist society is not just anarchy but is social capital - the orientation of all areas of life to the imposition of the capitalist relation of work.

With this the central contradiction on which orthodox Marxism based its theory of decline is undermined. There is no fundamental contradiction between capitalist socialisation of production and capitalistappropriation of the product. The 'anarchy of the market' is one part of the way capital organises society but capitalist planning is another. These two forms of capitalist control are not in deadly contradiction but in a dialectical interaction:

with generalised planning capital extends the fundamental mystified form of the law of surplus value from the factory to the entire society, all traces of the capitalist process' origins and roots now seem to really disappear. Industry re-integrates in itself financial capital, and then projects to the social level the form specifically assumed by the extortion of surplus value. Bourgeois science calls this projection the neutral development of the productive forces, rationality, planning.29

The planning we see in capitalism is not transitional. With the identification of socialism and planning, socialism from being the negation of capitalism becomes one of its tendencies. What emerged from the development of monopoly/finance capital was not the basis for a non-capitalist mode of production but for a more socially integrated form of capitalism.30 Capital overcame some of the difficulties of its earlier phase but its process of doing so was interpreted as its final stage.

ii) The critique of technology
Related to Panzieri's deconstruction of the planning/anarchy of market dichotomy was his perhaps even more path-breaking critique of technology. Capitalism's despotic planning operates through technology. Essentially Panzieri argued that in capitalism technology and power are interwoven in such a way that one must abandon the orthodox Marxist notion of the neutrality of technology. Once again what is being critiqued here is the reified nature of the terms in the orthodox conception of the productive forces rattling against the chains of their capitalist fetters.

There exists no 'objective', occult factor inherent in the characteristics of technological development or planning in the capitalist society of today, which can guarantee the 'automatic' transformation or 'necessary' overthrow of existing relations. The new 'technical bases' progressively attained in production provide capitalism with new possibilities for the consolidation of its power. This does not mean, of course, that the possibilities for overthrowing the system do not increase at the same time. But these possibilities coincide with the wholly subversive character which working-class 'insubordination' tends to assume in face of the increasingly independent 'objective framework' of the capitalist mechanism.31

This exemplifies the change the 'workerist' perspective represented - the turn from some 'occult' movement of the productive forces considered technically to the greatest productive force - the revolutionary class. Panzieri was responding to a new combativity of the working class, its coming together to pose a threat to capital but "This class level" as he puts it "expresses itself not as progress, but as rupture; not as 'revelation' of the occult rationality in the modern productive process, but as the construction of a radically new rationality counterposed to the rationality practised by capitalism."32

While the mainstream Marxists, whether ostensibly revolutionary or reformist, were and are stuck in a reformist attitude towards capitalist technology, i.e. the expressed wish of organising it by means of the plan more efficiently and more rationally, Panzieri had seen the extent to which the working class were the much better dialecticians who recognised "the unity of the 'technical' and 'despotic' moments of the present organisation of production."33 Machine production and other forms of capitalist technology are a historically specific product of class struggle. To see them as 'technically' neutral is to side with capitalism. That this view has dominated orthodox Marxism makes it no wonder that some now wish to reject the historical critique of capitalism in favour of an anti-technology perspective. The problem with substituting the simple negati on of 'civilisation' for the determinate negation [Aufhebung] of capitalism is not just that some of us want to have washing machines, but that it prevents one connecting with the real movement.

The critique of technology combined with the reversal of perspective allowed the workerists to reclaim the critique of political economy as a revolutionary tool by the proletariat. As we have seen, a crucial part of most theories of crisis and decline is the tendency for the rate of profit to fall due to the rising organic composition of capital brought about by capital's replacement of labour (the source of value) by machines. The Italians took an overlooked statement by Marx "It would be possible to write a history of all the inventions introduced by capital since 1830 just to give them weapons against the revolts of the working class"34 and developed it into a theory that made capital's technological development a response to and interaction with working class struggle, the capitalist labour process becoming a terrain of constantly repeated class struggle. By founding capitalist development on working-class struggle the workerists made sense of Marx's note that the greatest productive force is the revolutionary class itself.

When we see the constant increase in organic composition as a product of working class struggle and human creativity, the tendency for the rate of profit to fall starts to lose its objectivist bias. Capital's turn from an absolute surplus value strategy to a relative surplus value strategy35 was forced on it by the working class and has resulted in capital and the working class being locked in a battle over productivity. The categories of the organic and technical composition of capital become de-reified in this workerist theory and linked with the notion of class composition, that is with the forms of class subjectivity and struggle accompanying the 'objective' composition of capital. Using this notion the theorists of workers' autonomy developed the critique of earlier forms of organisation, such as the vanguard party, as reflecting a previous class composition and theorised the new forms of struggle and organisation of the mass worker. This puts a whole new light on the decline of capitalism / transition to communism question:

The so-called inevitability of the transition to socialism is not on the plane of the material conflict; rather precisely upon the basis of the economic development of capitalism - it is related to the 'intolerability' of the social rift and can manifest itself only as the acquisition of political consciousness. But for this very reason, working-class overthrow of the system is a negation of the entire organisation in which capitalist development is expressed - and first and foremost of technology as it is linked to productivity.36

We see then that the first wave of Italian workerism in the '60s rejected of the view that the period of laissez faire marked the proper existence of capitalism and that what has happened since is its decline or decay in favour of an analysis of the concrete features of contemporary capitalism. This allowed them to see the tendency towards state planning as expressing the tendencies of capitalism to the full: Social Capital. They also broke from orthodox Marxism in their reversal of perspective to see the working-class as the motive force of capital, backed up by militant research on the struggles of the mass worker.

iii) The class struggle theory of crisis
There are similarities with Socialism or Barbarism's analysis but the autonomists' positions, based as they were on a reinterpretation of the tools offered by Marx's critique of political economy rather than a rejection of them, were better able to respond to the crisis that opened up in the '70s. In fact the crisis of the seventies could be said to show the accuracy of Tronti's 1964 suggestion that it was possible that "The first demands made by proletarians in their own right, the moment that they cannot be absorbed by the capitalist, function objectively as forms of refusal that put the system in jeopardy.. simple political blockage in the mechanism of objective laws."37 Capitalism's peaceful progress was shattered in the late '60s and the Italian workerists theory went furthest in understanding this, just as the Italian workers' practice during the '70s went furthest in attacking the capital relation.

As we saw with Mattick the orthodox Marxist response to Keynesianism was to argue that it could not really alter the laws of motion of capital and that it could only delay the crisis. At one level this is correct but the problem is that the economy is seen as a machine rather than the reifed appearance of antagonistic social relations. The autonomist advance expressed in such works as two essays by Negri in '6838 was to grasp Keynesianism as a response to the 1917 working class offensive, an attempt to turn working class antagonism to the benefit of capital. Keynes was a strategic thinker for capital and Keynesianism by channelling working class struggle into wage increases paid for by rising productivity was essentially not just demand management of the economy but the state management of the working class, a management that becomes increasingly violent as the working class refuses it. The precarious balance that it represented was flung into crisis by the working class offensive of the late '60s and '70s which ruptured the productivity deals upon which the accumulation was premised. The whole post-war Keynesian/Fordist period was seen in the autonomist analysis as the period of the planner state that had now been flung into crisis and was being replaced by the active use of crisis by the state to maintain control.

The class struggle theory of crisis is a necessary corrective to the objectivists' views. The fundamental point in autonomist Marxism was to turn capitalist crisis from the fatalistic outcome of objective laws standing above the working class into the objective expression of class struggle. The notion of an epoch of decline or decadence is effectively bypassed by this theory of the concrete struggles of the class. The history of capitalism is not the objective unfolding of capital's laws but a dialectic of political composition and recomposition. The serious world crisis that opened in the '70s is thus seen as the result of the struggles of the Fordist mass worker. That subject, which had itself been created by capital's attack on the post first world war class composition that had almost destroyed it, had politically recomposed itself into a threat to capital. The crisis of capital is the crisis of the social relation.

During the '70s the autonomists produced the most developed theorisation of the refusal of work and a critique of the catastrophist theory of the crisis in favour of a dynamic theory of capitalist crisis and proletarian subjectivity. The autonomists developed a class struggle theory of the crisis exemplified in the slogan 'The Crisis of the Bosses is a Victory of the Workers'. This puts them in sharp variance with the orthodox Marxist explanation of crisis39 in terms of internal contradictions of capital with the general crisis caused by its decline brought on by its fettering of the productive forces by the relations of production. The notion that capital fetters the productive forces, though in a sense true, forgets that at times of strength the working class fetters the productive forces understood in capitalist terms - the working class fetters the development of the productive forces because their development is against its interests, its needs. The significance of the resistance of the proletariat to capitalist work must not be missed in a socialist dream of work for all. As Negri puts it, "Liberation of the productive forces: certainly, but as the dynamic of a process which leads to abolition, to negation in the most total form. Turning from the liberation-from-work toward the going-beyond-work forms the centre, the heart of the definition of communism."40

Autonomist theory was in some ways an optimistic projection forward of tendencies in the existing struggle. This worked fine when the class struggle was going forward and thus when revolutionary tendencies became realised in further actions. So for example Tronti developed the notion of a new kind of crisis set off by workers' refusal because he saw it prefigured in the battle of Piazza Fontana (events in 1962 when striking FIAT workers attacked the unions with great violence). The Italian Hot Autumn in 1969 when workers would often go on strike immediately after they came back to work from a previous strike showed the validity of this projection. However such theoretical projection, which the situationists also made in seeing the emergence of wildcat strikes in England in particular as a sign of things to come,41 became inadequate when in capital's counter offensive against this refusal the tendencies that were to be later realised were that of a re-imposition of work. Autonomist theorists tried to grasp this with notions like that of the shift from the planner to the crisis state.

The class struggle theory of crisis lost its way somewhat in the '80s, for while in the seventies the breaking of capital's objective laws was plain, with capital's partial success the emergent subject was knocked back. It appears that during the '80s we have seen the objective laws of capital given free reign to run amok through our lives. A theory which connected the manifestations of crisis to the concrete behaviours of the class found little offensive struggle to connect to and yet crisis remained. The theory had become less appropriate to the conditions. Negri's tendency to extreme optimism and overstatement of tendencies as realities, while not too bad in a time of proletarian subversion, increasing became a real problem in his theorising, allowing him to slip in his own decline thesis. Out of the relation to the revolutionary movement Negri's writings suffer massively. In writings like Communists Like Us and his contribution to Open Marxism we even see in a new subjectivist guise the theory of a decline of capital/emergence of communism behind our back.42

All in all the autonomists are a necessary move but not a complete one, they expressed the movement of their time but, in Negri's case anyway become weak in isolation from it. We might say that just as '68 showed the limitations as well as validity of situationists ideas the period of crisis and revolutionary activity in Italy in the decade '69-'79 showed the validity and limitation of the workerist and autonomists theory. This does not mean we need to go back to the objectivists but forward. Autonomist theory in general and the class struggle theory of crisis in particular did essential work on the critique of the reified categories of objectivist Marxism. It allows us to see them "as modes of existence of class struggle".43 If at times they overstate this, failing to see the real extent to which the categories do have an objective life as aspects of capital, it remains necessary to maintain the importance of the inversion. We need a way of conceiving the relation of objectivity and subjectivity that is neither the mechanics of the objectivists nor the reactive assertion that its 'all class struggle'.

S or B, the situationists, and the autonomists all, in different ways, made important contributions to recovering the revolutionary core of Marx's critique of political economy. They did this by breaking from the catastrophist theory of decline and breakdown. But the revolutionary wave they were part of has receded. The post-war boom is now a fading memory. Compared to the era in which these revolutionary currents developed their theories the capitalist reality we face today is far more uncertain. Capitalism's tendency to crisis is even more evident, yet class struggle is at a low ebb. In the third and final part of this article we shall look at more recent attempts to solve the problem of understanding the world we live in, such as that of the Radical Chains group, and put forward our own contribution to its solution.

  • 1. The Johnson-Forest tendency in America were developing a similar bottom up and non-workerist approach.
  • 2. Modern Capitalism and Revolution, p. 85.
  • 3. Ibid., p. 48.
  • 4. Ibid., p. 44.
  • 5. Redefining Revolution, p. 17.
  • 6. See Workers' Councils and the Economics of Self-Management.
  • 7. Paradoxically, though this reification is a central part of Cardan's critique of Marx, he himself suggests another problem with Marx is his use of the category of reification when instead modem capitalism should be understood by its 'drive to bureaucratic-hierarchical organisation.' Revolution Redefined, p. 6.
  • 8. Modern Capitalism and Revolution, p. 43.
  • 9. See the Appendix to Modern Capitalism and Revolution. Part of the rest of this appendix is an argument for a return to Adam Smith's definition of capital.
  • 10. As he writes to Engels 2/4/1858, "Throughout this section [capital in general] wages are invariably assumed to be at their minimum. Movements in wages themselves and the rise or fall of that minimum will he considered under wage labour."
  • 11. For more on this crucial point about how to read Marx, see F.C. ShortalI, The Incomplete Marx (Aldershot: Avebury, 1994).
  • 12. They declined to use the word communism because of its associations. To which one would have to say their alternative of universal self-management has not escaped its own negative connotations.
  • 13. "Are you Marxists? - Just as much as Marx was when he said 'I am not a Marxist."' Situationist International Anthology.
  • 14. The situationists at times expressed the idea of a general crisis of capitalism, of its reaching of an impasse. At times they expressed the view that modem capitalism was in decline or decomposition. However they did not see this proceeding through an objective logic of the economy, seeing it rather as arising from the subjective refusal of the proletariat to go on as before. To an extent they did ground this on the contradiction of productive forces and relations, but only to the extent that the gap between how capitalism developed them, and what their possible use by the proletariat as it abolished itself could be, had reached an extreme level visible to the subject. This perspective is crucial but it should not be confused with the theory of decline as classically understood where there is a linear evolutionary logic in which it is the productive forces which push to be liberated. The gap between what is possible and what actually exists can only be crossed by a leap.
  • 15. "...the bourgeois revolution is over; the proletarian revolution is a project born on the foundation of the preceding revolution but differing fiom it qualitatively. By neglecting the originality of the historical role of the bourgeoisie' one masks the concrete originality of the proletarian project, which can attain nothing unless it caries its own banners and It knows the "immensity of its tasks." The bourgeoisie came to power because it is the class of the developing economy. The proletariat cannot itself come to power except by becoming the class of consciousness. The growth of productive forces cannot guarantee such power, even by way of the increasing dispossession which it brings about. A Jacobin seizure of power cannot be its instrument. No ideology can help the proletariat disguise its partial goals - general goals, because the proletariat cannot preserve any partial reality which is really its own." The Society of the Spectacle, Thesis 88.
  • 16. This is not to say the proletariat does not use force to realiae its goals and prevent a return to capitalism, just that its force is qualitatively different to state force, which can only be the power of the separate.
  • 17. The Society of the Spectacle, Thesis 84.
  • 18. See The Society of the Spectacle, Thesis 82.
  • 19. Debord and Sanguinetti (1972) The Veritable Split, Thesis 14, (London: Chronos Publications, 1990).
  • 20. Modern Capitalism and Revolution, pp. 10-11.
  • 21. The Veritable Split, Thesis 1.
  • 22. The ICC even try to explain '68 in terms of the objective crisis beforehand. Despite the overwhelming market lead of the falling rate of profit theory of crisis they continue to push a Luxemburgist thesis. Such brand loyalty really should be applauded.
  • 23. Yaffe and Kidron were both in the International Socialists (forerunner of the SWP) which attempted to distinguish itself with its theory of the Permanent Arms Economy. This essentially tried to account for the whole post-war boom in terms of one factor - arms spending. Behind the innovation of giving arms spending a stabilising role, the theory was essentially orthodox Marxist economics. In the version put forward by Cliff the orthodoxy was underconsumptionism. Military expenditure was given an ability (initially very temporary then as the catastrophe failed to arrive more long lasting) to ofliet an inevitable crisis of overproduction of capital versus the limited consumption power of the masses. When within Marxist economics there was a shift - the falling rate of profit increasingly took the foreground and underconsumptionism was seen as too crude - Kidron put forward a new version which changed what it was that military spending was meant to mitigate. Rather than unproductive arms spending delaying the point when production of capital outstrips the possibilities for its consumption, that spending was to be seen as a counter-tendency to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

    The essential point is the theory kept within the assumptions of objectivist Marxist economics. To the extent that it broke from Lenin's analysis of imperialism it was not because of the fact that Lenin gave no place to working class struggle in his analysis. No, for the International Socialists imperialism was just to be the 'last stage but one - another objectivist capital-logic stage. The permanent arms economy was to be the final stage and it, like Lenin's Imperialism, is explained purely in terms of capital. Even in its more developed form the theory was a bit of a hotch potch that had younger guns in the I.S. like Yaffe, who was better versed in the Marxist classics, demanding a return to a fundarnentalist falling rate of profit-based theory and leaving to form the RCG in order to develop one. Since then Chris Harman has fleshed out the theory, rounded off a few of its rough edges, and even used Grossman and other decline theorists to back it up. By the seventies anyway the SWP had returned to the fold by agreeing that arms spending could no longer mitigate the tendency towards crisis.

  • 24. Late Capitalism, p. 40. Interestingly Mattick, who one would have to side with politically against Mandel, argues that Late Capitalism gives too much weight to the class struggle. Mattick introduced Grossman's falling rate of profit based breakdown theory to a new audience. That we find the non-Leninist arguing against the significance of class struggle shows that the problem of objectivism cuts across the Leninist/anti-Leninist divide. In actual fact in Britain the Mattick/Grossman thesis on the nature of the crisis was taken up by a firm Leninist David Yaffe. For Yaffe the class struggle had been absent during the post war boom but the economic detetminants had apparently been progressing in its absence.
  • 25. See following section.
  • 26. The attack on the functionalism and determinism of the RA is ably made in Post Fordism and Social Form (edited by Bonefeld and Holloway) and reviewed in Aufheben 2 (Summer 1993).
  • 27. On the other hand the analysis of the autonomists never lost the point of view of the working class. The point is that though some of the Italian theorists were academics they were also part of a revolutionary current. They might be 'thinkers sponsored by the state' but when half of them get arrested and banged up for years it becomes reasonable to believe that their ideas were contradictory to their position.
  • 28. Italian 'workerism' refers not as with the Anglo-Saxon use of the term to the idea that only shop-floor struggle is meaningful, but to the attempt to theorize capitalism from the working class's perspective.
  • 29. 'Surplus Value and Planning' in The Labour Process and Class Strategies, CSE Pamphlet No.1, p. 21.
  • 30. While some of those influenced by Bordiga became the archetypal dogmatic proponents of the theory of decadence others developed some of his ideas in an interesting direction with parallels to the workerists. Invariance (Jacques Camatte et al.) theorised that the increasing socialization of production expressed not the decline of capital but the shift from capital's formal subsumption of the labour process to its real subsumption i.e. the shift from capitalist supervision of a labour process dependent on workers' skills and understanding, to complete capitalist domination of the whole process. Furthermore they saw a shift from capital's formal domination of society to its real domination. However we might say that their attention to the autonomy of capital insufficiently recognised that this process is constantly contested; this led them to see revolution as a catastrophist explosion of repressed subjectivity.
  • 31. R. Panzieri, 'The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx Versus the 'Objectivists'' in P Slater ed., Outlines of a Critique of Technology (Ink Links, 1980), p. 49.
  • 32. lbid., p. 54.
  • 33. Ibid., p. 57.
  • 34. Capital, vol. 1, p. 563.
  • 35. I.e. From a strategy of increasing exploitation through lengthening the working day to one of increasing productivity, thereby lengthening the section of the existing working day during which the worker produces surplus-value.
  • 36. 'The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx Versus the 'Objectivists'' in Outlines of a Critique of Technology, op. cit., p. 60.
  • 37. Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis (Red Notes and CSE Books), p. 17.
  • 38. 'Keynes and Capitalist Theories of the State Post 1929' and 'Marx on Cycle and Crisis', both in Revolution Retrieved (London: Red Notes, 1988)
  • 39. In fact your orthodox Marxist militant will think it wrong to suggest that crisis could possibly be the work of the working-class. "No, no, no" s/he'll say "that's a right wing argument; crisis is the fault of capital; the working class - bless his cloth cap - is free of any involvement in it - the crisis shows the irrationality of capitalism and the need for socialism". But this was precisely what the autonomists attacked - socialism seen as the resolution of capital's crisis tendency.
  • 40. Marx Beyond Marx, (London: Autonomedia/Pluto, 1991), p. 160.
  • 41. Not to mention Marx and the Silesian miners.
  • 42. For example on p. 88 of Open Marxism II: "new technical conditions of proletarian independence are determined within the material passages of development and therefore, for the first time, there is the possibility of a rupture in the restructuration which is not recuperable and which is independent of the maturation of class consciousness." He seems to think that this possibility is linked in with the immaterial labour of computer programrners! It seems that many radical thinkers show a tendency to lose clarity in their old age or, more accurately, when the movement to which they are connecting falls back. Perhaps it is a question of using Negri against Negri as we (must sometimes?) use Marx against Marx, and perhaps also we should see decadence theory as a slippage made by revolutionaries when the movement they are part of recedes (post 1848, post 1917 post 1977). When the movement of class struggle that one could connect to seems to lose its power there is a temptation to give power to capital's side - a temptation that should be resisted.
  • 43. See R. Gunn (1989) 'Marxism and Philosophy', Capital & Class, 37.

Review: Midnight Oil

In asserting the centrality of class struggle Midnight Oil is an important attempt to go beyond Lenin's theory of imperialism as a means of understanding the Gulf War. Unfortunately the inadequacy of their understanding of capitalism leads them on some bizarre theoretical wanderings in their search for an alternative.

(Work, Energy, War, 1973-92). Midnight Notes. Autonomedia. Brooklyn 1992. £9.95. ISBN 0-936756-96-9.


Midnight Oil is a collection of articles produced by the Zerowork (1974-79) and Midnight Notes (1979-) collectives, having as its focus a thorough analysis of the recent Gulf war. There are a number of reasons why the publication of this book should be welcomed. For a start the making available of texts from the autonomist tradition, which have previously been available to few people, can only have a positive impact on revolutionaries in this country who, with notable exceptions, have tended either to regurgitate orthodoxy or dismiss theory as academic contemplation. It is also reassuring to find that despite the setbacks experienced by the US working class over the last couple of decades some US theorists are still capable of attempting to analyse contemporary events - not everyone has responded to these defeats by seeking to conjure the future out of some mythical past like Zerzan or Perlman.

Coming after the Gulf-War Midnight Oil provides a pertinent counter-point to the orthodox Marxist theories which reduced the war to merely an inter-imperialist conflict. However, whilst we are sympathetic to aspects of Midnight Notes'/autonomist analysis, and appreciate it as a weapon against orthodox Leninist conceptions, we can not remain entirely uncritical. Indeed, while at first sight the broad sweep of analysis in Midnight Oil is impressive, on closer inspection we find that it has fundamental weaknesses. A hint of such problems become apparent if we remember Midnight Notes's predictions before the Gulf War in the pamphlet When Crusaders and Assassins Unite. This pamphlet, published in November 1990, in an attempt to provide a class analysis for the US anti-war movement, argued that there would be no war as there were no fundamental disagreements between US and Iraqi capital as both wanted higher oil prices :

These differences over oil pricing control and debt policy can be mediated, though this mediation process might very well include the use of marginal military force. However, U.S. Crusaders are not in the Arabian Peninsula to fight a large-scale, conventional shooting war with the Iraqi Assassins, as frequently envisioned. For U.S. troops are not in the Arabian Peninsula to fight the soldiers of a government that plays the game of collective capital. A game that the Saddam Hussein regime has shown itself perfectly willing and able to play. The U.S. invasion of the Persian Gulf, therefore, is not like the war in Vietnam where the U.S. military was sent to crush a directly anti-capitalist, revolutionary armed movement. It is more like the post-W.W.II U.S. occupation of Western Europe, whose main function was not to fight a Soviet invasion, but rather to repress the rise of any revolutionary forces within Western Europe itself.

Midnight Notes, and No War But The Class War (NWBTCW) in Britain, attempted to move beyond Leninist analyses of the war to emphasise the class war, but we have to recognise their limitations if we are to move beyond them. Perhaps unsurprisingly 'When Crusaders and Assassins Unite' and its predictions go unmentioned in Midnight Oil. However what is important for us is not so much that Midnight Notes got it wrong but why they got it wrong. When we test their analysis against the litmus of the Gulf War the loose ends of their theory rapidly unravel. It is not merely that Midnight Oil is inconsistent, as is only to be expected from a collective project developing over 20 years, rather it is that we find its underlying theory incoherent.

Leninism and the theory of imperialism

To understand the significance of Midnight Oil we have to put it into the context of its opposition to the dominant Marxist explanations for the Gulf War. In Britain the anti-war movement was dominated by the left-liberal pacifism of CND which advocated sanctions to starve the Iraqi's into submission instead of bombing them into the middle ages. The immediate response of the 'revolutionary left' was simply to 'trot out' the old anti-imperialism position of 'supporting the weaker country against imperialist aggression' which refuses any real class analysis of the war. However, in the case of Iraq the sheer absurdity of this position became apparent. How could so called revolutionaries back a fascist dictatorship with a proven record of butchering its own working class? In the case of the SWP their knee jerk reaction of backing Iraq was soon dropped as opportunism led them to change their line and tail-end the peace movement in the hope of picking up new recruits whilst the RCP maintained an unrelenting support for the Iraqi state. In both cases a rigid adherence to the discredited Leninist theory of imperialism led these groups to fail to grasp the initiative from left-liberalism/pacifism in the anti-war movement.

Lenin's Theory of imperialism

The Leninist theory of imperialism owes its origins to Lenin's Imperialism. Lenin's Imperialism was based on Bukharin's work which in turn had developed out of the orthodox theory of the Second International, as exemplified by Hilferding's Finance Capital. It argued that since the 1870's the world had seen the concentration and centralization of production into huge monopolies and cartels that dominated national markets. This had brought about a new era of monopoly capitalism which, for Lenin at least, was the last stage of capitalism. In monopoly capitalism the huge monopolies tended to merge with banking capital and because of the national importance of these huge capitals they became increasingly regulated and protected by the state. Since these huge capitals, organised in cartels, dominated the market they could plan production and set prices. No longer was there an anarchy of the market. The preconditions for a centralized and planned socialist economy were all but there. All that was needed was for the working class to take power and nationalize the big monopolies and banks!!

But to make monopoly profits the big monopolies restricted domestic production to push domestic prices up. Restricted production limited investment which meant that there was both a tendency for surplus-production and surplus-capital to be invested abroad. This meant a drive for foreign markets and imperialism under the protection of the state, but this brought each imperialist power into conflict with others as its rivals. The orthodox/centrist Kautsky thought that this imperialist conflict would ultimately be resolved peacefully through ultra-imperialism. Lenin said it could only be resolved through war and revolution. A point he thought vindicated by World War One.

Problems of Lenin's theory

Firstly his analysis is out of date when applied to the current situation. Hilferding's work, which Lenin's analysis is largely based on and relates to the era of monopoly capitalism at the turn of the century, particularly to the situation in Germany. But with the development and establishment of Fordism the division of the world is no longer based on super-exploited colonies, rather the Third World appears as marginalized economies within the world market that capital is unable to fully exploit.

Perhaps more importantly Lenin's theory of imperialism is crippled by its assumption of working class passivity. The working class is the least developed aspect of Lenin's Imperialism as the dynamic to war and the possibility of planning are derived entirely from the relations between capitals. Thus the working class is seen as passive, needing the objective conditions to mature before being forced to take decisive action. This is particularly clear in Lenin's conception of the labour aristocracy in terms of workers being 'bought off' rather than in terms of them winning concessions that force the monopolies to push prices higher. Therefore the result of Lenin's Imperialism, with its assumption of working class passivity, is to locate the movement towards communism in the contradictions of capital as an objective economic system rather than in the revolutionary self-activity of the working class.

Autonomism against Leninist theories of Imperialism

If the inadequacy of Lenin's Imperialism, as applied to the Gulf-War, is its focus on the 'objective', i.e. capital, can we combat this by using Midnight Notes' autonomist analysis to bring in the 'subjective', i.e. class struggle? The great strength of Midnight Notes and other autonomist-Marxists is their focus on the centrality of class struggle. Through their focus on working class composition, especially the notion of the mass worker, Midnight Notes' and other autonomists grasp the need to go beyond the era of monopoly capitalism described by Hilferding. By focusing on the working class as an autonomous power within and against capital the autonomists were able to account for Fordism and the resistance to it. Therefore both technology and working class organization reflect a particular division of power produced as an outcome of past struggles. This makes trade unions, social democratic, and Leninist parties historically specific organizational forms.

Midnight Oil's great strength is its focus on class struggle whether it be of migrant oil workers, Iraqi deserters, striking autoworkers, wildcat coal miners, or Italian rent strikers. But whilst this focus on working class self-activity is Midnight Oil's greatest strength it is also its greatest weakness. The problem with Midnight Notes however, is not simply that they overemphasize class struggle, rather it is their inadequate understanding of modern capitalism. By concentrating so much on struggles they tend to reduce the workings of the world market to merely a question of power, one where capital collectively manipulates prices in order to attack the working class.

Value and the Apocalypse

For Marx capitalism is not the latest incarnation of the omniscient megamachine that comes to dominate humanity, nor is it a simple means through which the capitalist class consciously conspires to exploit us. Rather capital is a social relation through which human activity returns as an alien and objective force which subsumes human will and purposes to its own ceaseless drive towards its own quantitative expansion. As such, for Marx, capitalism is very far from being a consciously regulated system. As a totality capital is a process that must continually reconstitute itself out of the conflicting actions and purposes both between disassociated individuals and antagonistic classes. Of course this is not to say that there are not conscious attempts to plan nor of some forms of social co-operation, e.g. the state, but that these are only moments subsumed within capital as an unconscious subject and only arise from given conditions of conflict and competition between individuals and classes.

Despite different political perspectives, both Midnight Notes and the orthodox Marxism of Lenin and Kautsky see a fundamental change in capitalism from that described by Marx in Capital - modern capitalism is seen as moving towards a consciously regulated system. This is linked with the notion of us entering the transitional stage to socialism/communism. For orthodox Marxism this is seen primarily in terms of inter-capitalist relations in the form of growing state intervention and the growth of monopolies, both of which lead to the planning of production and exchange rather than regulation through the anarchy of the market, i.e. the supersession of the law of value. For Midnight Notes/autonomism the supersession of the law of value is seen more in terms of the separation of labour from capital with the automation of production.

The fragments on machines

The theoretical basis for Midnight Notes' argument that the law of value has been superseded is the now famous passage from the Grundrisse that has become known as the fragments on machines. In these passages Marx vividly describes how capital in its drive to increase the social productivity of labour through the mechanisation and eventual automation of production makes production increasingly disproportionate to the labour employed. But since capital is nothing but the expansion of alienated labour, this tendency drives capital beyond its own foundation. Hence crisis and apocalypse. As Marx notes:

As soon as labor in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labor time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be a measure] of use value. ...Capital itself is the moving contradiction , [in] that it presses to reduce labor time to a minimum, while it posits labor time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth...On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labor time employed in it. On the other side, it wants to use labor time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value.

The notion that there is a tendency for the law of value to be superseded is central to Midnight Notes' analysis of oil pricing. It allows them to argue that, since value is no longer a necessary measure/regulator of capital work has become merely a form of social discipline. Hence the refusal of work is no longer a utopian demand. Also, to the extent that labour is separated from capital and no longer mediated by value we have only two antagonistic classes each with its own distinct strategy. Therefore the collective capitalist seeks to preserve its power through the imposition of work and the collective worker seeks to resist and refuse this work.

In Midnight Oil, Midnight Notes seek to unilaterally apply this tendency as if it was a long term historical tendency that is now at the point of realisation. But in doing so they run into severe problems. If this tendency has been realised then capital steps beyond its own substance. If capital is not the self expansion of value what is it? Capital disappears! Unedited by objective categories of value and capital we are left with two antagonistic subjects, the 'capitalist' class and the 'working' class locked in an apocalyptic life and death struggle. Have we reached such an era? Is the continuing existence of capitalist competition and markets merely an illusion left over from the past? Midnight Notes staring into the abyss see the consequences of such a conclusion and recoil from them:

If capital can, at will, change and manipulate energy and industrial prices on the basis of multinational corporate power , i.e., independent of the amount of work that goes into the production of commodities, then we must abandon work and surplus value (exploitation) as our basic analytical categories. Marx would be an honored but dead dog. We would have to accept the position of Sweezy and Marcuse that monopoly organization and technological development have made capital independent of the 'law of value,' (viz., that prices, profits, costs and the other numerology of accounting are rooted in (and explained by) the work-time gone into the production of the commodities and reproduction of the relevant worker). Capital it would seem can break its own rules, the class struggle is now to be played on a pure level of power, 'will to domination,' force against force and prices become part of the equation of violence, arbitrarily decided like the pulling of a trigger.

Instead they try and get around the problems that flow from abandoning the law of value by arguing that only certain sectors have escaped labour, but these sectors - oil and food - are basic commodities whose price determines all other prices and thus can be used as a weapon through which capitalism as a global system can be organised against the working class. In several articles, most notably the Notes on the International Crisis, they take political control of oil as self evident, but in The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse they try and explain it in terms of differing organic compositions of capital.

Using Marx, The Work/Energy crisis and the Apocalypse argues that the equalisation of the rate of profit means that prices must diverge from labour-values due to differences in the ratio of living to dead labour across various branches of industry. Since surplus-value can only be expropriated from living labour, those industries employing a large amount of labour relative to their employment of means of production (i.e. those with a low organic composition of capital (OCC)) will be able to produce relatively more surplus-value than those capitals invested in industries that are highly mechanised (i.e. those that have a high OCC). An equalisation of the rate of profit arises through the transfer surplus-value from those capitals invested in industries with a low OCC to those with high OCC. For this to occur prices must be higher than values in industries with a high organic composition of capital (OCC) and lower than values in those with a low OCC.

>From this Midnight Notes then attempt to invert Marx by asserting that this proves that prices can be disconnected from values in high OCC industries like food or energy. Yet Marx was attempting to show the very opposite, i.e. how despite variations in prices and values, values still regulate production and exchange. It is through this very analysis of the formation of a general rate of profit, and the formation of production prices that systematically diverge from values, that Marx shows how, through the competition between individual capitals, the 'law of value' ensures that each individual capital is obliged to act as if it simply a particular part of capital-in-general, despite any conscious intentions on the part of the capitalist themselves.

So even if we accepted that energy and food were necessarily high OCC industries, which we do not, The Work/Energy crisis and the Apocalypse fails to provide an adequate theoretical grounding. Indeed Midnight Notes even admit this themselves when they concede that capitalists only have 'apparent freedom' when it comes to setting oil prices independent of the labour that goes into the production of oil. However it is only through considering Midnight Notes' view of history that the importance of these theoretical inadequacies becomes apparent.

Oil as history

Is it true, as Midnight Notes contend, that the history of post-war capitalism is the history of oil price changes?

As is well known, by the late 1960s working class struggles broke the wage-productivity deal of Keynesianism. Workers demanded 'more money - less work' resulting in a steep decline in profits. Midnight Notes argue that in response to this offensive 'capital' (in the guise of the USA) engineered the 'energy crisis' by forcing up oil prices, which resulted in a restructuring of capital and cuts in real wages. Thus the quadrupling of the oil price in 1973-74 resulted in huge profits for the energy companies and oil producing countries which were then recycled as petrodollars, allowing massive investment in the automation of factories and a shift of production to the 'Newly Industrialising Countries' where labour was cheaper.

After capital has jacked the price of oil right up, Midnight Notes then argue that it has to bring it back down again; because by the mid 1970s oil producing states in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Caribbean had succumbed to popular demands and 'squandered' the increased oil revenues on higher wages and social spending. Not only did this rise in oil prices lead to the oil proletariat demanding higher wages but, in countries like Iran, it also encouraged them to overthrow their rulers in an attempt to gain control of the wealth they produced.

Therefore Midnight Notes argue that, in the 1980s capital abandons its high energy price strategy and imposes austerity. This necessarily involves cutting the price of oil in order to attack the oil proletariat. Thus the US Federal Reserve Bank engineers a global slowdown by constricting the money supply, which results in a steep climb in interest rates, and when combined with a loss of export revenues triggers off the debt crisis. As chief enforcer for capital the IMF prescribes austerity for debtor nations, i.e. a more favourable investment climate and production for export. However Midnight Notes argue that working class resistance to austerity leads to a threatened default on Third World debts which forces the US to devalue the dollar by half, thus halving the debt (which it is calculated in US dollars) in order to save the global banking system.

As expected this extension of austerity was met with fierce working class resistance, which leads Midnight Notes to argue that by the late 1980s capital had decided that its austerity program had failed, and that it was planning a massive expansion with huge new areas like Russia and China to be opened up. The idea being that the cheap labour and raw materials of the socialist bloc could be used to undermine the wages of western workers. But, given the world wide recession, investment was in short supply, thus oil prices were to be used as the motor to create surplus funds for a general restructuring of global accumulation. This restructuring was to centre on the reorganization of the oil industry, particularly in those areas where it had been nationalised. International capital was hoping to force open these areas as a result of falling oil prices, but when the IMF tried to force oil states like Nigeria, Venezuela, Algeria and Morocco to cut welfare and wages there were mass uprisings. Therefore Midnight Notes argue that if oil prices were to be raised there would have to be a massive increase in repression to prevent the proles appropriating a slice of the planned oil revenue as had happened throughout the 70s and 80s.

Thus Midnight Notes argue that the Gulf War emerged out of the process of recolonization in the late 1980s following the collapse of the socialist bloc. If the oil fields in the Eastern bloc, Mexico, and Nigeria were to be opened up there would need to be a whole new wave of investment to make them profitable. But the regimes might be forced to give some of the increased revenues to the proles. For Midnight Notes the Gulf war was needed as an example to terrorize the proles into accepting a life of extreme poverty amid vast accumulations of wealth. Therefore;

the re-organization of workers in the planet's most important oil-producing region was not an accidental by-product of the war, but rather a central objective, and one shared, despite some disputes, by the Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Saudi, European and US ruling classes. As the oil industry in the Mideast (and internationally) was preparing for its largest expansion in fifteen years, it needed both to recompose and terrorize an increasingly rebellious oil-producing proletariat. In the environment of an 'international intifada' against IMF austerity plans, any new attempt to vastly debase workers' lives amidst new accumulations of wealth based on oil price increase was going to require a leap in the level of militarization.

Down the slippery slope to conspiracy

The central problem of Midnight Oil is that their attempt to reduce the history of capitalism to the history of oil price fluctuations tends to lead to a conspiratorial analysis where a unified capital manipulates energy prices in order to attack the working class. No one denies the impact of oil prices, nor their role in the restructuring of capital after the working class offensive of the 1960/70s, but Midnight Notes' analysis completely ignores the importance of the development of global finance capital. Because it is beyond the control of any government, global finance capital completely undermines Midnight Notes' notion of a unified capital exercising conscious control.

Also Midnight Notes' fail to show anywhere in Midnight Oil how and by whom oil prices are manipulated. Who decides 'capital's strategy'? Furthermore the 'documentation' they cite showing the USA conspired with OPEC to triple oil prices does not support their case. It merely shows that, with the tripling of oil production and exploration costs in the USA, the American oil industry was able to influence the US government not to intervene when first Libya and then the other states took the opportunity of the crisis in the oil industry to push prices up to levels determined by the marginal producers in the USA. The oil crises of 1973,1979 and 1986 could be better explained as critical conjunctures in the development of the oil industry away from the conscious and planned regulation of production and exchange by the big seven oil companies, backed by the US and British governments, to a unified global oil market which to a large extent escapes conscious control of governments and monopolies.

The limitations of Midnight Notes' method and analysis are starkly exposed in the articles Oil, Guns and Money and Rambo on the Barbary Shore. Although Rambo on the Barbary Shore appears ostensibly to concern Saudi Arabia's doubling of oil production in 1985-86 and its relation to the US bombing of Libya, it in fact encapsulates Midnight Notes' conception of how capital manipulates the market. The argument is summarised in Oil, Guns and Money where, referring to the devaluation of the US dollar by one half in 1985, they argue that:

This manoeuvre, in one stroke, lowered the value of debt held by countries from Mexico to Poland by one half. But this was no charity. If the lowering of interest rates in 1983 had been prompted by Mexico's moratorium, the dollar devaluation was prompted by South Africa's moratorium on payments to foreign banks in August 1985. The potential of South African capital to succumb to black workers struggles within the country and to provoke other governments around the world to similarly halt loan payments was enough to force western capital to change the terms of global debt. In this manipulation of monetary values we see capitalist planning at its most abstract and reified levels, where decisions seemingly removed from the labors on the shop floor or in the kitchen ultimately entail the most profound effects. One of the most important consequences of the dollar's devaluation, for example, was the simultaneous devaluation of oil. As the dollar was taking a free fall in the market, Saudi Arabia doubled its production within nine months and thereby halved the price of oil. The US government arranged this oil devaluation to keep the US import bill from skyrocketing. With a dollar half of what it was worth before, imports, particularly oil, would have doubled in cost. The US was already becoming the largest debtor nation in the world and there was the fear that the dollar devaluation, if taken alone, would have thrown the US over the edge of solvency. These twin manoeuvres of 1985-86 - the dollar and oil devaluations - exhibit how the international market is consciously structured by capital.

This whole analysis is riddled with errors which are symptomatic of Midnight Notes' theoretical inadequacies. Firstly the US dollar was not devalued unilaterally at a stroke. The devaluation of the dollar that followed the Plaza Accord took nearly two years and required concerted intervention of the central banksof the major industrial powers armed with reserve funds that were only a fraction of the huge flows of capital surging around the international money markets. Secondly the devaluation does not necessarily halve the debt, particularly if the debt is denominated in US dollars and the exporter, e.g. Mexico, is trading mainly with the US. It is true that resistance to debt forced rescheduling under the Baker plan and simultaneously limited the US government's strategy of using interest rates to indefinitely defend an overvalued dollar, forcing them towards international co-operation to devalue the dollar in 1985. But we can not simply explain fluctuations in the US dollar in terms of oil pricing as Midnight Notes are prone to do. Halving the dollar does not mean that oil prices have to be halved to prevent the US' import bill doubling since oil is denominated in dollars. Consequently the twin manoeuvres of 1985-86 do not show how the international market is structured by capital, on the contrary they show how attempts to consciously regulate international markets are highly circumscribed!

Conspiracy at Midnight?

Overall Midnight Oil is an important work because its unrelenting focus on working class struggles provides an important corrective to the objectivism of Lenin's Imperialism and its defenders. However Midnight Oil is fatally undermined by Midnight Notes' tendency to ascribe outcomes to the conscious strategy of a unified capital. Throughout Midnight Oil Midnight Notes fail to show how capital constitutes itself. They imply that the US state formulates capital's strategy, but then fail to explain how US policy is formulated. The problem is that Midnight Notes conception of a unified capital results in them conflating capitalism with the actions of individual capitalists. Capitalism does not have a strategy, although capitalists pursue different strategies. Capitalism as a totality is mediated by the world market and emerges from the conflict between and within different capitals and the working class.

Even if capital has a strategy, which it does not, Midnight Notes fail to show how it is organized and by whom. Given that Midnight Notes see capital as an undifferentiated unity imposing an agreed strategy on the working class, we would expect to find them focusing on organizations like the UN, the IMF, G7 etc. However there is little analysis of those organizations which could be seen as arenas for hammering out 'capital's strategy'. Such an omission can not simply be a mistake by Midnight Notes, rather it is a consequence of their method which does not look at capitalist divisions because their theory has assumed these divisions away.

When their conception of a unified capital is applied to concrete events its inadequacies are glaring. For example Midnight Notes saw the Gulf War as a collective capital imposing an agreed strategy of increasing oil prices. Initially this caused them to take the position, in 'When Crusaders and Assassins Unite', that there would be no war, or at most token skirmishing. After all, why should there be a war if there are no fundamental disagreements between Iraq and the US? However, when they are forced by events to admit there was a war then they merely reduce it to collective capital militarizing oil production. This results in them tending to argue that Iraq and the US colluded in the invasion of Kuwait, via April Glaspie, as part of a co-ordinated strategy of increasing oil prices. Whilst the invasion of Kuwait was a consequence of the Ba'athists inability to impose austerity on their own working class, it is not the case that it was part of a co-ordinated global plan for militarizing the world's oil industry, as the disarray of the US government's response clearly illustrates.

By imposing a pre-defined conception of a unified capital onto events Midnight Notes are able to change their position on the Gulf War from seeing it as a 'phoney war' to seeing it as a method for the Iraqi regime to impose austerity. This culminatesin them arguing that the Iraqi state did not believe the US would intervene and even if it did that it would be in the Ba'athists interests. It is true that the main targets of the UN bombing were civilians, infrastructure, and retreating troops who were the main force of revolt within Iraq, but from this Midnight Notes argue that the war was in the Ba'athist's interests because it finally enabled them to impose austerity on the Iraqi working class.

However, the triumph of the Ba'athist state over the working class uprisings was by no means guaranteed. Also it is not the case that the Iraqi state sought saturation bombing, resulting in massive destruction of productive capital, and the risk of overthrow, because it thought it might possibly improve its ability to impose austerity. Excepting the decimated oil industries of Iraq and Kuwait, Midnight Notes fail to show that oil production is more militarized after the Gulf War than it was before. Even with civil war raging in Yemen oil prices are only $16 a barrel, the level they were prior to the Gulf War. This is hardly the mass increase in oil prices that Midnight Notes expected as the result of collective capital militarizing oil production through the Gulf War. With oil prices predicted to settle down to $13-14 a barrel for the forseeable future we can conclude that either capital does not have a high oil price strategy atall, or that it has been incapable of imposing one. It is clear that oil prices are not operating as the motor for a new phase of accumulation to pull the world out of recession.

Finally when we apply Midnight Notes' theory to other conflicts like Somalia and Yugoslavia we find that their method breaks down. The war in the former Yugoslavia provides a perfect example of the disunity and divisions among the various capitals. Whilst the Leninists see the conflict as an imperialist war fought out by proxies, autonomist analyses tend to see it as a conspiracy by a unified capital using nationalism and war to divide and subjugate a combative working class. These two positions represent the opposing flipsides of the same undialectical coin. Theorising conflicts such as these is only possible if we can understand how the class struggle is mediated by competition, and vice versa. The autonomists' antipathy to dialectical thinking means that whilst they can provide a corrective to the diatribes of the anti-imperialists they cannot supersede them.

Review: Carry on Recruiting

Aufheben reviews the Trotwatch pamphlet about British far left group the Socialist Workers Party, carry on recruiting.

'The politics and practice of the SWP negate its claim to be revolutionary'. Have Trotwatch nailed the Leninists?

Why the SWP dumped the 'downturn' in a 'dash for growth'

Trotwatch. £2.95 AK Press. ISBN 1 873176 02 3.

"Many people find a critique of Bolshevism boring. Unfortunately even one's uninteresting enemies can be powerful."- Call It Sleep.

Carry on Recruiting! is certainly not boring. The irreverent manner in which it catalogues the SWP's regular changes in line and the tortuous arguments used to justify them is undoubtedly its strength. Trotskyism still has far more credibility amongst would-be rebels in the UK than anywhere else, and needs therefore to be subjected to repeated criticism. But we need not take the Trots too seriously, as if another Krondstadt were threatening. After all, ideas which have hardly developed since the demise of the classical workers movement are unlikely to have much resonance in a modern revolutionary upheaval, for all the students that get taken in in the meantime.

Trotwatch wickedly take the piss out of the SWP's abandonment of their 'downturn' theory in October '92. As they point out, the SWP clung vehemently to the theory in the face of the '81 inner-city riots and the '84/'85 miners strike only to argue that the 'upturn' had arrived when faced with the back bench rebellion over the pit closures programme and a fifty year record low in the level of strike activity. Similar treatment is meted out to the SWP's about turn on Poll Tax non-payment and the meaning and significance of the Trafalgar Square riot.

Throughout this, plus a section looking at the SWP's contradictory positions on the '74-'79 Labour government, the underlying aim of the pamphlet is "to examine the reality of the SWP's 'critique' of the labour movement and the bureaucrats that run it. It goes on to question the SWP's understanding of what constitutes a 'genuinely independent' working class movement. In doing so, it uncovers an organisation whose politics and practice negate its claim to be revolutionary."

Trotwatch's commitment to working class autonomy and emphasis on self activity underpins the piss-taking. But merely allowing this perspective to inform its jokes about the SWP's opportunistic inconsistencies is obviously insufficient - a point Trotwatch acknowledge in the final section 'What's wrong with the SWP'.

Following on as it does from a long catalogue of details this section is crucial; tying the ends together with a stinging critique of Leninism as the knock-out blow. Unfortunately Trotwatch don't quite manage it. Because of the SWP's eagerness to recruit anyone with vague anti-Tory sentiments, it is argued, the party must be structured to ensure that the Central Committee maintain a tight grip over the organisation. Generalising their critique, they state:

"In reality, a Leninist party simply reproduces and institutionalises existing capitalist power relations inside a supposedly 'revolutionary' organisation: between leaders and led; order givers and order takers; between specialists and acquiescent and largely powerless party workers. And that elitist power relationship is extended to include the relationship between the party and the class."

The attack on hierarchical organisational forms is obviously a necessary component of the critique of Leninism, but is insufficient in itself. This line of argument is reminiscent of that of libertarian socialists who accuse the Leninists of employing the wrong means (the party) for the right end (socialism). And whilst it would be wrong to accuse Trotwatch of being wishy washy liberals their critique relies heavily on a paper produced by dissidents within Southampton SWP which simply complains that the party isn't democratic enough.

A thorough critique of Leninism requires a critique of representation and democracy. The advocacy of democratic-centralist 'Revolutionary Party' must be shown to arise from the fact that their programme is the capture of state power in order to abolish the 'anarchy of the market'. Not the abolition of work but a planned reorganisation of work. Not the destruction of alien 'productive forces' but their liberation from fetters. Leninists have an objectivist critique of capitalism, which is why they can't grasp its real negation. In other words a critique of Leninism must address the fact that Leninists are not communists; they have not broken sufficiently with Second International orthodoxy, which is why their relationship with Labourism appears contradictory. One cannot abolish alienation with alienated means, but we cannot just attack their 'means' without distinguishing our 'ends' from theirs.

Trotwatch's 'negative, critical and destructive' publications provide handy ammunition for arguments with Trots, sparing the rest of us the trouble of reading their banal papers and turgid magazines. And they make no claim to provide a complete or definitive critique of Leninism or even the SWP in particular. But partial critiques provide fertile ground for the forces of recuperation. We don't need better organisations to deliver socialism- we need to organise our emancipation from all forms of alienation.

"Bolshevism will remain formidable as long as it can maintain its monopoly on the interpretation of revolution."- Call It Sleep

Aufheben #04 (Summer 1995)

Aufheben Issue #4. Contents listed below:

Aufheben04.pdf9.67 MB

Kill or Chill - An analysis of the Opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill

Last year, the threat of the Criminal Justice Bill galvanised thousands of people to take various forms of action against the state. It also brought very different oppositional elements together in a common practical relationship, many for the first time. In this issue, we examine the possibilities of these struggles.

Part One: Sign of the Times

Monetarism, the Crisis of Representation, and the CJB

Any analysis of the opposition to what is now on the statute books as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act has of course to consider what the legislation is all about, to examine its meaning as a weapon in the struggle between the contending classes.

Such a consideration is far from easy given the wide ranging nature of the inordinate number of clauses contained in the act, varying from removing the Prison Officers' Association's right to strike to allowing the incarceration of children in prisons. A common criticism of the opposition to the act is that it has concentrated its concerns on Part 5, containing the provisions against ravers, travellers, squatters, hunt saboteurs and the like, and thereby giving the impression that the CJ&POA is concerned only with 'marginal elements'. Some anarchists (such as the Anarchist Black Cross) have argued that the supposedly 'anti-terrorist' measures, such as the reintroduction of stop and search powers, and the removal of the 'right of silence' under police questioning demonstrate that the act is not primarily concerned with marginals but conversely represents an attack on the working class as a whole. And many Leninists have argued that the new offence of aggravated trespass demonstrates that the act is likewise an attack on the working class as a whole by outlawing trade union picket lines, given that to their minds (and despite evidence to the contrary) the working class (or at least the section that really counts) all actually go to full-time work.


Though the first of these arguments may contain a significant element of truth, both fail to grasp the nature of this nebulous beast. The CJ&POA has been described as a bundle of prejudices, and is perhaps best understood as that - a piece of legislation which a divided Conservative Government can unite around as an attack on their favourite scapegoats. But the CJ&POA functions in this way because, whether they are conscious of it or not, there is a method in their madness. Despite the ditching of the 'petty nationalist' Thatcher, the Conservative Party is still divided over the question of Europe: the problem of class rule in the new economic reality of global finance capital. And the recent crisis over VAT on fuel, with backbench Conservative rebels defying a three line whip to sabotage the government majority, clearly showed up the disunity and lack of direction afflicting the government. The problem they face which seems to be defying any easy resolution is simply the need to impose austerity, the need to attack the gains of an entrenched working class, without destroying the fragile Conservative social consensus represented by the 'Essex Man' phenomenon. With the dream of a property-owning democracy sinking into the nightmare of debt, the consensus is rapidly becoming unravelled, but UK plc cannot retreat. What better tonic than a good old attack on those firmly outside of the deal, the marginalized, whose exclusion the Conservative deal was predicated upon, to stiffen up resolve in the ranks for those attacks which threaten to recompose the class. But even such an apparently uncomplicated weapon has been threatening to blow up in the faces of those trying to use it. We are running ahead of ourselves, however. Before we proceed further we have to consider the context in which the battle is being fought.

The character of the movement against the CJ&POA can only be adequately grasped through an examination of the political context in which it has arisen. The most notable feature of the campaign has been the complete absence of the Labour Party's involvement (save for Tony Benn's speeches) and the effective marginalization of the groups which traditionally scavenge in its detritus. The movement may be considered in some ways paradigmatic of class struggle in the era following the retreat of social democracy: unhindered by any powerful mediating force and, as such, both relatively incoherent in its attempts to express its demands and potentially explosive. We seem to be moving towards a situation where the traditional means of recuperation of struggles and integration of its subjects - the 'left' - is finding itself increasingly incapable of representing struggles occurring outside of the productive sphere. This retreat of social democracy is itself a consequence of new global realities.

(i) The crisis of representation

a) The retreat of social democracy:

As the traditional form of mediating the relationship between capital and labour, social democracy, including its radical variants, may be said to be the representation of the trade union consciousness of the working class. Unlike Lenin, who argued that the working class could not develop revolutionary consciousness without external intervention, we would argue that it is the struggles of the working class itself which defetishizes the social relation of capital. But this does not necessarily mean that the working class is just inherently revolutionary. Reformism (or democracy for that matter) is not adequately understood as a con trick perpetrated by the (middle class) left on an otherwise revolutionary class, as many 'ultra-leftists' would have us believe. The tendency to leftism, like the tendency to communism, must be grounded in the social relation of wage labour itself: exploitation mediated by the sale and purchase of labour-power.

Proletarian subjectivity moves along a continuum between the poles of integration and transcendence, poles which represent the acceptance or refusal of the commodity form of labour. Labour-power is a commodity which is not a commodity. A commodity is a thing that is separable and thus alienable from its owner which is produced to be sold; and for capital labour-power is this thing whose exchange-value is the wage and whose use-value is the capacity to create and preserve value. However, not only is labour-power not immediately produced for sale, being produced only as part of the reproduction of human life itself, but it is also not a thing separate from its possessor. The alienation of labour is thus experienced as loss of subjectivity, as estrangement.

Thus the imposition of the commodity form is resisted, leading to the refusal of work, defetishization and the communist tendency. However, in so far as this imposition is accepted, the worker may accept the position of commodity owner in the sphere of exchange and consumption alongside bourgeois and other proletarians alike, and possibly buy a car, house, and other trappings of a 'middle class' identity.

Social democracy represents the acceptance of the commodity-form of labour, the interests of the working class as objects, with trades unions carrying out its collective sale to capital. It represents the interests of a national working class as a whole within capitalism through the use of state intervention against some of the excesses of the market.

Thus struggles against the alienation of wage labour must be recuperated by the left, represented by it, and rendered compatible with the continued objectification of the workers by capital accumulation. And during the period when the refusal of work was manifest, the primary role for revolutionaries was to attack such recuperation, to distinguish the working class as subject from its representation. But it is also necessary to recognize and explore the limits of the recuperative powers of leftism, and this is not possible if the left is reduced to a simple identity with capital (its left wing) rather than grasping it as a form of mediation, a two-way process. Social democracy does not only deliver the working class to capital and preserve national divisions within it, but does so on the basis of being an organizational form through which concessions can be demanded and won from capital, advancing the interests of the working class as a social stock of objective labour-power.

The inherent tendency towards refusal and resistance, a tendency which came to the fore in the post-war revolt against Taylorized labour processes, was recuperated on the basis of the monetarization of frustration: financial compensation for the experience of alienated labour. Such monetarization of demand was the class meaning of Keynesian demand management. Keynesianism represented the recognition that working class demands could no longer be ignored due to the threat of revolution, but would have to be accommodated and harnessed as the motor of capital accumulation. Thus deficit financing allowed for rising real wages and public spending on welfare, to be repaid by returns from future exploitation.

The basis of social democracy's success was therefore premised on the state's ability to accommodate working class struggles through flexibility in monetary policy, to deliver reforms and concessions which could be recovered from the future production of surplus-value by taxation. As we have seen, this premise has been eroded with the increasing autonomy of global finance capital. With it has come the retreat of social democracy on a global scale.

b) From Labourism to Blairism:

The Labour Party fell from power when the 'winter of discontent' exposed the limits of attempting to impose monetarist economic measures within a Keynesian institutional framework. Wildcat strikes left the social democratic consensus in tatters; a more radical strategy was required, one of dividing the working class to establish a new Conservative consensus based on the exclusion of those whose exploitation would not produce a sufficient rate of profit. It has taken 15 years in opposition for the Labour Party to respond to the dictatorship of finance capital by planning to scrap the traditional commitment to nationalization. During those 15 years the party has swung to the right, recognising that if it is to win an election it will have to satisfy City analysts that it is capable of imposing as harsh a monetary regime as its opponents. This process has reached its logical conclusion with the election of Tony Blair as leader and his plans to reassure the bankers that his party does not even have a semblance of a commitment to the type of fiscal regime which would allow the diversion of surplus value into loss making nationalized industries and public services.

With the development of this 'new realism' has come the decline in the recuperative capability of the left. But this process has not been smooth. Indeed, as the New Left decided en masseto enter the party during the start of the 80s, and enjoying the flexibility that comes with being in opposition, the party swung to the left initially. The left wing of the party has been put under severe pressure since then, however, particularly with Kinnock's 'witch-hunt' of Militant. The left of the party, from being a major force in the 1970s has declined to such an extent that it is rarely encountered, and no longer capable of even the occasional pyrrhic victory at 'Conference'.

A stream of employment laws has imposed this 'new realism' on the trade unions over the years. From being in a position of negotiating over beer and sandwiches at No. 10, and occasionally threatening that their members wouldn't agree to what the government wanted without a concession, union leaders now find themselves in the position of simply having to police their members regardless, clamping down on any initiative which could end in the dreaded sequestration. The inability to win anything through acceptan ce of the union form has been an invitation to wildcat autonomy that has alas been all too rarely accepted. Whether this has been due to a certain loyalty to the form which, for all its 'sell outs', delivered so much in the past, or to an understandable lack of confidence is unclear; but the invitation is unlikely to be retracted.

But whilst social democracy retains a firm if fragile grip on workplace struggles, the decline in its relevance to non-workplace struggles was brought home by the Poll Tax. Who remembers the 'Stop It' campaign (dubbed 'Pay It' by its detractors), launched by the Labour Party, except the union leaders who supported it? Indeed most people's recollection of the relationship between the Labour Party and the 'Tory Tax' will be the vigour with which Labour councils demonstrated their fiscal responsibility by pursuing non-payers.

With this retreat of mainstream social democracy from the concerns of 'the workers', radical social democracy's task of orienting the struggle towards the labour movement was made intolerably difficult. The SWP's position of orienting opposition towards pressing the unions to veto collection was a non-starter. Militant appeared to do somewhat better, with people going along with their non-workerist 'lobby the Labour council' position to the extent that they took it as an invitation to picket, disrupt or riot. Yet they also failed dismally in their efforts, despite stitching up the 'Federation'. Trying to fit the struggle into a social democratic strait-jacket required an attack on the Trafalgar Square rioters whose actions did not conform with a social democratic definition of working class subjectivity, an attack that even disgusted many loyal members. Not only did they fail to deliver the working class to the labour movement, but also got expelled from their beloved party and lost half their members.

Traditional forms of mediation are in crisis. This can best be illustrated by comparing the movement against the 1994 CJ&POA to that which campaigned against the 1977 Criminal Trespass Law.

c) From CACTL to fractal:

Squatting, as a violation of the inalienable laws of private property, is clearly a challenge to the ground rules of the social democratic compromise. Nevertheless, in the 1970s, social democracy proved itself to be quite capable of recuperating a significant squatters' struggle. In 1974 the Law Commission published its initial report proposing to replace the 1381 Forcible Entry Acts with a Criminal Trespass Law which would make all forms of trespass, and consequently squatting, illegal. London's relatively well organized squatters responded immediately; at an All London Squatters meeting they decided to set up a campaign to fight the proposals, and the Campaign Against a Criminal Trespass Law (CACTL) was born. Comrades who were involved in the campaign, however, report that CACTL quickly became dominated by Trots, eventually being represented by a couple from the SWP. And this is borne out by CACTL's own propaganda which inevitably played down the effect of the proposals on squatters in order to present the proposed legislation as an attack on workers. In much the same way as the SWP has tried to steer the anti-CJ&POA movement, CACTL sat about orienting opposition towards the labour movement.

By arguing that the legislation was aimed at factory occupations, however, CACTL had remarkable success. Between 1971 and 1975 over 150,000 workers were involved in over 200 occupations, ranging from those at Fisher-Bendix in Kirkby in 1972 and 1974 against redundancies to the occupation of Hopkinson's in Huddersfield in 1975 for a wage increase. Student occupations were also recurrent events during the 1970s, especially during 1976. And that same year, while the Labour left were decrying Callaghan's 'betrayal' at their conference and wondering what to do, Ford workers at Dagenham demonstrated their contempt for leftist mediation by rioting, holding the police at bay while they smashed up and set fire to various parts of the plant. With workplace struggles raging, the workerist card played by CACTL turned out to be a trump, and they began to receive invitations to send speakers to trades councils, trade union branches and student unions.

Radical social democracy was able to recuperate and represent the struggle because it was able to deliver results. By 1976 CACTL had received support from 36 trades councils, 85 trade union branches and 51 student unions, and by the following year not only had the national unions ACTT, AUEW-TASS, and NUPE passed resolutions in opposition to the proposals, but the TUC General Council had also voted to oppose the CTL. Orienting towards the labour movement in this context meant that CACTL was able to mobilize massive support for its demonstrations. In the face of this opposition the Law Commission watered down its initial plan massively.

The 1977 Criminal Law Act represented a compromise which meant that squatting, whilst more difficult, was still legal. The act, which has been the basic squatting law until the 1994 CJ&POA changes, only legislated against violent or threatening entry, refusal to leave when requested by a displaced residential occupier or a protected intending occupier, trespassing with an offensive weapon, squatting an embassy or consul, or resisting a bailiff executing a possession order. A long way short of making squatting itself a criminal offence. The price paid for CACTL's successful recuperation, however, was that many people were under the misapprehension that squatting had been made illegal, and CACTL's own propaganda reinforced this belief, inevitably undermining the squatting movement. Indeed in the summer of 1978 the Advisory Service for Squatters felt it necessary to mount a campaign against this leftist counter-information with the slogan 'squatting is still legal'.

What is most notable, however, is the fact that three years before the proposals were to become law there was already a significant campaign of opposition. Less than three months before the Criminal Justice Bill was due to become law there was still no specific campaign against it. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, bang! May 1st last year, 25,000 ravers on the streets of London and the left nowhere to be seen, a massive party in Trafalgar Square and everyone dancing to the deliciously ambiguous chant of 'Kill the Bill'!

(ii) Alternative lifestyles and the CJ&POA Part 5

a) Monetarism and mass unemployment:

In 1976 the then British Prime Minister told his Labour Party Conference that deficit financing of public demand could no longer be sustained: 'We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that option no longer exists and that so far as it ever did exist, it only worked by injecting inflation into the economy.' With that statement, the Labour Party launched its policy of monetarist economic measures within a Keynesian political framework. A policy of 'sound money' demanded the reduction of the state deficit through the abandonment of full employment guarantees, cuts in welfare expenditure and the scrapping of unproductive producers, or a boom in productive accumulation which would presuppose either a rigorous intensification of work or a major reduction in wages.

The struggles of the late 1970s and the 1980s have been well documented elsewhere. We are all only too aware of the extent to which heavy defeats have cowed the working class. Since the defeat of the miners, the level of strike activity has subsided massively. But it is all too easy to allow oneself to become demoralized by the apparent success of our enemy. Whilst the quality of our lives may have been diminished by the violent and repressive accompaniments of monetary terrorism we must also consider the quantitative aspects of this shitty system - after all, our alienation rests upon the numerical ratio that is capitalist exploitation. A balance sheet is required.

Wave after wave of redundancies have swelled the ranks of the unemployed to the extent that the leftist's hand-wringing when the numbers on the dole reached 1,000,000 now seems ridiculous. The abandonment of full employment and the creation of this huge reserve army of industrial labour has given capital a powerful weapon with which to try to undermine the previous gains of the working class. And the fear of joining those ranks has played a major role in undermining workers' confidence in their ability to resist the restructuring of labour processes. The intensification of work and the imposition of overtime underpinned the apparent miracle of Thatcherism.

But whilst the reserve army may have played a major role in containing wages and intensifying work, the extent to which the British working class's gains have been clawed back has been limited. Throughout Europe, capital faces the same problem of working class entrenchment, a proletariat which refuses the cuts in wages and welfare that have been suffered in the US. Whilst in the economic textbooks the price of labour-power rises and falls in accordance with its supply and demand, in reality wages have tended to be contained only during periods when the level of unemployment is actually rising. They have not been slashed to the extent that will attract money capital towards productive investment here rather than to the other emerging economic blocs. Likewise it has proved impossible to cut that part of state spending which constitutes the social wage to a degree comparable with the US, despite the constant attacks on the NHS and those on benefit.

Many attempts have been made over the years to restructure the benefit system in order to encourage claimants to compete for low paid jobs, most recently the 'actively seeking work' stipulations and the plans in the pipeline for the Job Seeker's Allowance. With a continuing lack of productive investment the British state seems to be opting for the strategy of a 'low wage economy', competing directly with the likes of Portugal, Greece and Ireland, as evidenced by the Social Chapter opt-out. But there seems to be a bug in that circuit necessary but extraneous to the circuit of capital's reproduction process: that of the reproduction of the peculiar commodity labour-power; a social process which is subject to particular forms of contestation given that the commodity is the capacity and, crucially, willingness to work. Thus at times when unemployment has been rising in the UK the formation of reserves of idle labour-power desperate for work has been subject to a counter-tendency of the development of alternative lifestyles which take as their point of departure not the wage but the dole as their means of social reproduction. Such lifestyles have undermined, albeit insufficiently compared to their visibility, the state's attempts to impose a tighter relationship between consumption and work, the life-blood of capital.

b) No Future:

Given the close relationship between alternative lifestyles and music, and the importance of music in providing something concrete within which value can invest itself in its repeated search for a new generation of consumers, the word 'alternative' needs to be treated with a degree of caution. Nevertheless, not all youth cultures are the same. Some contain more or less positive tendencies than others, a greater or lesser potential for recognizing the contradictions inherent in the phenomenon and developing a practical critique of their grounding. And all 'alternative' lifestyles are by definition outside of the remit of the usual forms of political representation.

Music was in a moribund state in the mid 1970s. The musicians of the '68 generation had become tired and boring, the naive optimism of hippydom out of tune with the harsh realities of ongoing class conflict. No amount of lustre or glitter on the stage sets of glam rock could disguise the fact that all was not well in the (music) factory, and it was obvious that the new subjects of struggle required new overtures. And as Callaghandeclared his intention to launch the war of austerity in 1976, a different declaration of war was beginning to reverberate through distorted amplifiers in the back rooms and basements of London: the declaration of war on 'society' by punk. Punk was able to articulate the frustrations of the new generation. But in comparison to the wave of youth revolt in Italy, both inside and outside of the factories, punk was only a caricature of revolt, superficial nihilism.

Punk was inherently contradictory. Central to it was the 'DIY' ethos, but it lacked an explicit critique of the commodity-form. This lack of critique allowed self-valorization to give way to recuperation, giving a long overdue kick up the backside to the entrepreneurs involved in the 'youth culture' industry. The shops of King's Road and Carnaby Street testified to the process of turning rebellion into money, shelves laden with designer bondage trousers, studded leather, mass-produced 'Destroy' and 'Vive La Revolution' t-shirts, and badges. But the recuperative powers of these new commodities were not without limit. For the punks that had taken the mocking lyrics of their anti-heroes seriously, the sight of all this commodity capital awaiting realization, and the selling out to major labels of the biggest bands, was an insult they could not leave unanswered. They realized that 'the great rock and roll swindle' had in fact been perpetrated on them.

Perhaps the most important point, however, is the fact that selling an image of revolution to keep would-be revolutionaries from the real thing requires that they have the necessary purchasing power. And many of the working class youth attracted to punk were on the dole and therefore skint. The time was right for a sub-genre to emerge from all this shit to explicitly politicize the DIY ethos that punk stood for.

c) Anarcho-Punk:

'Do you believe in the system? Well OK. I believe in anarchy in the UK'. These words from the release of the first Crass record on their own non-profit making label were accompanied by the words 'Pay no more than £2'. If you still had to pay for your anarchy at least it was affordable! Crass had the means to release their own cheap records, play cheap gigs, and promote other bands who shared their ethos. The anarcho-punk scene soon became a vibrant alternative to the punk scene it declared dead. The anarchism of the typical anarcho-punk was however little more than militant liberalism. Crass had their roots in the old peace movement, and largely ignoring the harsh realities of class warfare in the world outside their commune, set about promoting the ideas of pacifism and lifestyle politics. Offensive though many of their dogmas were, the anarcho-punks must be judged not just by the lyrics they sang along to, but, crucially, by what they actually did.

During the early 1980s, the main political focus for the new breed was the CND demonstrations which drew hundreds of thousands of concerned liberals to Hyde Park on a yearly basis. Grouping under a collection of black flags the anarchos would hand out leaflets and fanzines encouraging personal revolution and then heckle the speakers and try to storm the stage. As numbers swelled, the anti-militarist struggle was taken into the heart of enemy territory with the Stop The City actions when banks and rollers would get smashed under the cover of a pacifist carnival. The obsession with lifestyle politics, however, was a major factor hindering the development of the 'movement', making links with those who didn't fit problematic, as would become apparent during the miners' strike. Far too many anarchos simply changed their clothes, diet, drugs and musical tastes, deluding themselves that by doing so they were creating a new world within the belly of the old which would wither away once it recognized its comparative existential poverty. But most of the criticisms of lifestyle politics, then and now, were and are mere defences by militants prepared to accept the continual deferral of pleasure in favour of the 'hard work' of politics. The desire to create the future in the present has always been a strength of anarchists. How one lives is political. Thus the anarchos may be considered to have constituted a political movement seeking social reproduction unmediated by wage labour.

In 1980 Crass played the Stonehenge festival and a close link with the free festival scene subsequently evolved. Likewise the anarchos gave a massive impetus to the squatting scene left over from the 70s. By the mid 1980s, virtually every town in England and Wales had its squats. Bands were formed, venues either squatted or hired dirt cheap (church halls and the like which meant no bar - take your own home-brew) and gigs organized, often benefits which would succeed in raising money despite cheap entry because the bands would play for next to nothing. During the summer months much of this activity would shift on to the free festival circuit, meeting up with those who had chosen to spent the whole year travelling between peace camps and festivals, and who in turn would benefit from the links with the urban scene (news, contacts, places to rest and repair, opportunities for fraud etc.).

This scene was particularly well organized, and more politicized, in the cities. On Bristol's Cheltenham Road, the Demolition Ballroom, Demolition Diner, and Full Marx book shop provided a valuable organizational focus, with the activities of the squatted venue and cafe supplemented by the information and contact address of the lefty book shop. Brixton squatters not only had their own squatted cafes, crèches and book shop, but also Crowbar their own Class War style squatting oriented paper. Strong links were forged with the squatting movement on the continent, particularly Germany, and draft dodgers from Italy were regularly encountered. And with direct communication supplemented by the then fortnightly Black Flag, a couple of phone calls and a short article could mobilize numbers in solidarity with other struggles.

Whilst the anarcho-punk scene created a not insignificant area of autonomy from capital, such autonomy was always disfigured by the continued existence of exchange relations. Going to gigs and eating in squat cafes, even brewing your own beer to share with mates, all required money. And free festivals, whilst standing in stark contrast to the commercialism of Glastonbury, were anything but - there was no entry fee and no-one would let you starve if you were skint, but drugs in particular cost money. Unless you wanted to cloud your relationships, obscuring lines of solidarity and friendship by becoming a dealer, if only to cover your own dope requirements, money remained a problem. There was always a correspondence between the satisfaction of needs and the need for money, a correspondence that contradicted the professed desire to abolish the filthy stuff.

d) Fragmentation of anarcho-punk:

This contradiction partially explains the subsequent fragmentation and decline of the anarcho-punk squatting/travelling movement. On the one hand, the state relaxed credit restrictions, abandoning tight monetary policy, producing the credit-fuelled boom which preceded the 1987 stock market crash. This led to a rapid fall in the number of jobless. Many previously involved with organizing in and around the squatting scene got jobs during the boom, and whilst many remained living in squats (to stay with friends and save on rent), momentum was being lost. Individualism tended to replace a collective approach to social problems, as wage earners and dealers could afford to accept the position money held within the scene. The carrot of the boom, however would not have had the same impact without the repeated blows with the stick of state repression.

With unemployment falling, it became easier for the state to make the benefit system more punitive. The changes in 1987 and 1988 certainly increased the disciplining role of the welfare state, thereby throwing down a gauntlet to the lifestyle of work-rejection. Benefits for 16 and 17 year olds were scrapped in favour of an extension of YTS slave labour, thereby removing the possibility of work avoidance (except by begging) for the young school leavers who had always been central to the movement. The introduction of the Job Training Scheme and the availability for work requirements also had an effect. Restart interviews were easy enough for most people sufficiently clued up to blag their way through, but tended to encourage people to rely on their own wits. Because these changes were ultimately divisive, they encouraged people to look after number one. Attempts to organize against them were met with responses that expressed a distinct lack of solidarity, and this reflected not only the nature of the attack but also the divisions that had emerged within the scene.

The biggest causes of such fragmentation were the smashing of the miners and printworkers on the one hand and the repression of the festival scene on the other. The anarchism of the anarcho-punk scene was always pretty incoherent, a militant liberalism that sought to destroy the state yet which was committed to pacifism. Within the movement there would be differences, some placing greater emphasis on non-violence or animal rights, some more committed to a revolutionary class position. For a while these underlying differences could be glossed over, and whilst people could argue about the 1981 riots, for example, it was just talk. But the miners' strike presented a major challenge by its longevity and opportunity for involvement, one that caused underlying differences to surface with a resultant divergence between those who dismissed the miners as violent macho men performing an ecologically unsound activity, and those who, despite a certain amount of confusion, recognized that there was a war going on and, whatever it was about, they had to choose the violence of the pickets over that of the state's thugs.

Most anarchos supported the miners, even if such support was not of a particularly practical nature, though bands like Crass and Poison Girls and numerous others played benefits for the miners to give some material assistance. The resultant defeat therefore had a demoralizing effect on the anarcho-punk scene.

The same conflict between liberalism and class struggle anarchism came to the fore with the Wapping dispute the following year. The movement was divided between those who saw the need to support the printworkers and those who dismissed them as sexist, racist, homophobic macho men. However even amongst those more sympathetic to the former view were some who argued that it was better that pickets got trampled by police horses than horses get broken legs by pickets rolling marbles under their hooves. The defeat of the printworkers was another demoralizing factor, but also one which accelerated the process of fragmentation. The inherent contradiction in the movement led to a substantial parting of ways, one pole devoting itself almost exclusively to the moral crusade of animal lib and many of those they fell out with getting so fed up with lifestylism that they joined one of the national anarchist organizations.

Meanwhile those who had been more attracted to travelling than squatting or political activity were being put under severe pressure. The Stonehenge festival was banned in 1985, and the determined attempt to defy the ban was met with a response not unlike that experienced by the miners, culminating in the famous 'battle of the beanfield'. The following year the state brought in the Public Order Act, section 13 of which established a 4 mile radius exclusion zone around the stones. Other sections gave new powers to proscribe demonstrations and extended the law against trespass. The former were successfully challenged on the streets of London by the Campaign Against The Public Order Act/Campaign Against Police Repression; but whilst many travellers have battled bravely in adverse conditions, the police have been able to use section 39 to intimidate and harass them, continually moving them on. Travelling and free festivals continued, but, with the loss of the weeks-long Stonehenge focus, went into something of a decline. The police-benefit festival at Glastonbury, extortionately priced but affordable to those now working, mopped up. And before they were successfully excluded in recent years, convoys of travellers used to gatecrash it (literally), with many others bunking in, and so the new reality was gradually accepted, particularly as the 'unfree' festivals were full of punters waiting to be parted from their cash.

The nomadic dream of rural idyll gradually gave way to the reality of being moved from noisy lay-by to squalid car park, with decent sites often blocked off by farmers and local councils. As the links with squatters and politicos became more distanced, so the mysticism of the 60s hippies, aided by reminiscence of the magical stones now out of reach, took further hold, alongside cynicism. Alienation from capitalist society increasingly expressed itself through alcoholism and heroin addiction, bringing new problems to deal with or run away from. Ghettoization increased, with the 'you've had a bath so you must be a cunt' mentality increasing.

Whilst the late 80s witnessed a decline in the anarcho-punk phenomenon, it did not disappear. The Poll Tax riot demonstrated that the anger of the punks only needed an invitation to riot to stop it being internalized and bitterly misdirected. And despite all the repression since 1985, the loss of direction, supportive links, and ghettoization, a significant travelling scene survived to see the psychedelic cavalry arrive in 1992.

e) Acid House / Rave:

When acid house parties became popularized beyond exclusive clubs with an explosion of huge warehouse parties in 1988, media trend-setters dubbed it the 'summer of love'. It soon became clear, however, that despite the squatting of venues the whole phenomena was becoming subordinate to the interests of a new breed of entrepreneur, and gradually the rave scene has tended to move from squatted warehouses and country fields to licensed venues. It is now well known that the much vaunted love did not extend to letting overheated ravers drink from taps in night club toilets when the dehydrating effects of ecstasy could be exploited to flog overpriced bottled water. The acid house / rave scene provided a perfect opportunity for a rapid accumulation of capital with little outlay, offset only by the risks involved in the illegality. As recognition of the commercial potential of the phenomena grew so free parties went into decline.

Whilst the rave scene may have permitted the opening up of a new area for commercial activity, it has not been one that established capital has been able to fully penetrate, and this is not just due to the illegality of the drugs industry which has an unprecedented cultural importance to raves. Surplus-value has instead been largely distributed amongst a new generation of petty entrepreneurs, from dealers to DJs and home-growers to laser operators, and whilst night-club owners have benefited from police repression of illegal parties, established interests in the brewing and music industries have been worried by the impenetrability of the rave scene for their products. As much of the money circulating in the rave scene becomes siphoned off by DJs and owners of sound systems and light shows etc., often to supplement their dole, at the expense of it being spent on records and CDs, the MTV-promoted grunge phenomenon has been needed to help maintain the level of the music industry's commodity capital consumed by the youth market.

As for ravers themselves, one has to consider the extent to which their lifestyle is 'alternative', if only because of the state's attempts to repress the unlicensed rave scene and possible reactions to that repression. Quite clearly ravers are not self-consciously political in the way that anarcho-punks were, because anarcho-punk's premise was a critique of the commercialism of the 'punk industry' whilst the rave scene was built on an acceptance of the commodification of squat parties.

There has, however, been something of a reaction to the crass commercialism of rave culture, although this has been predominantly mystic, seeing crude material interest as being at odds with the 'spiritual significance' of the rave high in which the 'collective consciousness of the tribe' is rediscovered, apparently. And the development of a more sober critique (apart from the practical one of bunking in to raves) has been hindered by the fact that the sound systems which provide free parties do so with equipment they have accumulated by putting on licensed raves in clubs for money. Many of these entrepreneurs reinvest their share of surplus-value but do so predominantly for the enhanced use-value of their equipment rather than because it can make them even more money. Simply enjoying the parties they put on and the status that comes with it they impose the rule of money on ravers, but not for the sake of money itself.

The recession of the early 1990s has seen youth unemployment shoot up rapidly, however, and with it the need for a lifestyle compatible with being skint. It has enabled the development of the 'eco-warriors' that have so infuriated the government through taking anti-roads protests beyond 'NIMBYism'. But alongside clauses seeking to effectively criminalize anti-roads actions, squatting, travelling and hunt-sabotage, the CJ&POA also contains clauses specifically aimed at raves. In order to understand why, it is necessary to consider the events of 1992, events that left landowners, police and MPs demanding action.

In 1992 the Exodus collective in Luton began putting on free raves that grew to attract 10,000-strong crowds. But the most significant events in the 1992 rave calendar were the free festival at Castlemorton in the Malverns and the Torpedo Town festival at Otterbourne near Twyford Down. These saw a new and exciting fusion of the rave scene with the leftovers of the travelling scene. Such a fusion posed the possibility, on the one hand, of an auto-critique of the commercialism of raves, learning from the old nomadic anarcho-punks, and a critique of soap-avoiding ghettoization on the other. Such a prospect admittedly seemed fanciful at the time given the level of mutual dislike - ravers dismissed as 'part-timers' with no respect for 'their' sites, and 'scrounging' travellers apparently confirming popular prejudices.

But what was far more significant in the short term was the fact that by coming together, sheer weight of numbers meant that each group enabled each other to defy police bans, raising the prospect that the steady process of the state's crushing of the free aspects of each genre could be put into reverse. In Otterbourne, Hampshire police repeatedly asserted that there would in no circumstances be a festival, only to have to allow one to prevent the county's arteries of commerce being clogged up by would-be revellers refusing to go home. Since then police have committed resources to a nationwide surveillance operation, hounded travellers persistently and demanded increased powers to ensure such scenarios are not repeated. With the passing of the CJ&POA such powers have been granted.

e) CJ&POA Part 5:

Following the release of the Birmingham 6, the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice was set up to find a way of solving the crisis of confidence in the British legal system. One of its central recommendations was that the right to silence be maintained; but by the time the Commission published its report the original concerns of the government had been succeeded by the need to unite the party with the 'back to basics' programme. In October 1993, after both the opposition parties had banged the 'law and order' drum at their conferences, Michael Howard gave a 'hang 'em and flog 'em' speech to the Tory party conference, presenting a 27 point law and order package which became the basis for both the Criminal Justice Bill and the Police and Magistrates Courts Bill.

As well as a relatively straightforward, if draconian, increase in the repressive powers of the state (abolishing the right to silence etc.), the proposals attacked every conceivable scapegoat that the party could agree to hate, from the young killers of Jamie Bulger (provisions for children's prisons) to paedophiles (extending the powers of police to raid premises on suspicion they may contain child pornography).

Had the CJB stuck to attacking these relatively easy targets the response would probably have amounted to little more than condemnation from the liberal establishment and social workers. But the CJB also contained Part 5 devoted almost entirely to an attack on squatters, travellers, hunt-sabs, road protesters and, importantly, ravers, and these groups have refused to be scapegoated quite so easily.

What unites these groups in such a way that they have become such hate targets of the government is that, although they may be a long way from consciously declaring war on capital, they share a common refusal of the work-ethic, of a life subordinated to wage labour. As such, they pose an alternative to the life of desperately looking for work, which must be made unattractive. But the state is not alone in not having a clear understanding of the class meaning of Part 5 of the CJ&POA; for this is something which the representatives of the opposition to the act also seem to be painfully incapable of grasping.

Part Two: From Campaign to Movement

Latent and Manifest Contradictions


Class war or a liberal lobby? A movement to defend autonomy and subversion or an appeal for rights? Anyone who has had any involvement in the campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill, if only to the extent of going on one of the three national marches, must be aware that the opposition to the act is riven by this contradiction. 'Keep it Fluffy' or 'Keep it Spikey'? 'Kill the Bill' or 'Chill the Bill'? Communists undoubtedly know which side they are on. But this contradiction exists not just in the antagonism between the different components which make up the campaign, most famously between the media bete noire Class War and the media darlings in Freedom Network. It also runs through the hearts of many of the individuals for whom this is their first political engagement. The division exists in the contradictory things the same people have said - and, more importantly, done - in different circumstances. It is therefore worthwhile examining the basis of this contradiction, as well as taking sides, for the emergence of a new generation of rebels is dependent upon them understanding and seeking to resolve their contradictory interpretations of the world around them.


(A) Contradictions in the Campaign

(i) Subjects and Representatives

a)Left Behind:

The retreat of parliamentary social democracy may have caused problems for Trotskyism's engagement with the opposition to the Poll Tax, but at least the Labour Party opposed the Poll Tax in parliament, enabling an argument to be made that they offered a hope of salvation worth pursuing, lobbying, pressuring etc. Orienting opposition to the CJB towards the labour movement however would quickly come up against the problem that not only did the Labour Party not oppose the CJB in parliament, but also that its leader was happy to boast that he had even suggested sections of it (the reintroduction of stop and search powers). It is clearly no surprise that the left was incapable of launching a movement against the CJB.

b) Carry on regardless:

If we understand leftism as a form of mediation, it becomes clear that the crisis of representation does not just open up new possibilities for autonomous class struggle, but also poses new problems. Social democracy provided a political form through which working class antagonism could be expressed. In order to recuperate through representation, the left had to arrange meetings as well as stitch them up, and organize demonstrations as well as police them. For revolutionaries who used to intervene in or heckle at those meetings, leaflet disrupt or attempt to riot on those demonstrations, the crisis of leftist mediation poses a dilemma. Meetings and demonstrations need to be organized in order to bring together atomized individuals so that they can become a collective force.

When the CJB was drawn up, it immediately became clear that contesting its implementation would require drawing strength from the breadth of its attack. Practical links would have to be made between the different marginalized groups affected in order that they could reinforce each others resistance. A movement would have to be forged, beginning by launching a campaign of opposition to the bill, drawing in groups, mediating between them, co-ordinating activities, organizing demonstrations etc. But with the left incapable of performing this role, who would launch a campaign against the CJB?

As we have seen, squatters and travellers have become relatively disorganized and depoliticized since the mid 1980s. Some squatters are still involved in organizing politically around squatting, and the 121 Centre in Brixton is still functioning, even if political activities are being increasingly marginalized. But in 1994, squatters were in no position to repeat their initial success of 1974, and travellers were in an even worse position. A nomadic lifestyle does not lend itself to co-ordinated resistance, and the CJ&POA's provisions allowing police to seize and destroy vehicles means that travellers would be risking their homes by leading a confrontation with the law. Leaving the struggle to those with the luxury of being able to confront the law on less perilous terrain, many travellers have been consistent with the tendency to try to escape the clutches of the state and have therefore emigrated.

The nature of hunt sabotage and anti-roads protests meanwhile lent itself to a quite different response to the challenge contained in the bill. Most of those involved in these activities justify their actions in moral terms, and it is exactly this commitment to a militant liberal ideology which has made them determined to contest the new laws. For the sake of some external morally pure referent, 'the planet' or 'innocent animals', just about any sacrifice is worth making. Thus the dominant tendency in response to the criminalization of these activities was that of a renewed determination to carry on regardless. But, laudable though this determination may be, this tendency neglected the importance of making solidaristic links, of the need to build a national campaign of opposition.

c) Advance to Go:

On the one hand the crisis of representation, and on the other the opposing tendencies amongst targeted subjects towards running away or carrying on regardless. It is these factors which have combined to allow the 'fluffies' to represent the movement against the CJ&POA; and had it not been for them there would not have been any significant campaign against the CJB, and, ironically given their opposition to (anti-hierarchical) violence, no Hyde Park riot. The main organizers behind the May 1st demo were the Advance Party, made up of the petty entrepreneurs of the rave scene who had woken up to the implications of the bill for unlicensed parties. They used the channels of communication established for organizing raves; to those not involved in the scene the demo seemed to come out of nowhere. As news reached DIY enthusiasts around the country local anti-CJB groups began to spring up, co-ordinated through the Freedom Network, and the 'fluffy' character of the campaign became established.

The connection between 'fluffy' ideology and people with a penchant for shelves from 'Do It All' might seem far fetched, but DIY refers not to this but to a relatively new cultural phenomenon. Communicated through a host of fanzines, DIY culture celebrates self-organization. It is anarcho-punk stripped of its subversive potential, with neither punk's anger nor anarchism's politics. Thus it appeals both to the (predominantly mystic) alternative ravers who reject the crass commercialism of the dominant rave scene in favour of self-organized parties (free and otherwise), and to the 'eco-reformists' in and around the Green Party who are disillusioned by its attempts at electoral respectability but who would rather celebrate recycling their rubbish, getting an allotment, and the worship of Gaia than get involved with Earth First!.

(ii) The world-view of the 'fluffy'

a) Basis of liberal ideology and its antithesis:

Fluffy ideology is merely the latest development in liberal ideology, and can be summed up as the view that society is nothing more than the aggregation of individuals. We have consistently countered this by arguing that we live in a class society, and that the struggle we are engaged in is not a question of civil liberties but a moment in the class war. The problem is that we are, each of us, an individual with our own subjectivity, and a member of a class. The contradiction between class war and liberal lobby is rooted in the contradiction of bourgeois society as a contradictory unity of the spheres of production and circulation, a society characterized by class exploitation mediated by the 'free' sale and purchase of individual labour-powers. Getting to grips with this contradiction in the movement requires grappling with the problematic of proletarian subjectivity.

As we saw when discussing the problem of reformism, proletarian subjectivity moves along a continuum between the poles of integration and transcendence. It is living activity which constitutes both the dialectic of capital - alienated subjectivity - and the counter-dialectic of class struggle - the subjectivity of the working class. Acceptance of the commodity form of labour allows the proletarian to enter the sphere of the circulation of commodities as a sovereign individual relating to other individuals through the reified world of market relations. This is the world of freedom and equality guaranteed by the rights of the individual. This is the immediate appearance of bourgeois society so beloved by its apologists. This is the basis of liberal ideology, the world of atomized citizens all equal before the law.

The only thing which is really free in this world however is money, and the only equality that of the equivalence of different activities as abstract labour. The essence of bourgeois society is class exploitation in the sphere of production, unfreedom and inequality. The appearance of bourgeois society as an aggregation of individuals is not an illusion, but an abstraction from this exploitation. Thus, despite this apparent freedom and equality we find the tendency of proletarian subjectivity towards resistance, refusal, struggle and class consciousness.

But therein lies the problematic. Whilst an individual proletarian may adopt the viewpoint of an atomized individual and act as such by him- or herself, the development of working class subjectivity, thinking and acting as a class, can only be a part of a collective process of realization. Thus working class subjectivity, the transcendence of liberalism, is not immediately given as certain autonomists and 'ultra-leftists' would have it, but must be composed out of struggle.

As workerists will tell you, the realm of production brings proletarians together, in contrast to the atomization in the realm of circulation. But it brings us together only as components of collective exploitation. To the extent that the working class is composed by capital itself, it remains fractured, as capital-in-general itself is fractured into the particular capitals which constitute it. And even within each collective labour process, the co-operative nature of the labour confronts each individual as a hostile power to the extent that it has been really subsumed by capital. Thus the development of an antagonistic working class subjectivity occurs only to the extent that divisions are overcome, whether it be through struggle within and against production (strikes etc., breaking the fragmentation of individuals joined only by assembly lines or telecommunication cables), or struggles outside of production (riots, occupations etc., breaking the atomization of individuals connected to 'communities' only by the market and ballot box). Either way, the working class develops its own unalienated collective subjectivity only through the initiation, development, inter-connection and generalization of the multiplicity of proletarian struggles towards the struggle of the proletariat.

b) Why liberalism now - an historical perspective:

The above may best be illustrated by looking at the problem historically. Given its basis in the real abstraction that is the atomized individual within bourgeois society, it should be clear that liberalism becomes transcended by the process of working class self-formation.

Conversely, an eclipse of a class offensive will inevitably see its return, particularly amongst those most atomized through this decomposition; and so it has proved. Capital's counter-offensive since the 1970s has fragmented the class. Many sites of concentration of the working class have been restructured, dispersed or closed down altogether - industrial, residential and recreational alike. Divisions have increased, between north and south, employed and unemployed, skilled and unskilled etc. Repeats from the golden age of situation comedy clearly demonstrate the extent to which working class subjectivity imposed itself on the 1970s; no Prime Minister in those days would have dreamt of calling society 'classless'. In the 1990s, far fewer people hold a class perspective, whilst a communist perspective seems to most people who encounter it to be more a matter of semi-religious faith than an expression of a real tendency within society.

The lack of a class perspective and dominance of liberal ideas within the anti-CJB campaign was amongst other things a result of the relative lack of (obvious) class struggle within the UK in recent years. The 1984/85 miners' strike was probably the last battle whose stakes were such that it demanded to be understood in terms of a war between classes rather than between a particular set of workers and their bosses. As for class struggle in the 1990s, the movement against the Gulf War presented itself in predominantly moral terms, the 1993 campaign against pit closures presented itself as a defence of the 'national interest', whilst the anti-roads movement tends to present itself as a defence of 'the planet'.

In viewing the problem of liberalism historically, however, it is also necessary to consider the weight of dominant historiography. For us, history is the history of class struggle, whilst bourgeois historians recognize only the result, not the process. The development of working class power during periods of class recomposition has often been recognized by the state in the granting of rights. Such rights, however, are not just a neutral barometer of working class pressure to be defended uncritically, since they play a role in decomposing the class as citizens. As the class eventually retreats, what remains are the rights it has won. And the bourgeois mind then interprets history in terms of the granting of rights and their most prominent individual advocates, leaving the underlying class movement unrecognized. The liberal is then left with a distorted understanding of the historical precedents to their struggle. Thus many liberals, including those in Freedom Network, look to the examples set by Gandhi and Emily Pankhurst, ignoring the class offensives which underpinned the end of colonialism in India and the granting of universal suffrage in the UK.

c) Liberalism and social positions:

The connection between liberalism and the social positions of its adherents is usually grasped in terms of them being 'middle class wankers'. Though this is undoubtedly true of supporters of Charter 88 and Liberty, and may describe the family background of many fluffies, the influence of fluffy ideology within the campaign can be better understood by a closer examination of their current positions within capitalist society. The CJ&POA Part 5 is an attack on marginal elements rejecting the conformity of the 'traditional working class'. Within its scope therefore, including as it does a clamp down on unlicensed raves, are hippy entrepreneurs who have a material interest in adopting a liberal position of defending freedom (to make money in their case, to dance in fields etc. in the case of their punters); adopting a class position would expose the tensions between those who sell and those who always buy, the personifications of the opposing extremes of commodity metamorphosis.

By far the majority in the movement, however, are young unemployed who have no material interest in obscuring class divisions. But this very position of unemployment reinforces the apparent truth of liberal ideology as the claimant exclusively inhabits the realm of circulation and exchange, experiencing only one facet of capitalism. Many in the movement relate to money only as the universal equivalent, as purchasing power, not as the face of the boss. Their income is not payment for exploitation as a component of a collective workforce, but apparently a function of their individual human needs.

Whilst the claimant's pound coin is worth every bit as much as that of the company director, the quantitative difference in the amount they have to spend becomes a qualitativeone that becomes recognized as class inequality, especially if the claimant has not chosen the dole as a preference, has family commitments, or lives in a working class community. But 'young free and single' claimants who have chosen to be on the dole, particularly if they have never worked, more so if they come from a middle class background, and if the housing benefit pays for a flat in an area shared by students, yuppies and other claimants alike, and especially if the higher echelons of a hierarchical education system have increased their sense of personal self-worth, will tend towards the one sided view of the world they inhabit that is liberalism.

Such a tendency is, of course, transformed by experience. For the individuals who engage in the collective struggles of, say, anti-roads protests, there is the possibility of moving beyond liberalism towards a critique of capitalism. To the extent that such activities remain the domain of dedicated 'cross-class' minorities however, it is more likely that a liberal viewpoint will be retained in the modified form of militant liberalism.

On the other hand, no such modification can be expected through the world of DIY culture. The collective experience of the rave, simultaneous movement to a pre-determined rhythm with spontaneous outbreaks of cheering or mass hugging, offers the illusion of unity but, once the 'E' has worn off, leaves the individual little closer to becoming a social individual with meaningful bonds than before. The experience of defending a rave against the police, on the other hand, does lend itself to the development of working class subjectivity; but our 'fluffy friends' do not seem to have involved themselves with this most positive aspect of the rave scene, preferring the 'positive vibes' of paganism, Sufism, Taoism or some other theological bullshit.

As for the other aspects of the DIY world, fanzine production often preserves atomization. Either the production of a single person, or a collection of articles with no editorial policy, it serves as a vessel for individual viewpoints to be aired unanswered; there is none of the discussion or debate leading to the development of inter-subjectivity that is required in a collective project. And to the extent that DIY culture concerns itself with grand social problems it does so by fetishizing either the power of the individual 'ethical consumer' or that of the example-setting pioneer in self-sufficiency.

The failure to recognize the need to overcome the atomization of individuals through collective struggles in which they can become social individuals, becomes, not a failure, but a virtue in the world of DIY. As a result, the liberalism of the fluffy is far worse than that of any of its predecessors.

d) Fluffy liberalism versus militant liberalism:

Many who have been on the national demonstrations may be under the illusion that the fluffies are simply the pacifists of the 1980s re-emerging from the woodwork. There are however important differences between fluffyism and the pacifism of the old peace movement. Pacifists at least recognized the state as a social force of violent coercion that needed to be confronted for 'freedom' to have any meaning. Fluffyism on the other hand takes liberalism to its logical extreme (and is even more incoherent as a result). The fluffy view of society as an aggregation of individuals denies the possibility of recognizing the state as a social force; below their suits and uniforms the bailiffs, police, property speculators, industrialists and even Michael Howard and his cohorts are just individual human beings. Fluffies assume therefore that all individuals have a common human interest. Any conflicts which arise in society can, by implication, only be the results of misplaced fears or misunderstandings.

This view underpinned the fluffies' conception of how the campaign against the CJB needed to proceed. As the CJB could only be the result of prejudice, the best way to counter it would be to demonstrate to those nice men in suits that they really had nothing to fear: that beneath the dreadlocks and funny clothes, strange ideas and new-fangled music, the marginalized community was really made up of respectable and honest human beings making a valuable if unorthodox contribution to humanity. The way forward was to overcome prejudice by demonstrating to the rest of society their reasonableness and 'positivity'. Thus in comparison to the liberalism of the pacifists, fluffyism is characterized by being not only fundamentally unconfrontational, but also supposedly apolitical. (Its obvious incoherence could be sustained only because of the political inexperience of its young adherents, the extent to which its contradictions had not been exposed through the impact of external reality.)

Two things followed directly from this conception. Firstly, as the purpose of the campaign was to provide itself with a positive self-image, the representation became more important than that which was to be represented. Attracting media attention and getting 'positive coverage' became the be all and end all of the campaign as far as the fluffies were concerned. Indeed, were it possible to get positive TV coverage of a demonstration without the hassles and risks involved in actually having one, the fluffies would no doubt have done so. The fluffy is the situationist's nightmare come true, the rarefied thought of the post modernist personified - virtual politics.

Secondly, the fluffies were initially incapable of considering the possibility that they would not persuade the men in suits not to pass the bill. Unable to think in terms of building a social movement capable of defying the law, the failure of the campaign would represent the end rather than the beginning, and, as such, was a prospect that it was best not to think about less it sap the campaign's positivity. Many of the fluffies are too young to have not paid the Poll Tax. For them there are legally enshrined rights, or nothing.

(iii) Latent contradictions in the campaign

There were a number of contradictions, some of which were immediately apparent from the start, and some which remained latent for a while. These can be considered as operating on three main levels:

a) Class struggle militants / liberals: This opposition needs little explanation. Within the groups linked under the umbrella of the Freedom Network there were coherent and organized political elements like the Oxford Solidarity Action and Brighton Autonomists. And the national demonstrations were bound to attract elements seeking an opportunity to confront the state, veterans of Trafalgar Square and Welling. Anarchists and communists, aware of the contradiction inherent in proletarian subjects waging class war being represented by fluffies, were bound to try to help the campaign escape from its liberal strait-jacket. More interesting are the contradictions which became apparent within liberalism itself.

b) Fluffy liberals / militant liberals: The campaign was represented predominantly by fluffies seeking to demonstrate to the establishment their respectability. But those groups who would become a large part of the campaign's constituents were not involved in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the status quo, but precisely because they were involved in and wished to continue social struggles attempting to subvert it on some level. The fluffies were initially primarily concerned with the 'right to party', an activity which they reasoned they would be able to show posed no threat to the interests of the establishment once the latter understood it a little better. Hunt-sabs, anti-road protesters, squatters and to a lesser extent travellers, however, all shared a common opposition to those interests.

Thus the contradiction between the militant liberals and the fluffies was that of a political versus an apolitical outlook, a collective oppositional approach versus an 'individual with contacts' media-oriented approach, and operated on the familiar level of the contradiction between subject and representation.

c) Fluffy subjects / fluffy representation: The media obsession of the fluffies meant that this contradiction between subject and representation was even felt within the ranks of the fluffies themselves. For the young raver types amongst them especially, the requirements of the campaign to present them as decent, reasonable members of society conflicted with their desire to drop out, smoke dope, take ecstacy, grow dreadlocks, dye their hair, pierce their faces and all the other things which do not fit with the media's idea of respectability. The need to appear respectable was a matter of self-denial, something which their ('new age') beliefs did not approve of; it contradicted their desire to be 'alternative', however depoliticized that lifestyle may be in comparison with that of the anarcho-punks or eco-warriors.

These three contradictions would come to the surface as the campaign became a movement. And as it became increasingly clear that, in contrast to old-fashioned leftist mediation, the fluffies would prove to be incapable of delivering anything in return for loyalty, this contradiction between subject and representation would become sharper. As it became clear that the only way forward would be to build a movement of mass defiance, this contradiction would become an openly visible rupture.

(B) The Movement: Contradictions Manifested

A complete account of all the actions which took place as the campaign against the CJB gathered momentum is well beyond the scope of this article; far too much has happened over the last year to cover everything in detail. Local demonstrations have been organized all around the country, many of which have been the biggest seen in those towns for years, and some of them have been illegal, explicitly challenging the 1986 Public Order Act. The movement has thrown up squatted social spaces in Oxford, Blackburn, Hastings, Swansea, Brighton, Huddersfield, Cardiff, London, the Isle of Wight, Nottingham, Sheffield, Lewes and Rugby. There was the invasion and disruption of Hackney Council's meeting on the use of the CJB against squatters; this, like the Hackney Homeless Festival, ended in clashes with the TSG. There was also the clash in Oxford when squatters occupied the lobby of the local nick to protest against their eviction. And there was a whole host of publicity stunts, lobbies, and media opportunities. All these events contributed to pushing the CJB to the top of the political agenda last year. The focus of this article, however, is on the contradiction within the movement between the political activities of class subversion and liberal lobbying, and this contradiction became most clearly manifest at two pivotal moments for the campaign: the national demonstrations in London on July 24th and October 9th last year.

(i) The march to Downing Street:

a) The 'Coalition': SWP jumps on the bandwagon, but can it steer it?

The May 1st demonstration last year took the left by surprise. It demanded some kind of response, if not because it demonstrated the left's redundancy then because it provided a new wave of potential recruitment fodder. The SWP, with the keenest nose for an opportunity, and a more youthful rank and file than their main rivals, were first off the mark, setting up the 'Coalition Against the Criminal Justice Bill'. This comprised various groups such as the Advance Party, Freedom Network, the Hunt Saboteurs Association and an assortment of local anti-roads campaigns (notably the No M11 Link Campaign). But it was effectively dominated by the SWP given that these other groups were relatively inexperienced in the sordid business of political manipulation and were easily outmanoeuvred. The Coalition then called a national demonstration in London for July 24th, the weekend before the CJB was expected to become law.

This attempt at leftist recuperation demanded that the campaign be oriented towards the labour movement, and given the Labour Party's position on the CJB, this would have to be orientation towards the unions. SWP cadre became involved at grass roots level, intervening in meetings of local groups, criticizing fluffyism by emphasizing the class nature of the attack, and arguing for the need to connect to other working class struggles. But any positive impact the SWP may have had on the movement was more than compensated for by the effects of its workerism, which only served to reinforce the appeal of liberalism within the movement.

During the build up to the demonstration, the RMT called a series of 24 and 48 hour signal workers' strikes which paralysed the rail network. The SWP's repeatedly stated position was that it was necessary to forge links between the two struggles. Such links would theoretically have been desirable. Besides both being instances of class struggle, the signal workers' dispute and the anti-CJB movement were clearly linked by way of the anti-roads movement.

The prospect of connecting the struggles over transport (in a more meaningful way than the hoots of tube drivers in Leytonstone being reciprocated by cheers from squatters in Claremont Road holding up the M11 link), the prospects of practical links between struggles forged through recognition of a common enemy in state and capital, was obviously one that would have been mutually beneficial.

Unfortunately, the signal workers' dispute offered no such opportunities as it was tightly controlled by the RMT as a signal workers' dispute and nothing more. Aside from a couple of arson attacks on signal boxes, there were no autonomous initiatives by the signal workers for others to support, and not even picket lines in many places. Under pressure from its left wing, the RMT executive agreed to call a national demonstration to support the 4,000 strikers, but did nothing to build it; only 1,500 turned up and about 90% of these were members of Trot groups. And the rally at the end of the march was exclusively for RMT signal workers. The dispute was sewn up by the RMT to such an extent that the making of links could only be rhetorical.

This did not dissuade the SWP, however. In part this was due to their willingness to carry the dead-weight of unionism, doing the donkey-work for the RMT executive whilst pleading for it to call an all-out strike or call out other railway workers. But mainly it was due to their conception of the how the struggles were related.

Firstly, the SWP argued that the CJB was aimed primarily at striking workers (which is why it was a class issue), and the movement should therefore be defending its most important flank. Secondly, the link had to be made with the signal workers because, as a workplace struggle, it could succeed where the anti-CJB movement couldn't. Telling the main targets of the legislation that they were a mere smoke screen for the target that really mattered was bad enough, but telling them that they were effectively incapable of fighting it was an abject lesson in theoretical disempowerment:

We need to turn our efforts towards the trade unions and workplaces - for two reasons. First because it is at work that most of the people threatened by the bill come together. Second, because it is at work that we have most power.

('What We Think', Socialist Worker, July 23rd)

This was the SWP's underlying message to proletarians refusing to allow their lives to be subordinated to wage labour: 'you are powerless', ('get a job!'). Given the choice between a 'class line', subsuming the struggle to that of the signal workers, on the one hand and the 'Defend Diversity - Defend Dissent' slogan of Liberty on the other, it is not hard to see why the appeal of liberalism was reinforced by the SWP's workerism. Besides which, there is nothing like seeing a long line of leftist hacks holding their character armour up to their chests, all shouting 'this week's Socialist Worker...', to make you feel like reaffirming your individual autonomy. And for those who couldn't quite envisage the signal workers toppling the government before it had managed to pass the CJB, the naive optimism of the fluffies seemed more attractive than the obvious conclusions to be drawn about a movement which could have no workplace presence.

Nevertheless, until the signal workers dispute was finally settled, the SWP tried hard to win the heart and mind of the movement. Their main opponents in this battle for ideological hegemony were the fluffies, particularly their vanguard - the Freedom Network.

b) Keep it Fluffy - Go to Jail:

The Freedom Network started out as a non-hierarchical network between groups co-ordinated through the 'Cool Tan' office in Brixton. Within a short period of time, however, the pressures arising from being the point of contact between the network on the one hand, and the media and liberal establishment (Liberty, Charter 88) on the other, led to the London co-ordinators becoming the voice of the network. As they came to accept the position of representing the movement, so their commitment to fluffyism - and to ensuring its hegemony over the movement - became an increasing problem.

Following the initial success of May 1st, the Freedom Network sought to maintain the momentum of the campaign, but virtually had to be tricked by the SWP into endorsing plans for the national demonstration on July 24th. In the meantime, they pressed ahead with their own plans for escalating the movement, resulting in Operation Emily and Operation Democracy RIP. Operation Emily was considered a great success. Twenty or so people dressed up in Edwardian costumes and chained themselves to railings outside parliament outnumbered by the watching journalists; and hey presto - as much media coverage as May 1st with 24,980 less potential trouble makers! Operation Democracy RIP was an even more sickening attempt to gain 'positive media coverage': a funeral procession as far from positing the death of democracy as the coffin-bearers were from comprehending that the content of democracy is the atomizing dictatorship of money.

The fluffies immersed themselves in the hard work of representation - the production of pathetic media spectacles, liaising with representatives of the liberal establishment, the press and other campaign groups, co-ordinating the flow of information etc. But an early sign that their ability to impose the politics of fluffyism could be threatened by those they sought to represent occurred at Twyford Down on July 2nd. Local fluffies organized a mass trespass of the M3 extension prior to its opening, and a couple of thousand people turned up, including other fluffies, eco-warriors, travellers and some lefties. But whilst its billing gave the impression that the organizers intended a confrontational exercise in direct action, they had in fact arranged for the trespass to be a largely symbolic affair culminating in a media stunt; an effigy burning for the benefit of invited journalists.

Many of the trespassers on the other hand had different ideas. The numbers there gave the crowd a subversive potential whose actualization had an irresistible appeal, and some small groups set about trying to trash the finished motorway (no easy task) by stuffing rocks down the drains, whilst others jumped up onto security vehicles. Most people were content at this stage to be simply trespassing, however, and continued to march up the hill, at the top of which the crowd would come to a standstill and be confronted with a choice of fundamental importance.

The organizers had halted the march, holding hands and dancing round to their irritating anthem ,'we are the new people, we are the old people, we are the same people, stronger than before', attempting to offer a celebration of the crowd's potential as a sop for preventing its realization. They wanted the crowd to return the way it had come in order to conduct the spectacle of the effigy burning, and they certainly did not want the crowd to carry on down the other side of the hill where potential 'negative press' lay waiting to sabotage the occasion. In that direction stood a thin blue line of police and beyond it the A33, the congested artery the Down had been bisected to alleviate.

Decision time; a spectacular memorial to a defeated struggle by continuing to trespass on an unopened road that the police clearly did not give a shit about because little harm could be done, or an easy confrontation with a clearly inadequate police presence in order to blockade the functioning road beyond it. Hampshire police had obviously been relying on the fluffy cops and the cops in people's heads, and once their arguments had been defeated it was relatively easy to breach their line. Again a long pause, as the assertion of collective power by blocking the road required someone confident enough that others would follow to step out in front of the traffic. But the realization that the road was the easiest way back to liquid refreshment meant that the plunge was taken and the best part of two thousand people piled onto the road. The feeling of collective empowerment, in stark contrast to the feeling of vulnerability felt by the individual pedestrian, was immense. The police were powerless to intervene as the crowd danced its way to Winchester to the rhythm of bongos, chants of 'kill the bill', 'no more roads' and the syncopated 'smash the Criminal Justice Bill'. Would the fluffies be able to contain such energy when 50,000 came together on the streets of London?

As the July 24th demonstration approached, the Freedom Network began to worry about 'their' mass spectacle being 'hijacked' in a similar way. Confused by its rhetoric, not understanding that they are sheep in wolf's clothing, they thought the SWP was gearing up for a confrontation with the police, a scenario which had to be avoided at all costs for their 'respectability strategy' to have any chance of success. So the Freedom Network decided to make sure the march would pass off uneventfully by providing fluffy stewards, 'Chill the Bill' placards, 'Non-Violence' stickers, and distribution on the day of the infamous 'Keep it Fluffy' leaflet.

c) The 'Mob' Storms Downing Street?

The tension between the SWP and Freedom Network became increasingly clear as the date of the demonstration approached. But this opposition between 'class politics' and 'fluffyism' is not the contradiction between class struggle and liberalism that we are concerned with. The opposition between Freedom Network and the SWP was primarily ideological, a struggle for representative hegemony. Both wanted the demonstration to be a media spectacle, but disagreed as to the particular nature of the image. Neither wanted to see the development of autonomous working class subjectivity that is a proletarian crowd realizing itself in confronting its enemy. Both these groups share a vision of social change which depends on 'the mob' being kept in check. And contrary to the sensationalist reports which appeared in the tabloid press, this development of collective subjectivity was successfully limited; there was no concerted attempt to storm Downing Street.

The coming together of 50,000 diverse proletarians in opposition to government legislation does encourage a sense of solidarity, and to that extent is a necessary step beyond the usual atomization of bourgeois society. But unless the crowd acts as a collective force, the development of collective subjectivity is limited. When the potential goes unrealized, when the crowd simply marches from A to B along an approved route in order to hear boring speeches before dispersing, the collectivity is little more than a collection of atoms, like an inert gas. It is when the crowd actsto impose its power on an external barrier that such atomization is overcome, releasing the energy of molecular bonding like the act of combustion. It must act against that which tries to keep it divided - capital and its state form - for its potential to be realized. And on July 24th that did not happen to a sufficient degree.

The SWP headed the march, proudly revelling in the thought of all those photographers capturing the image of copies of 'the paper' and Socialist Worker placards being brandished beneath the RMT banner. Some way behind this leftist contingent, a group of about a hundred or so stopped outside the gates of Downing Street, and perhaps a dozen of these attempted to either pull the gates down or climb over them. But this small section of the crowd remained relatively isolated from the main body of the march, which continued to file past. Indeed, had the ornamental gates actually given way this relatively small 'mob' would have been hammered by the riot police, a point later underlined when it was revealed in The Observer that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had been prepared to authorize the use of plastic bullets, for the first time on mainland Britain, if the crowd had penetrated Downing Street.

That this section of the crowd was isolated was partly due to the 'fluffy stewards'. They, along with the police, encouraged the main body of the march to keep moving; some stewards took their ideological presuppositions to their logical conclusion by becoming 'pacifist police', not only remonstrating with those outside the gates but in some cases actually removing masks to expose faces to the security cameras! But the isolation of combatants was not primarily due to the hold of these fluffies on the march. Indeed no-one took the ridiculous advice of the 'Keep it Fluffy' leaflet to heart by holding hands around the 'trouble makers', let alone sitting down or adopt the 'doormat' tactic. In fact, most of the demonstration took neither the side of 'the mob' or of the 'pacifist police'; they simply remained spectators. They were not compelled to recognize themselves in either collective identity, neither the force of negation nor reaction. And whilst many in the crowd were sympathetic to some of the ideas of thefluffies, this decision not to join in was not so much a result of a firm commitment to all the practical implications of fluffy politics so much as the police tactics on the day.

There was little visible police presence on the march. The favourite targets of animal rights activists, McDonald's and Boots, had small numbers of police outside, but there were no riot police on view. Those in Whitehall were in withdrawn positions initially; there were none stationed outside the gates of Downing Street. There had obviously been a decision made to adopt a low profile in order not to provoke any trouble. When the gates began to give way the police sought to distract the crowd by making several limited forays from behind the gates on the opposite side of Whitehall, but having learnt the lessons of the Poll Tax riot took considerable care not to provoke the rest of the march. Aftereach foray, they retreated, allowing the march to continue, and leaving the would-be rioters with little alternative but to rejoin it.

The events of July 24th indicated that whilst many in the movement preferred the ideological appeal of liberalism to the dogma of Leninism, they had no commitment to the practical necessities of fluffyism. Nothing happened on the march to force it to realize its collective identity as a force of negation - no confrontation occurred that forced it to realize its class subjectivity. But there are two sides in this battle. The state was legislating against class autonomy, and, whether the movement recognized itself in class terms or not, if the movement continued in the direction of mass defiance of the law, and if that legislation was going to be imposed, the state would have to put on a show of force sooner or later. If it chose to attack the movement rather than back down, it could intimidate, divide and disperse it. But it could just as easily help to compose it as a force of working class subjectivity - it could provoke a riot!

(ii) Hyde Park '94 - Stuff the Law!

a) Build up to the demonstration:

The Coalition called another demonstration for October 9th. Over the two months before the demonstration there were, however, significant changes affecting those competing for representative hegemony. The other groups in the Coalition effectively withdrew, pissed off at being continually outmanoeuvred, leaving the SWP in sole charge of the organization. But at the same time as the SWP found itself being handed the reins of the movement it was effectively withdrawing itself from it. The party had never felt comfortable operating on such relatively alien territory, a playing field better suited to anarchism than Leninism; and as they belatedly realized that the signal workers' dispute was going nowhere, the SWP found that it had nothing left to say, and has been struggling for direction ever since.

The fluffies on the other hand were having a field day, and not just because their main competitors were withdrawing their bid. The events at Downing Street had done their credibility no harm whatsoever. Only a small minority, who had been critical of them in the first place, knew how disgracefully the fluffy stewards had behaved, siding with the police against the movement. The fluffies were in charge of the flow of information within the movement, and many non-fluffy liberals would side with the fluffies to the extent that they knew what had occurred.

But most of the movement did not know any of the details of the confrontation, having mostly found out about it through the extensive media coverage. And it was this fact, that the Downing Street clash had sparked off intense media interest in the movement, that put the fluffies in such a strong position. Throughout August and September the fluffies were in their element, giving interviews to the more liberal newspapers or lefty magazines like the New Statesman, appearing on radio chat shows, being invited to address meetings etc. The trouble outside Downing Street paradoxically gave a massive boost to the representative opportunities for the fluffies. They became media darlings.

Time was ticking away, however. The House of Lords mauled the bill somewhat, slowing down its passage, but the day it would be passed to the Queen for Royal Assent (unless her humanity - beneath the crown etc. - led her to opt for a constitutional crisis instead) was drawing nearer. The hunt sabs were gearing up for confrontation once the fox-hunting season began again, and the No M11 protesters were getting ready for the big showdown at Claremont Road. Whilst the fluffies hared around getting 'good press' but going nowhere fast, the realization that confrontation with the forces of the state was going to be inevitable was gradually infusing the rest of the movement.

b) Ravers' revenge:

The atmosphere of the October 9th march was in many ways similar to that of the previous one; lots of percussion instruments and whistles, most people simply intent on enjoying themselves. The police on the other hand were more visible than before, with concentrations of riot cops tooled up along the route. And they would be needed.

Despite the fact that most of the crowd were not seeking a confrontation, their desire to have fun conflicted with the state's need to regulate that fun, and their determination to dance led to a confrontation prefiguring those posited by the legislation against unlicensed raves. The Coalition organizers had agreed with the police beforehand that music in the park would be limited. But would the crowd be content with speeches from boring and irrelevant liberals from the labour and civil liberties movement, welcoming the anti-CJB movement (in so far as they could recuperate it)?

Many didn't bother listening to them, grouping instead around small pockets of music. But these poxy rigs were clearly inadequate for a celebration of unity, for 100,000 or so demonstrators to dance together. The means of production for such a mass rave were arriving, however. Two lorries with sound systems on the back were bringing up the rear of the march, moving down Park Lane to Marble Arch, surrounded by a throng of bodies dancing in the sun. And they clearly intended to carry on into the park, in defiance of what the organizers had agreed (possibly for the all-night rave we had heard rumours about).

Having publicly stated that they were banned from the park the police had little alternative but to try to stop the sound systems at Marble Arch, blocking their progress with police vans. Perhaps a riot could have been averted had they simply allowed the ban to be violated, but this approach carries with it inherent dangers as well, encouraging a lack of respect for the rule of law. If they weren't going to stop the sound systems at Marble Arch what would happen to the legislation against raves - would it be taken as a serious deterrent or mocked disdainfully? Where and when would a line be drawn saying 'thus far and no further'? As it turned out the police did have to let the sounds into the park. The dancing crowd did not bow to their authority and disperse, but grew as people in the park realized what was happening. A few missiles were thrown and riot police were deployed, along with horses. But the situation remained a stand-off; the dancing continued in the street, on the lorries, on bus shelters, and even on top of a police van. Faced with such determination, and not wanting to provoke a major public order 'problem' given the size of the crowd, the police decided to back down. The lorries edged their way into the park and although people pulled crowd barriers into the road to guard its rear the police made no effort to provoke further trouble.

c) Riot! Riot! I Wanna Riot!

That despite this retreat the riot still happened was due to the moment of truth in the police's 'anarchist conspiracy' theory. While most of the crowd celebrated the sound system victory by partying, content to have got their music, a determined minority sought to push the situation further. Class War were no doubt off competing with the SWP and the other leftists in the paper-selling stakes, but some 'class warriors' were pelting police vans with missiles from inside the park. They could have been squatters or travellers angry that the outlawing of their lifestyles was imminent, or just veterans of past battles in Trafalgar Square with an intense hatred of the police. Or they could indeed have been anarchists or communists who reckoned the situation was ripe because the movement had discovered the important moment of truth in fluffy ideology - that beneath its air of invincibility the police force is just made up of individual human beings, strong as an organized collective force, weak in disorganized isolation, and far from invincible when faced with vastly superior numbers on a terrain not of its choosing.

Whatever, the police, seeing that it was only a tiny minority, chose to confront the missile throwers rather than pullback their vans. Their initial foray into the park was brief. The small deployment of police horses was insufficient to take on those who were attracted by the disturbance, and they were quickly driven from the park by a jubilant mob. But they came back into the park - public order had to be reasserted. Dancing was one thing, but trashing police vans and attacking mounted cops was not something which could be tolerated. And this time they came back in greater force. Units of police horses backed up by baton-wielding cops on foot charged into the park in an effort to disperse the crowd. But the crowd would simply scatter, and then regroup, and then charge back at the police.

Having defied the police over the sound systems a large body of the crowd had already developed a sense of unity. The park was their space, autonomous space. The dancing was a celebration of that collective autonomy, and the police intrusion was a violation of it. By charging the crowd the police only served to further undermine the atomization within it, and each time it refused to disperse it became less an aggregation of independent citizens and more a collective subject.

Proletarians who had been relatively uncritical of the fluffies, who had lobbied for rights, became composed as antagonistic working class subjectivity - defiant and determined to drive the police back out of the park. And this it did, by sheer weight of numbers. Weapons were scarce, although a few resourceful individuals showed great initiative in inventing ways to satisfy this newly produced need (empty tins filled with sand, smashed up park benches and litter bins for example). And a few individuals showed remarkable bravery in leading some of the attacks. But the overwhelming characteristic of the riot was the number of anti-CJB campaigners who showed class solidarity and, one for all and all for one, forced the police to retreat.

When the police were successfully driven out of the park, another stand-off ensued. The police were on one side of the railings and the rioters the other. The police were unable to come over the railings without getting hammered, and the crowd showed no desire to try either, content to use the railings as a traditional 'barricade', a boundary marking the autonomous zone it had reclaimed.

Dancing, smoking, drinking, watching the fire breathers; the atmosphere was unlike recent riot situations in that the territory the police wanted to retake was being held relatively easily and it was possible to gradually relax and enjoy the occasion. The 'rinky dink' bicycle-powered sound system arrived to try to diffuse the crowd's joyous anger, but merely managed to provide audible accompaniment to the rebellious revelry under the trees.

And, with time to look around and reflect, identifying friends and familiar faces beneath hoods and masks, it became clear that this crowd was demonstrating that the contradiction between class war and liberalism was not simply one of different people, 'militants' and 'liberals', with different ideas. It was also one of proletarians who had reflected their relative atomization in their liberal arguments now reflecting the extent to which it had been overcome in the collective activity of rioting. Bourgeois ideology and the active negation of bourgeois society as dialectical opposites within the same individual subjectivity.

d) Reflection:

During the hangover which follows an intoxicating experience such as this it becomes easier to assess the limitations of what has been achieved. The riot has not swelled communist ranks by 100,000, nor did it transform the nature of the movement overnight.

For starters perhaps only 5 or 10% of the crowd actually took part in the riot. Not having experienced the riot themselves, those who had not taken part were far more vulnerable to the dominant competing interpretations of the events. And the rioters themselves dispersed to return to 'normal life', albeit with a heightened awareness of the shallowness of its roles. After experiencing its active negation, returning to the reified world of bourgeois society is like finding oneself on the set of a soap opera where the other actors will not admit that they are playing cameo roles and are seemingly unaware that they could invent their own characters instead. As the memory fades the sense of separation from the cameo diminishes, and resignation to the boundaries of this stage set, where social connections are mediated by money but where the semblance of life contains certain guarantees, appears an easier option than continually trying to shake the other actors.

To the extent that a 'community riot' actually succeeds in creating a community, collective subjectivity may be preserved by the sharing of experiences and the desires they gave rise to. The problem of decomposition is far greater following a riot like that in Hyde Park. Many combatants will have returned to 'communities' in which there is a greater awareness of the frustrations and aspirations of the inhabitants of Albert Square or Ramsey Street than of real neighbours.

The TV and newspapers will have screamed 'scum!' at them, repeating the police assertion that the riot was the result of deliberate manipulation by 'violent hate-mongers'. If they returned to a local anti-CJB group they were likely to have been outnumbered by non-combatants bemoaning the 'tragedy' of the riot, exchanging stories of how this or that 'innocent bystander' got truncheoned by the police. To the extent that our rioter finds him- or herself isolated in the face of this barrage, it becomes easier to cling to the explanation of the organizers than to defend the class position that the riot was a good thing. Such logic is class logic, a collective logic, and its voice sounds strange when entering into arguments whose terms of reference are limited to the continued existence of bourgeois society.

Just as an individual subject may contradict his or her liberal ideology by developing working class subjectivity in collective struggle, so this process of class recomposition is subject to the counter-tendency of decomposition and fragmentation. The Hyde Park riot allowed a few more proletarians to glimpse the possibilities of the life of the truly social individual. But as these social individuals returned to the privations of bourgeois individuality, so the dominant ideas in the movement could reassert themselves.

(iii) 'CIA Week': Meeting the Act Head On

Only ten days after the events at Hyde Park, a lobby of parliament organized by the Coalition was taken as another opportunity to confront the Met. A mini-riot ensued, with bottles and sticks thrown at the police, railings destroyed and fire-crackers used against police horses, before it was defused by a police withdrawal and Coalition stewards taking over from the absent fluffies. During the same period, there were also many opportunities for the fluffies to argue on the radio or TV shows like Kilroy that no, the legislation was not necessary (for some undefined but universally accepted 'common good').

Thus the development of working class subjectivity neither reached 'critical mass' nor was completely fragmented; the movement continued, and contained within it the same contradictions.

On the day the bill became an act, the No M11 Link Campaign organized a mass trespass of motorway construction sites, and the following day a publicity stunt on the roof of the houses of parliament: two actions which oscillated around the pivot rather than expressed the poles of the basic contradiction.

The No M11 Campaign were also involved with a number of other groups (hunt sabs, youth CND, Freedom Network and others) in organizing a week of actions, in and around London, designed to publicly defy the new act. The week was intended both to warn the authorities and to encourage potential targets of the legislation of our intention to intensify our activities rather than curtail them; it was hoped that, in the face of large numbers of people participating in each others campaign actions, the police would be reluctant to make arrests under the new act. Dubbed 'CIA (Criminal Injustice Act) week', most of the actions failed to achieve quite the participation or the co-operation between different groups that was hoped for. The highlight of the week was perhaps the trespass / rooftop demonstration of Michael Howard's new house in Kent, which combined clever direct action, taking the police completely by surprise, with publicity stunt. However, most of the actions that week can be considered successful in that the police were largely unwilling to arrest people using the new laws when faced with mass defiance; clearly they did not want 'trouble' after their recent disastrous intervention at that other CJB/CJA demo at Hyde Park.

But whatever happened in 'CIA week', what really mattered was whether, after the initial fuss had died down, the movement would prove to have had any lasting effect in reinforcing the areas of autonomy and subversive struggles that needed to be defended against renewed assault, armed with more repressive legislation, by the state. Would the movement go forward with the same spirit of determination and resistance that characterized the intentions of those who wanted to meet the new act head on? Could the movement meet the challenge of continued resistance, or would the mundane reality of the act signal the decomposition of the movement?

Part Three: Into The Void

From Single Issue Campaign to Anti-Capitalist Movement?

(i) The Movement

Although the CJ&POA has only been law for 5 months now, and some sections of it have yet to be implemented, it seems fair to say that to a limited extent the movement has risen to the challenge; it has not crumbled in the face of the law. But there have been significant developments.

a) The 'Coalition':

The Coalition has organized two mass trespasses, at Chequers (the Prime Minister's residence in Buckinghamshire) and Windsor Castle, ostensibly to challenge clause 70 of the act against trespassory assembly. But unlike the trespass at Michael Howard's place, these have been pre-arranged with the full knowledge of the police; and with the SWP having done little to build them, even failing to mobilize significant numbers of its own cadre, there have been insufficient numbers to pose any real threat to the large contingents of police on standby.

SWP stewards have had some difficulty getting 'trespassers' to stick to public footpaths; at Chequers the SWP agreed with the police to proceed along the Ridgeway footpath, i.e. a public right of way, but were ignored by elements who mistakenly thought the whole point of the exercise was to trespass, thereby challenging the police to use the new law. But these stage-managed events have been at best publicity exercises, at worst little more than cynical recruitment exercises.

The Coalition is now little more than a classic front organization. With each event, more of the movement becomes disillusioned with it, with the result that each trespass or demonstration produces diminishing returns for the party. Another national demonstration cannot be ruled out, but it is equally likely that the SWP will disentangle itself from the movement completely in favour of involvement in one of the various public sector disputes which are looming, where they would be on a more comfortable terrain. The 'pressure the union leadership' position would find a more receptive audience amongst nurses, teachers or civil servants than road protesters and ravers, and the movement as a whole would lose one of its national foci.

b) The Fluffies:

Meanwhile the fluffies have entered 'the void', the period after the passing of the law, the future which they had considered only in their dystopian nightmares where even family picnics would be broken up by marauding riot police. As they have done so, the latent contradiction within the fluffy tribe - identified earlier in terms of subject and representation - has come to the fore and is leading to something of a parting of ways.

There is rumoured to be a division within the Freedom Network, between those who see the struggle against the CJ&POA as essentially over, and who are arguing that attention should now be turned to the next civil rights lobby, and those more attracted towards maintaining opposition by engaging in defiance of the law. And this division is confirmed to some extent at local level. The most anti-proletarian fluffies, those for whom there was less of a contradiction in presenting themselves as upright citizens, are now orienting themselves towards working with Liberty and Charter 88 or green reformism, and are becoming less relevant to the remainder of the movement.

Those fluffies who have rejected this approach have not done so because they have suddenly developed a critique of the right-on ideology of the liberal bourgeois establishment. Not surprisingly most remain uncritical of the strategy of challenging certain sections of the CJ&POA in the European Court of Human Rights or lobbying for a written constitution (remaining critical only of criticism itself).

But instinctively most fluffies are not prepared to dissolve the movement and wait for deliveries from on high. Despite arguing that we are all just individuals they have found themselves as part of a social movement and do not want to return to their previous atomization. As a result, many are taking their slogans of DIY more seriously at last.

For some, who are still obsessed with the media image, this has meant concentrating on self-media production like Undercurrents , an alternative video news service produced by 'Small World' (a non-profit making organization committed to supporting liberal campaign groups). The democratization of the image enabled by the camcorder revolution has created its own problems, and not just the security risks posed by cameras in situations of confrontation with the police. Even in situations where video evidence is more likely to be of use to the defence than the prosecution, such as on NVDA actions, the presence of cameras creates the feeling that even in the act of negation one is still playing a role on the stage set of reification, only producing an image of negation and not its substance. Others still are more interested in looking after the flow of information in order to create the impression of a dynamic movement at the expense of organizing direct action, a strange interpretation of the 'Deeds not Words' slogan that defines the group.

But the majority of Brighton's fluffies, who previously declared themselves apolitical and non-confrontational but were also more committed than some to an alternative lifestyle defined by opposition to dominant values, are now moving towards a commitment to direct action. They have remained with the movement by moving from a position of just lobbying for legal rights to one of defying the law as well: from playing the 'upright democratic citizens' card to engaging with the anti-roads movement's refusal of the democratic process.

And it is worthwhile reviewing further how far many of these people have come in moving towards the positions of militant liberalism. When the campaign started up, it was the first engagement in any form of political activity for many, and early meetings would often be plagued by the mysticism that some of the 'alternative ravers' brought along with them from the scene. There would be proposals to chant 'Om' together on the beach to increase the psychic energy of the group, reports that mediums had been consulted to ensure 'the spirits' would be on side, and reassurances that the 'little people' were behind us. But involvement in even a limited campaign rapidly demonstrated the inadequacy of these ideas, as just organizing a picnic or benefit gig necessitated a level of collaboration between humans that exposed the limits of the spiritual world.

The fluffy ideology may not be considered that much of an advance, but despite it many people helped to organize political demonstrations or open squats for the first time. In doing so they have slowly begun to move from a definition of 'alternative' in terms of ideas, to one defined through activity; negatively by the refusal of work, and positively by involvement in an oppositional movement. They have been exposed to the arguments of more experienced squatters, environmental activists, leftists and even communists. And now that the CJB has become law, fluffy ideology is itself being transformed somewhat as the fluffies embrace overtly political actions. The commitment to non-violence is maintained, but even this becomes less absolute in the face of state brutality.

c) Dispersal?

The extent to which it is possible to speak of 'a movement' as opposed to 'the movements' is a function of the extent to which those struggles are linked, not just by virtue of having been legislated against, but by interconnections through which both information and people flow. The Coalition is both uninterested in and incapable of performing the role of national co-ordination, and it would seem that he Freedom Network are disengaging themselves from the movement.

Filling the vacuum is the SchNews team in Brighton's 'Justice?' (sic) group which receives information from other local groups as well as the Advance Party, Road Alert, Hunt Saboteurs Association and others, producing a weekly news-sheet for national distribution which details the latest from the various struggles. From this information, it is clear that whilst the movement has gone into decline in some places, local anti-CJB groups are still going strong where they are - or have been - more closely connected to the various struggles attacked by the CJ&POA.

Those groups such as Brighton which set up squatted social centres seem to have benefited both from the number of people such centres brought into the orbit of the movement and the unifying effect that resisting evictions ultimately had. In certain places, proximity to anti-roads protests has allowed momentum to be maintained; similarly, in Cardiff, the opposition to the Cardiff Bay barrage development has provided a focus for consolidation.

Thus given that the movement as a whole is now little more than the sum of its interconnected parts we must now interrogate them in turn.

(ii) The Movements

a) Squatting Movement:

At the time of writing, not all of the anti-squatting provisions of the act have been implemented. But the 'protest squats' the movement has thrown up give some hope that squatting in this country could develop in the direction of the continental squatting scene.

Squats in much of continental Europe have not had the legal protection enjoyed by squats in this country under the 1977 Criminal Law Act. As a result, their survival has depended on their ability to defy the law by force, either being heavily fortified with squatters well armed to contest the eviction, or by having sufficient local support which can be mobilized onto the streets to pose a public order headache for the authorities. European squatters have therefore had to be more organized and politicized than British squatters, who have tended to rely on their legal rights. But, as these rights are removed, squatters in Britain will have to overcome their fragmentation and recompose themselves as a social force if they are to continue to squat. If this is to happen, squatted social centres will play a crucial role. If squatters choose not to coalesce in mass residential squats, for understandable reasons, then social spaces where they can connect and organize anti-bailiff solidarity will become essential.

The squatted social centres thrown up by the movement have had both similarities and differences to the social centres which provide the basis for autonomous organization in places like Italy. They have been characterized by expressing the contradictions inherent in the movement. The Courthouse squat in Brighton fell between the stools of a centre for a 'community of struggle' and a 'community arts centre', as it was forced both to meet the needs of the movement'sparticipants and satisfy the obsession with gaining positive representation.

Overtly political activities - like workshops held on the continental squatting movement, prisoner support and contradictions in the anti-roads movement, and meetings to discuss the groups activities and direction - competed for space with poetry readings, Tai Chi, massage, cinema, drumming workshops and art displays etc. But this division was at least an expression of the differing needs of the movement. The publicity stunt with Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes appearing as a prosecution witness in a mock trial of the government, the 'no drink or drugs policy' (which no-one observed), and the argument against resisting the eviction, are just three out of many instances which demonstrated the extent to which, for the sake of representation, the fluffies tried to present an image which contradicted their own needs.

The eviction of the Courthouse was resisted, however, if only to the extent of using barricades and sealing off the roof area in order to slow the bailiffs down. But given the previous fragmentation of the squatting scene this is at least a start, and there has been other bailiff resistance since then. This recomposition could continue if it is not undermined by the idea, held by some fluffies and reinforced by both police statements and press coverage, of a difference between 'good squatters' (who are 'creative', middle class, and do up the buildings they squat) and 'bad squatters' (who aren't and don't). But, importantly, many of the participants, through their involvement in the squat, have developed both a need for space free from the clutches of capital - where they can socialize without it being subordinated to organized leisure entailing mass consumption of some commodity or another - and the beginnings of a recognition of what it is that stands between them and the fulfilment of that need: the organized power of the state.

Far from having crushed squatting, the CJ&POA may have breathed new life into the movement which, by refusing to allow basic human needs to be subordinated to the power of money, prefigures the day when everyone will be able to live in their own cathedral.

b) Anti-Roads Movement:

By leafleting the national demonstrations and encouraging people to come to parties afterwards, the No M11 Link Campaign was able to draw significant numbers to the showdown at Claremont Road. By the time the law was passed in late October, the campaign was centred on defending this squatted street from the Department of Transport. In preparation for the eviction, rooftop towers and walkways were constructed, along with tree houses and street barricades cleverly disguised as works of art and thus blending in with the explosion of colour and creativity which made this car-free street such an island in the grey sea of east London.

The urban setting of this campaign, dealing with the impact of road building on daily life (housing, health and the human environment) meant that it became relatively unplagued by the Donga-style mysticism which so afflicted the Twyford Down campaign. The resistance to the eviction of Claremont Road was easily the high point of the anti-roads movement to date. It took the state 4 days to retake the street in an operation which cost £2 million and involved over 700 police with dozens of bailiffs and security guards. The tactics of withdrawing to rooftops or 'locking on' in vulnerable positions are not without limits, however. Whilst the whole eviction may have taken 4 days, the police managed to retake the actual tarmac and pavement in little over an hour. This left people cut off inside squats, in tree houses and on the main tower in siege conditions, many with insufficient food and water or warm clothing and, after a while, no electricity. Such conditions breed the martyrdom syndrome, with divisions and recriminations as a result.

While the eviction of Claremont Road was not actually prevented, the effects of the resistance - on top of more than a year of direct action against the building of the link road - need to be judged in the wider context of the government's roads programme as a whole. The costs of this eviction, and of the security as a whole over the past year (reported to be £6 million), will have a bearing on future road building schemes. Projections to be fed into the Department of Transport's cost-benefit analyses and contractors' bids will be affected, and schemes where the economic advantages are at present marginal could therefore be shelved.

But the most important point, for this article anyway, is the fact that the state was unwilling to use those provisions of the CJ&POA which were explicitly drafted with road protesters in mind. None of the 'aggravated trespassers' were even arrested let alone charged under the act; neither was the new offence of trespassory assembly evoked. The scale of the resistance, in combination with its timing, occurring so soon after the Hyde Park riot, seems to have produced a recognition that using the CJ&POA could have created more problems than it was designed to solve.

But this raises the question as to who actually made this decision; simply referring to a retreat by the state glosses over the fact that, despite cross-party support in parliament, the state is far from united over the act. The police, and screws for that matter, hate 'their boss' Michael Howard. Indeed, there are a number of reasons for this division opening up within the state between the police and parliament. Firstly, by making previously civil offences into criminal ones, the workload of the police could be significantly increased; this, at a time when many forces are facing Treasury driven cutbacks, means an unwelcome intensification of work. Secondly, and particularly following the Hyde Park riot, the police recognize that the legislation could force them into more situations of conflict, both exposing them to more risks and increasing resentment of them. In short, the police see much of this legislation as serving the self-interests of the government whilst leaving them to pay the price. Given this, it may be more accurate to say that it was police discretion which meant that the law was not used at Claremont Road.

In the last issue of Aufheben, we devoted considerable attention to the contradiction between the class struggle against roads and the liberal ideology held by many of its participants. Although some of the most active elements in the No M11 Link Campaign did have a critique of capitalism and democracy, for many in the campaign a recognition of the objective basis of the campaign was still sorely lacking. It is vital to recognize how ideas and practice are related, however, in order to grasp how the development of an anti-capitalist perspective may emerge. There was a degree of local support for the No M11 Campaign, especially at certain times when the struggle was in Wanstead, less so as it shifted into Leytonstone. But more often than not, protesters would invade construction sites to find themselves outnumbered by potentially violent security guards. In this situation of numerical disadvantage, notions of class solidarity count for little. Playing the game of non-violence and hoping the rules are respected by the opposition seemed the best way of escaping a good kicking. The appeal for police to 'do their job even handedly' by protecting your 'right to protest', is at least in part a result of the weakness of the movement in relation to the violence of the road builders' protectors. Unfortunately the tactic of non-violence tends to encourage the adoption of a principled pacifism, to the detriment of an analysis in terms of class warfare.

This relation with security guards is becoming inverted in the campaign against the proposed M77 through Pollok Park in Glasgow. An unprecedented degree of local opposition to the scheme, and support for the 'outside' protesters, whose ranks are regularly swelled by local kids bunking off school, has meant that conditions no longer lend themselves so easily to appealing for the unwritten rules of non-violence to be observed on each side. Pictures of security guards have menacingly been posted up around the local estate, and they have been warned in no uncertain terms that there will be severe repercussions if they beat up any protesters. In the face of this intimidation, finding the boot on the other foot for a change, and being charged with siding with the yuppies against their own class, many security guards have quit, including 24 on one day alone. In these circumstances, the limitations of non-violence as a principle should be more clearly exposed, and the development of an anti-capitalist perspective may be encouraged. The recent spate of arson attacks in other parts of Glasgow on the show homes of the main contractors, Wimpey, is a sign that things could be moving in the right direction.

The CJ&POA, far from crushing the anti-roads movement, has swelled its ranks. Not only has involvement in the anti-CJB movement led to a degree of further politicization, as anti-roads protesters have faced new questions and arguments arising from events like the Hyde Park riot, but the conditions for this movement becoming conscious of itself as class struggle are becoming more fertile as well. As it begins to do so, it prefigures the day when transport will no longer serve the requirements of the circulation of commodities, and people as commodities, but will be a function of enriched human needs and desires.

c) Hunt Saboteurs Movement:

Hunt sabs have, in the main, been reluctant to become involved with the movement. Those that have engaged with it have, because of their emphasis on direct action and lack of hang ups about violence, been useful allies against the fluffies at various junctures, and have themselves become politicized. This politicization has been a result of their engagement with other struggles, and this engagement has only been possible to the extent that these hunt sabs have left the ideological baggage of 'animal rights' behind them. It is necessary to examine this particular brand of militant liberalism in order to understand both why many hunt sabs have not become involved with the movement, and why those that have can appear better but in some ways be worse than the fluffies.

Militant liberalism looks at the world in terms of individuals and their morality. Militant liberals experience the horrors of capitalism more sharply than other (middle class) liberals, but unlike revolutionaries project these horrors onto particular manifestations of 'evil', which it is a moral imperative for individuals to confront. Thus militant liberalism has a certain appeal to activists seeking to save 'the planet' (good) from the (evil) 'road monster', for example. Many road protesters confront those protecting and carrying out road construction work with the argument that they should be ashamed of themselves for having made the wrong moral choice; they confront non-participants, seen as abdicating their moral responsibility, with the guilt trip of the morally pure and innocent unborn child: 'what did you do in the eco-war, daddy?'.

But there is an important difference between the militant liberalism of the roads protester and the hunt saboteur, in that the very activity of road sabotage can lead to the transcendence of liberalism because it is essentially a struggle against capital. As it is objectively a form of class struggle, it carries within the possibility of being recognized as such. Hunt sabotage, on the other hand, does not, as it is purely a moral question. Fox hunting is not an imperative of capital but a mere tradition, and sabbing in itself therefore leads nowhere. The most logical development in the ideology of the hunt saboteur is from fox = good / hunters = bad, to animals = good / animal 'exploiters' = bad; the ideology of animal liberationism.

Animal liberation ideology is best understood in terms of its relation to the humanistic liberalism of the peace movement, in many ways its precursor. Again we find that, in contrast to the activities of the hunt saboteur, the activities of the NVDA wing of the peace movement were an expression of opposition to capital's imperatives (for the militarization of the state form) and thus open to development in an anti-capitalist direction. But the most important contrast between the militant liberalism of the pacifists and that of the hunt saboteurs is that the world view of animal liberationism is an inversion of this humanistic liberalism.

For the peace movement, the individual was seen as basically good, and thus humanity was basically good, and this was counterposed to the evil of nuclear weapons which threatened humanity's destruction. For the animal liberationist on the other hand, it is not humanity which is good or innocent, but animals. Humanity (excepting the vegans) is therefore seen as the evil in this case. Humanity 'exploits' animals for its own ends, and each individual is implicated in this crime of humanity by eating meat or drinking milk and allowing it to happen. Thus whilst the humanistic liberalism of the peace movement would have made it contradictory to use violence against other human individuals, those hunt saboteurs who cling to an anti-humanistic liberalism find that violence is perfectly compatible with their ideology. And it is not surprising that most hunt sabs have not wanted to become involved in a movement in which many individuals have not purged themselves of this crime of humanity.

Thus whilst other liberals in the movement may be able to move beyond their liberal perspectives because they are fighting for themselves, even if in a distorted/projected form, and are involved in the development of class solidarity, hunt saboteurs, to the extent that they confine themselves to the orbit of animal liberationism, projecting the horrors of capitalism away from themselves absolutely , can never move beyond the discourse of 'rights'. Animals can never play a part in class recomposition, no matter how much animal liberationists anthropomorphize them to justify giving them 'rights'. Unlike other groups demanding rights, animals cannot develop proletarian solidarity; they can only be granted 'rights'.

But the possibility does still exist of hunt saboteurs seeking solidarity from others in the movement (rather than animals), thereby opening up the possibility of the development of a class perspective.

Apart from the recent live export protests, hunt sabotage is the most open and collective of animal rights activities. Sabs who are less committed to the ideological baggage of the puritanical self-sacrificing vegan may be slagged off, but are not completely excluded. Many sabs hold contradictory ideas, just as they did when hunt sabbing was popular amongst anarcho-punks in the 1980s until the miners' and printers' disputes resolved such contradictions one way or the other. And it is likely that developments will occur in the hunt saboteurs' movement, in the face of increased repression, that will expose some of these contradictions.

The discretion the CJ&POA gives to the police has meant that, in contrast to the anti-roads movement, the law has been extensively deployed by the police against hunt sabs; there is little chance of repercussions in the countryside. Hunt sabs have undoubtedly borne the brunt of the legislation to date. But those sabs more committed than others to a militant liberal ideology are unlikely to seek solidarity from the movement. Two opposing tendencies offer themselves as ways out of this repression for those who choose to continue to prioritize the end of fox hunting.

On the one hand there is the inherent tendency towards guerrilla activity. For many of the most committed animal rights activists, hunt sabbing is seen as a relatively ineffective activity suitable mainly for education and recruitment purposes, spotting those who might best graduate to Animal Liberation Front activity. Thus one possible response to the pressures on hunt sabbing may be the development of more covert attacks on hunt vehicles and kennels etc., at present the fringe activities of groups like the Hunt Retribution Squad and the Justice Department which emerged as repression and violence increased in the late 1980s.

On the other hand there is the tendency towards the lobbying tactics of the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA. The banning of hunting by parliament can no longer be seen as an impossibility given the recent commons majority in favour of a ban. This may not lead to a new law during the lifetime of this parliament, but should Labour win the next election a ban is certainly likely. Despite the Hunt Saboteurs Association's commitment to direct action, the movement does contain its less militant and more democratic wing, usually in charge of the movement's representation. A leaflet the HSA put out on the July 24th national demonstration must have made many hunt sabs cringe, stating: 'We believe that police officers should be allowed to do what they joined the force to do - catch criminals and try and make this country a better, safer place to live...'.

Either of these tendencies would remove hunt saboteurs even further from the class struggle. In contradistinction to our hopes for the anti-roads movement or squatting, there is little hope for a favourable resolution of contradictions in this particular movement at present.

d) Rave New World:

Our previous statement that the rave offers only an illusion of unity requires qualification in the light of experience. Quite clearly, the crowd at a rave shares something which is missing in a cinema audience or a crowd in a shopping centre. It is necessary to examine the nature of the illusion. The illusion of unity derives from the shared transformation in consciousness that occurs during a rave. This is brought about largely by the empathic intoxication induced by ecstasy, and moving as one to the same beat. It is this consciousness-shift that becomes mystified as 'recovering the lost consciousness of the tribe'. And it is celebrated in lyrics which promote the idea that freedom results from a mere change in attitude, a 'revolution of consciousness' as it has been called.

Supposedly a better world can be created if we think about each other in a more loving way. And for the DIY idealist, the rave is the beginning of the transformation of this alienated world, a process to be continued by 'being in touch with ones feelings' even when not intoxicated (substituting the drug of eastern religion for orthodox narcotics) and being generously disposed to others, hugging them even after the empathic effects of ecstasy have worn off.

But alienation is not just a question of consciousness. It describes the social relations which give rise to specific forms of consciousness: the process of reification. Thus freedom cannot result from a mere change in ways of thinking, but can only be the result of the revolutionary transformation of social relations.

The unity of a rave is illusory to the extent that ravers remain alienated from each other. We remain alienated from each other because we are alienated from ourselves; our subjectivity is stolen from us by capital and returns to confront us as a hostile power, the dull compulsion of the economy. The unity of a rave is an illusion because ravers still carry their social bonds with each other in their pockets in the form of money. Social relations remain mediated by exchange, reified as the economy, external to us and out of our control.

But if this unity is illusory only to the extent that capitalist social relations keep ravers essentially alienated from each other, then to the extent that those relations are subverted through forming relations of collective struggle, the unity is no longer illusory but becomes real. If ravers create relations which are direct, immediate and visible, then the celebration of unity is qualitatively different. The raves which have occurred after demonstrations against the CJB were celebrations of a real if limited overcoming of bourgeois atomization, attempts to preserve a real collective unity experienced for the first time by many. And in Hyde Park, the unity celebrated by the dancers confronting the riot police was similarly no longer illusory. Could these ravers come to recognize that the 'revolution of consciousness' is inseparable from the transformation of material reality? Could they become dialecticians?

A summer of class conflict between ravers and the police would dwarf the significance of events like Claremont Road. Unlicensed raves may have declined in recent years but, sufficiently well organized, would still attract huge numbers of proletarians in defiance of the law. There are literally millions more ravers than road protesters, and dealing with only a fraction of these would cause the police major problems. But it is not just the quantitative dimensions of such potential conflicts that makes them such qualitatively important prospects.

Raves are on the whole the least politicized of the activities targeted by the CJ&POA, but ravers are potentially in the best position to see the capital relation behind the actions of the state. The legislation against raves is an attempt to further subordinate them to the commodity form and reintegrate them into the mainstream circuits of capital where they can be regulated and subject to taxation. Many ravers who have become involved in the movement have little understanding as to why they are being picked on so unfairly. The Advance Party cannot help them as it cannot criticize the commodity form. But as the more money-oriented rave organizers tend towards further acceptance of the constraints of commercialism, rather than risk having their 'constant capital' seized and confiscated by the police, the divisions within the rave scene may become more sharply focused.

Clearly much depends on how those with the means to put raves on respond to the act this summer. There has been a degree of organization emerging amongst those sound systems who have put free raves on in the past, so it is possible that the commercial pressures may be resisted. But there are also signs that such resistance may not lead to the open antagonism that offers such potential for a hot summer of class struggle. There are signs that such antagonism may be mediated, as has been the case in Luton with the Exodus collective.

Exodus have been putting on free raves around Hertfordshire since 1992 and have faced extensive police harassment. But in doing so they have also built up a lot of support in the area. Thus when the police arrested 52 party go-ers and organizers, seizing their equipment, an angry crowd of 4,000 ravers descended on Luton police station to demand their release. Bottles were thrown; and the 150 police inside the station, fearing an outbreak of proletarian-style justice, turned to Exodus for help in policing the crowd. Exodus defused the crowd's legitimate anger and negotiated with the police for the release of the prisoners and the return of the confiscated equipment. When an agreement had been reached Exodus in turn told the crowd to disperse and go home.

By demonstrating their ability to mediate, policing the power of ravers in return for concessions from the police, Exodus now find themselves in a position where the police are no longer trying to crush them but want to work with them instead. The CJ&POA clauses concerning raves give discretionary powers to the police, who may therefore allow 'responsible' groups like Exodus to put on free raves while cracking down on easier or more dangerous targets. The development of open antagonism could therefore be undermined by such mediation.

The continuation of free raves would represent a victory of sorts, but as with those delivered by old fashioned social democratic mediation, it will have been at a price. Consider the plans announced by Exodus after the Hyde Park riot for a demonstration in London some time this spring involving sound systems from up and down the country pledged to non-violence, with microphones on all the floats to help control the crowd. We can speculate that, having experienced the wrath of the Hyde Park rioters, the police would give in to the demands for music, and in return Exodus would no doubt strive to ensure no-one rocks the stitched up boat. Ravers could get what many fought for last year without having to fight again. But the legitimacy of the state would have been reinforced by such a negotiated 'freedom to party'.

The deliverance of such freedoms by these new recuperators may serve to undermine a challenge to the guarantors of the condition of unfreedom, unless ravers too, through their involvement in the movement, have developed a need for the kind of freedom that can not be given, but must be taken.


The CJ&POA is an article of legislation which addresses us as individuals equal before the impartiality of the law. The 'right to silence' can no longer be used by either a shoplifter or Michael Howard. The Queen can no more party in my back yard without my permission than I can in hers. And the directors of Tarmac or Wimpey can no more stop me going about my lawful business on my own property than I can them on theirs. Are these ironies lost on those who continue to represent the movement in terms of 'civil rights', or do they believe such class inequalities can be cured by their progressive furtherance?

As individuals, we are protected by rights. The fundamental right from which all others are derived is the right of private property. Bourgeois society has in most countries abolished the slavery whereby I may be taken against my will as the property of another. I am an equal to others, free to dispose of my private property as I please; if someone else wants what is mine, the law says they cannot take it forcibly but must buy it. But what have I to sell? Only my capacity to labour. Thus the social relation of private property becomes on the one hand those with the means to satisfy labour and on the other those who must sell their labour to them. The essence of private property is laid bare, not as ownership, but exclusion:

Proletariat and wealth are opposites; as such they form a single whole. They are both forms of the world of private property... The proletariat ... is compelled as proletariat to abolish itself and thereby its opposite, the condition of its existence, what makes it the proletariat, i.e. private property. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in its self-alienation; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence.

(Karl Marx, 'The Holy Family')

No amount of rights can compensate for the absolute poverty of the proletarian condition. The world of rights is founded upon our alienation. Rights define, not freedom, but its limits. Real freedom can only come about through the dissolution of this world of rights, the restoration of our creative capacities unto ourselves in a world where the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all. Communism abolishes rights in favour of free determination, the production first and foremost of ourselves as social individuals with richly developed needs and desires. The lobby for rights on the other hand serves to maintain this stinking rotten world of work and duty, unfreedom and poverty.

The negation of bourgeois society exists in the process of becoming, however. It must be discovered in the tendencies of the here and now. And despite the language of the movement which has emerged in opposition to the CJB, if we care to scratch its surface we can find that it contains within it tendencies which posit the dissolution of this alienated world of rights. It exists in the road protesters' refusal of democracy, the squatters' refusal of property rights, and the ravers' pursuit of autonomy. It is expressed by the self-organization of the movement, and found its highest point in the Hyde Park riot.

We have to look at the possibility of these tendencies articulating themselves as a self-conscious anti-capitalist movement. Such a possibility is not just an abstract or utopian one, but one posited by the movement itself. The CJ&POA has brought previously separate phenomena into a relation with one another and has resulted in a degree of cross-fertilization between struggles. As it has done so, it has raised the question amongst some participants of how these struggles are related. Thus it has opened up the possibility of the recognition of the general (capital-in-general) that exists in and through the particular (the road industry, music industry, farming industry, property developers, police force).

The possibility exists of the recognition of the enemy as the differential unity of capital, and thus its negation no longer in terms of separate groups but in terms of their connection as the differential unity comprising the universal class that is the proletariat.

Such a development of working class subjectivity is inseparable from the political recomposition of the class. Further decomposition could see these tendencies smothered even deeper under the blanket of liberalism. In the present context, the development of a struggle against the Job Seekers Allowance, which poses a threat to social reproduction on the dole which is the basis for most of these struggles and lifestyles, could be an important step towards a better understanding of the class nature of bourgeois society. In the long term, it will depend on making links with the struggles of the rest of the class, a possibility which is posed by the state's need to move beyond attacking the marginalized sections of the working class to attack the entrenchment of the remainder. The development of class consciousness is inseparable from the experience of class struggle.

An undialectical approach to this question is insufficient, however. The relationship between consciousness and being is not one way, and an approach which conceives of it as such can only be a repetition of, or an inversion of, the misconceptions of Lenin. Human activity is conscious activity. People do not function automatically only to think about what they have done afterwards. They also think about what to do beforehand. What the anti-CJ&POA movement does reflects the different ideas of its protagonists on how to proceed. Ideas are important.

The liberal establishment has an influence on the ideas of the movement. It offers ideas which guide the movement in the opposite direction to emancipation. Groups like Liberty and Charter 88 are not seen as having a political agenda, because agendas are proposals for change and these groups are fundamentally in favour of the status quo. They aim for the perfection of the bourgeois state, its correspondence with the democratic ideal. Comfortable in their alienation these professionals who advocate legal reform do not recognize the fundamental antagonism within this society, an antagonism that means that their dreams will never be fulfilled because the exploited class will always have a tendency to disobey the rules of the democratic game. But many in the movement, whilst unaware of the real meaning of the liberal establishment's agenda, are not insulated from the harsh realities of capitalism by the wealth and status that come with a professional role. Many in the movement have nothing to lose but their illusions that they have something to gain by conforming. Their positions as marginals in class society means that, whether the prospect is appealing or not, for many the future holds nothing but confrontation. In these circumstances revolutionary ideas can play a role.

Have revolutionaries responded adequately to the questions posed by the struggle? Have they helped the self-formation of the working class through their praxis? Let the reader be the judge. What is certain is that the theory and practice of many revolutionaries were forged in relation to the left during a bygone era, defending proletarian autonomy against its recuperative tentacles. But as the world about us changes, so theory and practice must develop. Revolutionaries need to theorize the new conditions of struggle which are emerging, conditions which have given this movement its unique character. If we don't we will be consigned to the museum of revolutionary ideology. This article is a contribution to that process of Aufhebung.

March 1995

Decadence: The Theory of Decline or the Decline of Theory? Part 3

Part 1/ Part 2 / Part 3

Part Three

Introduction: The story so far

As our more patient and devoted readers will know, the subject of this article is the theory that capitalism is in decline. In the previous two issues, we traced out in detail the development of the theory of the decline of capitalism which has emerged amongst Marxists and revolutionaries over the last hundred years.

In this, the final part the article, we shall bring our critical review up to date by examining the most recent version of the theory of decline, which has been put forward by Radical Chains. But before considering Radical Chains and their new version of the theory of the decline of capitalism, we should perhaps, for the benefit of our less patient and devoted readers, summarize the previous two parts of this article.

In Part 1, we saw how the theory of decline, and the conceptions of capitalist crisis and the transition to socialism or communism related to it, played a dominant role in revolutionary analysis of twentieth century capitalism. As we saw, the notion that capitalism is in some sense in decline originated in the classical Marxism developed by Engels and the Second International.

At the time of the revolutionary wave that ended World War I, the more radical Marxists identified the theory that capitalism was in decline as the objective basis for revolutionary politics. They took as their guiding principle the notion from Marx 'That at a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production... From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution'. They argued that capitalism had entered this stage and this was expressed in its permanent crisis and clear objective movement towards breakdown and collapse.

In the wake of the defeat of the revolutionary wave following World War I, for those traditions which claimed to represent 'proper Marxism', against its betrayal - first by the reformist Social Democrats and then by Stalinism - the acceptance of the notion that capitalism was in decline became a tenet of faith.

For the left-communists, the notion that capitalism had entered its decadent phase with the outbreak of war in 1914 was vital since it allowed them to maintain an uncompromising revolutionary position while at the same time claiming to represent the continuation of the true orthodox Marxist tradition. For the left-communists, the reformist aspects of the politics of Marx, Engels and the Second International, which had led to support for trade unionism and for participation in parliamentary elections, could be justified on the grounds that capitalism was at that time in its ascendant phase. Now, following the outbreak of the World War I, capitalism had gone into decline and was no longer in a position to concede lasting reforms to the working class. Thus, for the left-communists, the only options in the era of capitalist decline were those of 'war or revolution!'

For the Trotskyists and other associated socialists, the increase of state intervention and planning, the growth of monopolies, the nationalization of major industries and the emergence of the welfare state all pointed to the decline of capitalism and the emergence of the necessity of socialism. As a consequence, for the Trots the task was to put forward 'transitional demands' - that is, apparently reformist demands that appear reasonable given the development of the productive forces but which contradict the prevailing capitalist relations of production.

So, despite the otherwise fundamental differences that divide left-communists from the Trots, and which often placed them in bitter opposition to each other, for both of these tendencies the concrete reality of capitalist development was explained in terms of an objective logic heading towards capitalist collapse and socialist revolution. The underlying objective reality of the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production reduced the problem of that revolution to organizing the vanguard or party to take advantage of the crisis that would surely come.

However, instead of ending in a revolutionary upsurge as most decline theorists predicted, World War II was followed by one of the most sustained booms in capitalist history. While the productive forces seemed to be growing faster than ever before, the working class in advanced capitalist countries seemed content with the rising living standards and welfare benefits of the post-war social democratic settlements. The picture of an inescapable capitalist crisis prompting a working class reaction now seemed irrelevant.

Then, when class struggle did eventually return on a major scale, it took on forms - wildcat strikes (often for issues other than wages), refusal of work, struggles within and outside the factory - which did not fit comfortably into the schema of the old workers' movement. Many of these struggles seemed marked not by a knee-jerk reaction to economic hardship caused by 'capitalism's decline', but by a struggle against alienation in all its forms caused by capital's continued growth, and by a more radical conception of what lay beyond capitalism than was offered by socialists.

It was in this context that the new currents we looked at in Part 2 of this article emerged. What currents like Socialism or Barbarism, the situationists and the autonomists shared was a rejection of the 'objectivism' of the old workers' movement. Rather than put their faith in an objective decline of the economy, they emphasized the other pole: the subject. It was these theoretical currents and not the old left theorists of decline that best expressed what was happening - the May '68 events in France, the Italian Hot Autumn of '69 and a general contestation that spread right across capitalist society. Though more diffuse than the 1917-23 period, these events were a revolutionary wave questioning capitalism across the world.

However, in the 1970s, the post-war boom collapsed. Capitalist crisis returned with a vengeance. The turn by the new currents away from the mechanics of capitalist crisis which had been an advantage now became a weakness. The idea that capitalism was objectively in decline was back in favour and there was a renewal of the old crisis theory. At the same time, in the face of the crisis and rising unemployment, there was a retreat of the hopes and tendencies which the new currents had expressed. As the crisis progressed, the refusal of work, which the new currents had connected to, and which the old leftists could not comprehend, seemed to falter before the onslaught of monetarism and the mass re-imposition of work.

However, the various rehashings of the old theory of capitalist crisis and decline were all inadequate. The sects of the old left, which had missed the significance of much of the struggle that had been occurring, were now sure that the mechanics of capitalist decline had been doing its work. Capital would be forced now to attack working class living standards and the proper class struggle would begin. These groups could now say 'we understand the crisis: flock to our banner'. They believed that, faced with the collapse of the basis of reformism, the working class would turn to them. There was much debate about the nature of the crisis; conflicting versions were offered; but the expected shift of the working class towards socialism and revolution did not occur.

This, then, is the situation we find ourselves in. While the advances of the new currents - their focus on the self-activity of the proletariat, on the radicality of communism etc. - are essential references for us, we nevertheless need to grasp how the objective situation has changed. The restructuring that has accompanied crisis, and the subsequent retreat of working class, has made some of the heady dreams of the '68 wave seem less possible. To some extent there has been an immiseration of the imagination from which that wave took its inspiration. There is a need to rethink, to grasp the objective context in which class struggle is situated. The bourgeoisie and state do not seem able to make the same concessions to recuperate movements, so the class struggle often takes a more desperate form. In the face of a certain retreat of the subject - lack of offensive class struggle - there is a temptation to adopt some sort of decline theory. It is in this context that the ideas of the journal Radical Chains are important.

The Radical Chains synthesis

Despite all their faults and ambiguities, Radical Chains have perhaps more than any other existing group made a concerted attempt to rethink Marxism in the wake of the final collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the fall of Stalinism. In doing so, they have sought to draw together the objectivism of the Trotskyist tradition with the more 'subjectivist' and class struggle oriented theories of autonomist Marxism. From the autonomists, Radical Chains have taken the idea that the working class is not a passive victim of capital but instead forces changes on capital. From the Trotskyist Hillel Ticktin, Radical Chains have taken the idea that one must relate such changes to the law of value, and its conflict with the emergent 'law of planning'.

In adopting the notion that the present epoch of capitalism is a transitional one, characterized by a conflict between an emergent 'law of planning' - which is identified with the emergence of communism - and a declining law of value, Radical Chains are inevitably led towards a theory of capitalist decline, albeit one which emphasizes class struggle. Indeed, as we shall see, the central argument of Radical Chains is that the growing power of the working class has forced capitalism to develop administrative forms which, while preventing and delaying the emergence of the 'law of planning' - and with this the move to communism - has undermined what Radical Chains see as capitalism's own essential regulating principle - the law of value. As such, Stalinism and social democracy are seen by Radical Chains as the principal political forms of the 'partial suspension of the law of value' which have served to delay the transition from capitalism to communism.

However, before we examine Radical Chains' theory of the 'partial suspension of the law of value' in more detail, it is necessary to look briefly at its origins in the work of Hillel Ticktin which has been a primary influence in the formation of this theory.

Ticktin and the fatal attraction of fundamentalism

Hillel Ticktin is the editor and principal theorist of the non-aligned Trotskyist journal Critique. What seems to make Ticktin and Critique attractive to Radical Chains is that his analysis is not tied to the needs of a particular Trotskyist sect but takes the high ground of an attempt to recover classical Marxism. As such, for Radical Chains, Ticktin provides a perceptive and sophisticated restatement of classical Marxism.

With Ticktin, the Second International's central notion, which opposed socialism as the conscious planning of society to the anarchy of the market of capitalism, is given a 'scientific' formulation in terms of the opposition between the 'law of planning' and the 'law of value'. Ticktin then seeks to 'scientifically' explain the laws of motion of the current transitional epoch of capitalism's decline in terms of the decline of capitalism's defining regulatory principle - the 'law of value' - and the incipient rise of the 'law of planning' which he sees as heralding the necessary emergence of socialism.

Like the leading theorists of classical Marxism, Ticktin sees the decline of capitalism in terms of the development of monopolies, increased state intervention in the economy and the consequent decline of the free market and laissez faire capitalism. As production becomes increasingly socialized on an ever greater scale, the allocation of social labour can no longer operate simply through the blind forces of the market. Increasingly, capital and the state have to plan and consciously regulate production. Yet the full development of conscious planning contradicts the private appropriation inherent in capitalist social relations. Planning is confined to individual states and capitals and thus serves to intensify the competition between these capitals and states so that the gains of rational planning end up exploding into the social irrationality of wars and conflict. Only with the triumph of socialism on a world scale, when production and the allocation of labour will be consciously planned in the interests of society as whole, will the contradiction between the material forces of production be reconciled with the social relations of production and the 'law of planning' emerge as the principal form of social regulation.

However, unlike the leading theorists of classical Marxism, Ticktin places particular emphasis on the increasing autonomy of finance capital as a symptom of capitalism's decline. Classical Marxism, following the seminal work of Hilferding's Finance Capital , had seen the integration of banking capital with monopolized industrial capital as the hallmark of the final stage of capitalism which heralded the rise of rational planning and the decline of the anarchy of the market. In contrast, for Ticktin late capitalism is typified by the growing autonomy of financial capital. Ticktin sees twentieth century capitalism as a contradiction between the forms of socialization that cannot be held back and the parasitic decadent form of finance capital. Finance capital is seen as having a parasitic relation to the socialized productive forces. It manages to stop the socialization getting out of hand and thus imposes the rule of abstract labour. However, finance capital is ultimately dependent on its host - production - which has an inevitable movement towards socialization.

By defining the increasing autonomy of finance capital as symptom of capitalism's decadence, Ticktin is able to accommodate the rise of global finance capital of the past twenty-five years within the classical Marxist theory of decline. To this extent, Ticktin provides a vital contribution to the development of the classical theory of decline.

But it could be objected that the increasing autonomy of finance capital is simply the means through which capital comes to restructure itself. In this view, the rise of global finance capital in the last twenty-five years has been the principal means through which capital has sought to outflank the entrenched working classes in the old industrialized economies by relocating production in new geographical areas and in new industries.

So while the increasing autonomy of finance capital may indeed herald the decline of capital accumulation in some areas, it only does so to the extent that it heralds the acceleration of capital accumulation in others. >From this perspective, the notion that the autonomy of finance capital is a symptom of capitalism's decline appears as particularly Anglo-centric. Indeed, in this light, Ticktin's notion of the parasitic and decadent character of finance capital seems remarkably similar to the perspective of those advocates of British industry who have long lamented the 'short termism' of the City as the cause of Britain's relative industrial decline. While such arguments may be true, by adopting them Ticktin could be accused of projecting specific causes of Britain's relative decline on to capitalism as a whole. While footloose finance capital may cause old industrialized economies to decline, it may at one and the same time be the means through which new areas of capital accumulation may arise.

This Anglo-centrism that we find in Ticktin's work can be seen to be carried over into the theory put forward by Radical Chains. But for many this would be the least of the criticisms advanced against Radical Chains' attempt to use the work of Ticktin. Ticktin is an unreconstructed Trotskyist. As such, he defends Trotsky's insistence on advancing the productive forces against the working class, which led to the militarization of labour, the crushing of the worker and sailors' uprising at Kronstadt and his loyal opposition to Stalin. But Radical Chains resolutely oppose Ticktin's Trotskyist politics. They insist they can separate Ticktin's good Marxism from his politics.

We shall argue that they can't make this separation: that in adopting Ticktin's theory of decline as their starting point they implicitly adopt his politics. But before we advance this argument we must consider Radical Chains' theory of decline in a little more detail.

Radical Chains

The world in which we live is riven by a contradiction between the latent law of planning and the law of value. Within the transitional epoch as a whole these correspond to the needs of the proletariat and those of capital, which remain the polarities of class relationships across the earth.

This quote from Radical Chains' Statement of Intent succinctly summarizes both their acceptance and their transformation of Ticktin's problematic of capitalist decline. Radical Chains' theory, like Ticktin's, is based on the idea of the conflict between two different organizational principles. It is not enough for the proletariat to be an 'agent of struggle'; it must be 'the bearer of a new organizational principle that, in its inescapable antagonism to value, must make capital a socially explosive and eventually doomed system.'

But Radical Chains are not Ticktin. Radical Chains accept the idea that the proper working of the law of value has given way to distorted forms of its functioning. However, there is a very significant shift in Radical Chains from conceiving of the law of value purely in terms of the relations between capitals to seeing it in terms of the capital/labour relation. The crucial object of the law of value is not products, but the working class. Thus while for Ticktin it is phenomena like monopoly pricing and governmental interference in the economy that undermine the law of value, for Radical Chains it is the recognition and administration of needs outside the wage - welfare, public health and housing, etc. This is an important shift because it allows Radical Chains to bring in the class struggle.

Central to Radical Chains' theory is the interplay between the state and the law of value. Their combination creates regimes of need, which is to say ways in which the working class is controlled. If the orthodox decline theory has a schema based on laissez faire free markets as capitalism's maturity and monopoly capitalism its decline, Radical Chains offer a similar schema based on the application of the law of value to labour-power. Capital's maturity was when the working class was brought fully under the law of value; capital's decline is the period when that full subordination was partially suspended by administrative forms.

Full Law of Value

For Radical Chains, the 1834 Poor Law Reform Act was the 'programmatic high point' of capitalism because it marked the establishment of labour-power as a commodity. In the previous Poor Law, the subsistence needs of the working class were met through a combination of wages from employers and a range of forms of parish relief. The New Poor Law unified the wage, by terminating these forms of local welfare. In their place it offered a sharp choice between subsistence through wage labour or the workhouse. The workhouse was made as unpleasant as possible to make it an effective non-choice. Thus the workingclass was in a position of absolute poverty. Its needs were totally subordinate to money, to the imperative to exchange labour-power for the wage. Thus its existence was totally dependent on accumulation. This, Radical Chains argue, was the proper existence of the working class within capitalism.

For Radical Chains, only when the subjective existence of the working proletariat corresponds to this state of absolute poverty is capitalism in proper correspondence with the pristine objectivity of the law of value. Once there is a change in this relation, capital goes into decline.

The 'Partial Suspension of the Law of Value'

This full subordination of working class existence to money prompted the working class to see its interests as completely opposed to those of capital and, as a result, to develop forms of collectivity which threatened to destroy capital. The threat is based on the fact that the working class, though atomized by the law of value in exchange, is collectivized by its situation in production. The law of value tries to impose abstract labour, but the working class can draw on its power as particular concrete labour. Radical Chains' idea of proletarian self-formation expressing the law of planning is bound to its existence as a socialized productive force. In response to the full workings of the law of value, the working class developed its own alternative, pushing towards a society organized by planning for needs.

The bourgeoisie recognized the inevitable and intervened with 'administrative substitutes for planning'. One aspect to the Partial Suspension of the Law of Value is that the bourgeoisie accepted forms of representation of the working class. Responsible unions and working class parties were encouraged. At the same time, there was the abandonment of the rigours of the Poor Law. Radical Chains trace the eventual post World War II social democratic settlement to processes begun by far-sighted members of the bourgeoisie long before. From the late nineteenth century, haphazard forms of poor relief began to supplement the Poor Law. The 1906-12 Liberal government systematized this move to administered welfare.

Such reforms amounted to a fundamental modification of the law of value: the relaxation of the conditions of absolute poverty. The wage was divided with one part remaining tied to work while the other became administered by the state. There was a move to what Radical Chains call the 'formal recognition of need': that is, the working class can get needs met through forms of administration. Bureaucratic procedures, forms, tests and so on enter the life of the working class.

There are now two sides to capital - the law of value and administration. This Partial Suspension of the Law of Value represents national deals with the working class. The global proletariat is divided into national sections which have varying degrees of defence from the law of value. This acts to stop the proletariat's global unification as a revolutionary class, but it also acts as a limit on the effectiveness of the law of value which must act globally.

Crisis of the Partial Suspension of the Law of Value

Within the forms of the Partial Suspension of the Law of Value, the working class struggles. It uses the existence of full employment and welfare to increase both sides of the divided wage. Administration proves a much less effective way of keeping the working class in check than the pure workings of the market. Radical Chains see the forms of struggle that the new currents connected to as evidence of the working class breaking out of its containment. The last twenty years or so are seen by Radical Chains as a crisis of the forms of prevention of communism to which capital has responded by trying to reunify the wage and reassert the law of value. Radical Chains do not see much point in looking at the different struggles; the point is to locate them within a grand theoretical perspective!

The attraction of Radical Chains' theory is that the concrete developments of the twentieth century are explained by a combination of subjective and objective factors. Revolutionary theory has a tendency to see the subjective aspect - working class struggle - appearing in revolutionary periods and disappearing without trace at other times. Radical Chains conceptualize the subjective as contained within the forms of the prevention of communism - Stalinism and social democracy - but continuing to struggle and finally exploding them. This analysis seems to have a revolutionary edge, for Radical Chains use the theory to criticize the left's tendency to become complicit with these forms of the prevention of communism. However, there is an ambiguity here because Radical Chains hinge their account on the idea of an underlying process - the breakdown of the essence of capitalism before the essence of communism - planning. This, as we shall argue, is exactly the framework that leads to the left's complicity with capital.

However, before moving to the fundamental conceptual problems that Radical Chains inherit from Ticktin we should point out some problems with their historical account of the rise and fall of capitalism.

In the Blink of an Eye

Radical Chains are right to see the New Poor Law as expressing bourgeois dreams of a working class totally subordinated to capital. They imagine that this period of proper domination beginning in 1834 and lasting till the beginnings of the Partial Suspension of the Law of Value with the movement towards haphazard forms of poor relief in the 1880s, the mature period of capitalism, lasts around fifty years.

But there is a difference between intent and reality. The New Poor Law while enacted in 1834 was resisted by the working class and the parishes so that it was not until the 1870s that it became properly enforced. So virtually as soon as it was enforced the New Poor Law began to be undermined. From this it would seem that the high point of capitalism becomes reduced to little more than a decade or two. From an historical perspective in which feudalism lasted for more than a several centuries, capitalism's maturity is over in the blink of an eye.

Against this notion that capitalism matured for a mere twenty years in the later part of the nineteenth century and has ever since been in decline, it can of course be countered that the world has become far more capitalist during the course of the twentieth century than it has ever been. This view would seem to become substantiated once we grasp the development of capitalism not in terms of the decline of the law of value, but in terms of the shift from the formal to the real subsumption of labour to capital and the concomitant shift in emphasis from the production of absolute surplus-value to the production of relative surplus-value.

Formal and Real Domination

In the period dominated by the production of absolute surplus-value, the imperative of the control of labour is simply to create sufficient hardship to force the proletarians through the factory gates. However, once relative surplus-value becomes predominant, a more sophisticated role is required. The capital/labour relation had to be reconstructed. The reduction in necessary labour required the mass production of consumption goods. A constant demand for those goods then became essential to capital. As a result, the working class became an important source not only of labour but also of demand. At the same time, the continual revolutionizing of the means of production required a more educated workforce and a more regulated reserve army of the unemployed.

Of course Radical Chains are right that these changes are also being forced on capital by the threat of proletarian self-organization. But the idea that they thereby represent capital's decline is not justified. It is only with these new ways of administering the class that relative surplus-value can be effectively pursued. The phenomena of Taylorism and Fordism indicate that capitalism in the twentieth century - the pursuit of relative surplus-value - still had a lot of life in it. Indeed, the post-war boom in which capitalism grew massively based on full employment and the linking of rising working class living standards and higher productivity is perhaps the period when working class needs and accumulation were at their most integrated.

Indeed, from this perspective, the New Poor Law was more of a transitional form in the development of capitalism. On the one hand it was in keeping with the draconian legislation that capital required in its long period of emergence. On the other hand it created a national system to control labour. The multitude of boards that it set up are the direct forerunners of the administrative bodies that came to replace it.

So, rather than a massive break, there is a great deal of continuity between the sorts of institutions created by the 1834 Act and those bureaucratic structures that were set up later. The forms of systematic national management of labour that were created by the New Poor Law simply to discipline the working class were the material basis for new relations of representation, administration and intervention.

We can see, then, that the New Poor Law was introduced to fulfil the needs of a period of the production of absolute surplus-value. What is more, though it was enacted in 1834, it was only in the 1870s that its provisions totally replaced earlier systems of relief. By this time, capital was shifting to its period in which the production of relative surplus-value came to predominate, and this required a new way of relating to labour.

The underlying problem of Radical Chains' historical analysis is that they take the laissez faire stage of capitalism at its own word. Its word is an individualist ideology which was immediately undermined by the growth of collective forms. The idea of a perfect regime of needs under the law of value is a myth. The law of value and capital have always been constrained, first by forms of landed property and of community which preceded it, and then by the class struggle growing up within it. Capital is forced to relate to the working class by other means than the wage, and the state is its necessary way of doing this. The Poor Law expressed one strategy for controlling the working class: administration expresses a different one. Once we see the law of value as always constrained, then the idea of its partial suspension loses its resonance.

The fetishism of planning

Given that Radical Chains seek to emphasize the relation of struggle between the working class and capital, it may seem strange that they do not consider the shift from the formal to real subsumption of labour to capital. Yet such a consideration would not only undermine their commitment to a theory of decline but also run counter to the conceptual framework that they have drawn from classical Marxism through Ticktin. To examine this more closely we must return briefly once more to the origins of classical Marxism's theory of decline.

As we have already noted, the notion of an objectively determined decline of capitalism is rooted in the orthodox interpretation of the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy where Marx states that 'At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production... From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution'. For the classical Marxist at the turn of the century, it seemed clear that the social relations of private appropriation and the market were becoming fetters on the increasingly socialized forces of production. The driving force towards revolution was therefore conceptualized as the contradiction between the productive forces' need for socialist planning and the anarchy of the market and private appropriation.

Of course, implicit in all this is the idea that socialism only becomes justified once it becomes historically necessary to further develop the forces of production on a more rational and planned basis. Once capitalism has exhausted its potential of developing the forces of production on the basis of the law of value, socialism must step in to take over the baton of economic development. From this perspective, socialism appears as little more than the planned development of the forces of production.

However, viewing history in terms of the contradiction between the development of the forces of production and existing social relations, where each form of society is seen to be replaced by a succeeding one which can allow a further development of the forces of production, is to take the view point of capital. By articulating this view, Marx sought to turn the perspective of capital against itself. Marx sought to show that, like preceding societies, capitalism will repeatedly impose limits on the development of the forces of production and therefore open up the possibility for capitalism's own supersession on its own terms.

>From the point of view of capital, history is nothing more than the development of the productive forces; it is only with capitalism that production fully realizes itself as an alien force that can appear abstracted from human needs and desires. Communism must not only involve the abolition of classes but also the abolition of the forces of production as a separate power.

By seeing socialism principally as the rationally planned development of the forces of production - and opposing this to the anarchy of the market of capitalism - classical Marxists ended up adopting the perspective of capital. It was this perspective that allowed the Bolsheviks to take up the tasks of a surrogate bourgeoisie once they had seized power in Russia, since it committed them to the development of the forces of production at all costs. The logic of this perspective was perhaps developed most of all by Trotsky who, through his support for the introduction of Taylorism, one-man management, the militarization of labour and the crushing of the rebellion at Kronstadt, consistently demonstrated his commitment to develop the forces of production over and against the needs of the working class.

As a long committed Trotskyist, there are no problems for Ticktin in identifying socialism with planning. Indeed, in restating classical Marxism and developing the contradictions between planning and the anarchy of the market, Ticktin draws heavily on the work of Preobrazhensky who, alongside Trotsky, was the leading theoretician of the Left-Opposition in the 1920s. It was Preobrazhensky who first developed the distinction between the law of planning and the law of value as the two competing principles of economic regulation in the period of the transition from capitalism to socialism. It was on the basis of this distinction that Preobrazhensky developed the arguments of the Left-Opposition for the rapid development of heavy industry at the expense of the living standards of the working class and the peasantry. Arguments that were later to be put into practice, after the liquidation of the Left-Opposition, under Stalin.

For Radical Chains, adopting the notion that we are in the period of capitalist decline and the consequent transition to socialism, in which the principal contradiction is that between the law of value and the law of planning, is far more problematic. An important part of Radical Chains' project is their attempt to reject the traditional politics of the left, particularly that of Leninism. This is made clear in such articles as 'The hidden political economy of the left', where they resolutely stress importance of the self-activity of the working class and attack the Leninist notion of the passivity of the working class and its need for an externally imposed discipline. Yet this is undermined by their adherence to the 'good Marxism' of Ticktin.

As a result, we find that when pressed on the question of planning Radical Chains' position becomes both slippery and highly ambiguous. Their way of vindicating planning is virtually to identify it with self-emancipation. They ask us to make a revolution in the name of planning and insist that really that is fine because 'Planning is the social presence of the freely associating proletariat and, beyond that, the human form of existence.' But planning is planning. The free association of the proletariat is the free association of the proletariat. For all their efforts, by refusing to break with the framework set out by Ticktin, Radical Chains end up simply criticizing the left's idea of planning from the point of view of planning. For us, this classical leftist Marxism must not be revitalized but undermined. This means questioning its very framework.

For us, the market or law of value is not the essence of capital; its essence is rather the self-expansion of value: that is, of alienated labour. Capital is above all an organizing of alienated labour involving a combination of market aspects and planning aspects. Capitalism has always needed planning and it has always needed markets. The twentieth century has displayed a constant tension between capitalism's market and planning tendencies. What the left has done is identify with one pole of this process, that of planning. But our project is not simply equal to planning. Communism is the abolition of all capitalist social relations, both of the market and of the alien plan. Of course, some form of social planning is a necessary prerequisite for communism: but the point is not planning as such, as a separate and specialized activity, but planning at the service of the project of free creation of our lives. The focus would be on the production of ourselves, not things. Not the planning of work and development of the productive forces, but the planning of free activity at the service of the free creation of our own lives.

Radical Chains concluded

With Radical Chains we have the most recent and perhaps most sophisticated restatement of the classical Marxist theory of decline. Yet, for us, their attempt to unite such an objectivist Marxist theory with the more class struggle oriented theories which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s has failed, leaving them in a politically compromised position. With Radical Chains our odyssey is complete and we can draw to some kind of conclusion.

In Place of a Conclusion

Is capitalism in decline? Coming to terms with theories of capitalist decline has involved a coming to terms with Marxism. One of the essential aspects of Marx's critique of political economy was to show how the relations of capitalist society are not natural and eternal. Rather, he showed how capitalism was a transitory mode of production. Capital displays itself as transitory. Its negation is within it, and there is a movement to abolish it. However, the theory of decline is not for us. It focuses on decline as a period within capitalism and it identifies the process of going beyond capital with changes in the forms of capital rather than the struggle against them.

Decline cannot be seen as an objective period of capitalism, nor can the progressive aspect to capital be seen as an earlier period now passed. The progressive and decadent aspects of capital have always been united. Capitalism has always involved a decadent negative process of the commodification of life by value. It has also involved the creation of the universal class in opposition, rich in needs and with the ultimate need for a new way of life beyond capital.

The problem with Marxist orthodoxy is that it seeks capital's doom not in the collective forms of organization and struggle of the proletariat but in the forms of capitalist socialization. It imposes a linear evolutionary model on the shift from capitalism to communism. The revolutionary movement towards communism involves rupture; the theorization of the decline of capitalism misses this by identifying with aspects of capital. As Pannekoek pointed out, the real decline of capital is the self-emancipation of the working class.

Review: Against His-story, Against Leviathan

Aufheben critically review Fredy Perlman's Against His-story, against Leviathan, and critique the ideology of primitivism it has influenced.

Fredy Perlman's influential book Against His-tory, Against Leviathan! expresses the position of the new 'primitivist' current in which the enemy is not capital but progress. Going beyond leftist notions of the basic neutrality of technology is a step in the right direction; but seeing all technology as essentially alienating is a mystification. Since it is itself an expression in theory of a radical setback, primitivism contributes little to the practical problem we all face of overthrowing capitalism.

Civilization and its latest discontents
Review Article: Fredy Perlman (1983). Against His-story, Against Leviathan! Detroit: Black & Red.

I'm born in a certain age which has certain instruments of production and certain kinds of knowledge; I have the possibility to combine my ability with my knowledge, and can use the socially available means of production as instruments with which to realize an individual or collective project.

(R. Gregoire & F. Perlman, 1969)

Civilization is under attack. A new critical current has emerged in recent years, united by an antagonism towards all tendencies that seem to include 'progress' as part of their programme. Perlman's book, described in the AK Distribution 1993 Catalogue as 'One of the most significant and influential anarchic texts of the last few decades' (p. 30), is one of the key texts in this 'primitivist' current. In the U.S.A. and this country, it is in anarchist circles - particularly amongst those engaged in eco-struggles - that primitivism has become particularly popular. But Perlman used to be a Marxist (see the quote above), and he contributed usefully to the development of a libertarian version of Marx's theory for a number of years. The wholesale abandonment of Marx in favour of primitivism has touched the non-Leninist revolutionary milieu in this country too, with the recent conversion of Wildcat to the anti-civilization position.

One direction that the primitivist current points in is the need to develop a critique of technology. This is something the old left cannot grasp, and is one of the reasons why it is unable to connect properly with tendencies toward communism. According to most varieties of leftism, technological progress and therefore economic growth will be of universal benefit so long as they are planned rationally; what prevents the full and rational development of the forces of production is the irrationality of the capitalist market. All this is reflected in the way leftists relate to the new struggles over technological 'progress', such as the anti-roads movement. Thus, while opportunists like the SWP treat these new struggles as valid only because they might be fertile grounds for recruitment to the 'real' struggle, leftists who are more openly traditional on this issue - such as the RCP - repeat the old claim that what the proles really want is more and better roads (so we can all get to work on time, perhaps!): a modern infrastructure is necessary for growth, and an expanding economy necessarily makes for a better quality of life.

The old project of simply taking over existing means of production was the creation of an era before capital had so thoroughly invested its own subjectivity in technology, design and the labour process. The technology that promises to liberate us in fact enslaves us by regulating our activities in and through work and leisure; machines and factories pollute our environments and destroy our bodies; their products offer us the image of real life instead of its substance. Now, more than ever, it is often more appropriate to smash existing means of production than merely manage them differently. We must therefore go beyond leftist notions of the neutrality of technology and problematize their definitions of progress.

The current anti-roads movement offers an example of a practical critique of progress - that is, one which contests dominant definitions of progress through physically disrupting their implementation. As we argued in our lastissue, struggles such as that over the M11 link road in north-east London should be understood as part of the class struggle. This is often despite the ideas of those taking part, some of which echo Perlman's ideological critique of progress. In contrast to the practical critique, the ideological critique actively hinders an adequate critique of capitalism. Thus Perlman rejects unwanted leftist notions only through a retreat into a form of romantic quasi-anarchism which is unable to grasp the movement necessary to abolish capital. Given that Perlman is only one voice, however, the present article will use a review of his book as a springboard for a critique of other expressions of the new primitivist current.

The case against 'progress'

Perlman's book begins by distinguishing between a state of nature (harmony between humanity and the rest of nature) and civilization. Civilization began, not because everyone wanted to improve their conditions of existence, not because of 'material conditions', but because a small group of people imposed it on everyone else. Perlman traces the origin of civilization to the Sumerians, who, he says, felt obliged to build waterworks to ensure a regular supply of water. The Sumerians invested power to direct the building of the waterworks in one individual, who eventually became a powerful expert elite and then a warrior elite - the first ruling class, in effect. Under the direction of their ruling class, the Sumerians then waged war on their neighbours, eventually enslaving them. The rest of Perlman's book is taken up with the rest of world history, comprising the evolution of - and resistance to - various types of Leviathan (the name, taken from Hobbes, which Perlman uses for civilization, class society or the state), each of which takes in human beings as its living energy, is animated by them, and excretes them out as it decays, only to be replaced by yet another Leviathan. Leviathans fight with each other, but the winner is always Leviathan. Given that the opposition is between Leviathan and the oppressed majority, the differences between types of class society can therefore be largely glossed over.

Perlman appears to agree with Marx that what distinguishes civilization from primitive communism is the development of the means of production, which enabled surplus labour and thus the existence of a parasitic non-productive class. But the book challenges the traditional Marxist view by suggesting that in primitive communism there were already 'surpluses'. If there was no problem with means of subsistence, then there could be no need to develop the means of production. The emergence of civilization is therefore comparable with the 'fall' from the Garden of Eden.

However, Perlman's claim that the ancient Sumerians felt obliged to introduce technological innovation suggests that primitive communism wasn't always so idyllic after all: the place where they were living was 'hellish'; they were intent on 'farming a jungle'; in the rainy season the floods carried off both their crops and their houses, while in the dry season their plants dried up and died. This might suggest that population growth forced people to live in marginal lands, away from any surpluses. It also seems to conflict with Perlman's repeated claim that material conditions were not responsible for the development of technology and thus civilization; if lack of a regular water supply isn't a material condition, then what is? Similarly, the material condition of a growing population isn't discussed. The social relations Perlman describes which accompany the new technology seem to be rather arbitrary. Much (the whole of history, in fact) seems to hinge on the decision made by the 'wise' (sic) Sumerian elders to appoint 'a strong young man' to be the 'supervisor' of the waterworks project. (So is chance to blame rather than the small minority?)

The writings of John Zerzan, such as his collection of essays Elements of Refusal, seems to take Perlman's general argument further (back). Zerzan's writings are not orthodoxy within the new primitivist current, but they have been important in the American primitivist and eco-anarchist scenes in setting agendas for debate on issues such as agriculture. The whole problem in Zerzan's view may be summarized as follows: symbolization set in motion the series of horrors that is civilization's trajectory. Symbolization led to ideas of time, number, art and language which in turn led to agriculture. Religion gets the blame as well, being carried by language, and being one of the prime culprits for agriculture: food production is 'at base ... a religious activity' (p. 70). But why is agriculture so bad? According to Zerzan, 'captivity itself and every form of enslavement has agriculture as its progenitor or model' (p. 75). Therefore while Perlman might have wanted to defend existing primitive communities against encroaching capitalist development, Zerzan sees anyone using agriculture as already alienated and therefore not worth saving: even most tribal types wouldn't be pure enough for him. Similarly, permaculture is an aspiration of many primitivists, but, within Zerzan's vision, this too would be part of the problem since it is a method of production. His later work has even dismissed hunter-gathering - since hunting leads to symbolism (and all the rest).

It might be easy to dismiss many of Perlman's and Zerzan's arguments as just half-baked idealism. They are not particularly original, and indeed might be said to be no more than vulgarizations of the ideas of Camatte (see below); if we are interested in theory, it might therefore be more appropriate to develop a critique of his work rather than theirs. However, Camatte is far less well known and far less influential than either Perlman or Zerzan. The fact that their ideas are becoming something of a material force - in the form of an increasing number of people engaged in struggle espousing primitivism - means that we have to take them seriously in their own right.

The modern context of primitivism

Ideas of a golden age and a rejection of civilization are nothing new. The Romantic Movement in bourgeois philosophy began with Rousseau, who eulogized unmediated relations with 'nature' and characterized 'industry' as evil. (Perlman quotes Rousseau approvingly.) But why has this old idea become so popular now?

It would seem no coincidence that anti-civilization ideas have blossomed in particular in the U.S.A. It is easy to see how such ideas can take hold in a place where there is still a recognizable wilderness which is currently being destroyed by production. The U.S.A. differs from Europe also in the fact that it lacks the long history of struggle that characterizes the transition from feudalism to capitalism (and the making of the proletariat). Instead, it has had the wholesale imposition of capitalism on indigenous cultures - a real genocide. Moreover, in recent years, the U.S.A. has also differed from Europe in the extent of the defeat of proletarian struggle over there.

Defeat brings pessimism, and when the current radical movement is on the decline, it may be easier to be radical about the past than to be radical in a practical way in the present. In the biography of Perlman, we can trace a movement from hope in the proletariat as the liberatory force to a turn to nature and the past in the context of defeat. As a Marxist, Perlman was caught up in the events of 1968, where he discovered the texts and ideas of the Situationist International, anarchism and the Spanish Revolution, and council communism. Afterwards, however, on moving to the U.S.A., '[t]he shrinking arena for meaningful political activity in the early 70s led Fredy to see himself as less of an "activist" and more as a rememberer.' Perlman's development is closely linked with that of Jacques Camatte, sometime comrade of the Italian left-communist Bordiga. Camatte broke with left-communist organizations partly due to his recognition of the need to go beyond their (objectivist) perspective and rethink Marx on the basis of the radical promise offered by such texts as the 'Results of the Immediate Process of Production' (The 'missing sixth chapter' of Capital Volume I), the Grundrisse, and the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. However, Camatte eventually concluded that capital was in fact all powerful; given this, the proletariat offered no hope and the only option for humanity was to run away and escape somehow.

In the case of Zerzan, his early work romanticizes proletarian spontaneity; on the basis of his observations of apparently new expressions of resistance in the form of worker sabotage and absenteeism, he pronounced this to be the future of class struggle. In the early 1980s, the recession threw millions out of work. We might take this as the vindication of his critics' predictions about the transience of these forms of the revolt against work as viable expressions of the class struggle; for in the face of widespread unemployment how could workers commit sabotage or go absent? But instead of recognizing the setbacks to the struggle as a whole, Zerzan saw in the new unemployment figures the 'collapse' of capitalism and the 'vitality' of the revolt against work. For those who were still in jobs, work intensity increased during this period. To Zerzan, however, the most important thing, was a decline of the work-ethic. Zerzan also dismissed strikes (successful or otherwise) as being cathartic charades. His focus on attitudes allowed the perilous state of the proletariat as a movement to be overlooked.

Zerzan's unrealistic optimism is merely the flipside of the pessimism that comes with defeat. But holding on to such ideas - substituting the simple negation of civilization for the determinate negation of capitalism - is not only a reflection of pessimism with current movements; it also functions to prevent adherents from connecting with these movements. The ultimate test of the primitivists' case might be its usefulness in struggles. Primitivists say they don't want to 'simply' go back (maybe they want to go back in a more 'complex' way - in a tardis, perhaps), but neither do they say much about what we should be doing now; and Perlman and Zerzan give few examples of collective struggles that seem to them to point in the right direction. In the past, Perlman and Zerzan made contributions to revolutionary struggle; but whatever useful contributions Zerzan may make now do not particularly seem to flow from his theory.

For the modern primitivist, the despair of failing to locate the future in the present, and of failing to counteract the pervasiveness of production, may leave no alternative but principled suicide (possibly in the service of a bombing mission against one or other manifestation of the 'mega-machine'), or resignation before Leviathan's irresistible progress, and a search for an individual solution. Although primitivists see capital as a social relation, they seem to have lost the sense that it is a process of class struggle, not just an imposition by a powerful oppressor. Since, in their account, all praxis is alienated, how can proletarian praxis possibly offer the way out? So, for example, George Bradford, writing in Fifth Estate, argues that all we can hope to do is maintain human decency, affirm moral coherence and defend 'human personhood', and hope that others do the same.

History produces its own questioners

The argument that the turn to primitivism reflects the limits of the class struggle at the present time has certain consequences for the coherence of the primitivist position. To say that primitives necessarily resisted civilization may be to project on to them the primitivist's own desires - specifically, her own antipathy to technology and 'civilized' (i.e. class) society. Primitives very likely were not conscious of their way of life as a possibility or choice in the way the modern primitivist is, and therefore would not have valued it in the same way that we might, and may not necessarily have resisted the development ofthe productive forces. The desire to transcend civilization seems itself to be a product of class society; the rosy view of pre-history is itself a creation of history.

The issue touches upon the definition of 'human nature'. In confronting this, we find two sorts of position in the writings of primitivists. Firstly, consistent with Marx's approach, some acknowledge that human needs and desires are indeed historical products. But, for the logically pure primitivist, this is problematic because such needs and desires would therefore be an effect of the very thing they are trying to overcome; these needs would be part of history and civilization, and therefore alienated. (Recall the traditional leftist view that capitalism holds back our needs for technological progress; to the primitivist, needs like these would be part of the problem.)

Given this, primitivists often imply instead that the human needs and desires to which civilization is antithetical are ahistorical or suprahistorical. Perlman says nothing explicit in his book about the precise features of this ahistorical human nature he seems to be positing, except that he 'take[s] it for granted that resistance is the natural human response to dehumanization' (p. 184). The rest, we can assume, is simply the negative of his account of civilization: non-hierarchical, non-working and so on.

Again, an ahistorical 'human nature' argument against capital ('civilization', 'government' etc.) is not a new one, and we don't have to re-invent the dialectical wheel to argue against it. In fact, we can turn to some of Perlman's own work for a pretty good counter-argument. In his Introduction to Rubin's Essays on Marx's Theory of Value, Perlman discusses Feuerbach's conception of human nature. As Perlman says, for Feuerbach the human essence is something isolated, unhistorical and therefore abstract. The great leap in theory beyond the bourgeois idealists made by Marx was to argue against this that 'the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.' (p. 122).

By contrast, then, the later Perlman makes a huge leap backwards in theory to rediscover old, bourgeois notions which define human nature in terms of certain negative desires located within each individual. Similarly, Zerzan counterposes 'alienation' (be it through hierarchy, agriculture or wage labour) to an asocial humanity. His more promising early writing on absenteeism and sabotage was flawed by his inability to recognize the limits of struggle that does not become collective. His more recent work centres on a critique of language, that aspect of human life which, probably more than any other, allows us to share and therefore makes us social beings.

Primitivists' conception of the essential ontological opposition as being between history (civilization) and an abstract human nature, instead of between two historically-contingent sets of interests (capital versus the proletariat), means that their critique tends to be merely a moral one. For example, as his widow and biographer states, Perlman argues that the trail-blazers of civilization did have other choices. In Worker-Student Action Committees, a similarly voluntaristic theme works as a useful critique of the limits of the practice of those taking part in the events in Paris in May 1968: 'Subjectively they thought they were revolutionaries because they thought a revolution was taking place ... They were not going to initiate this process; they were going to follow the wave wherever it pushed them.' (p. 82). But, in the absence of a proper recognition of the logical-historical drives and constraints of particular modes of production, Perlman's primitivism represents the degeneration of a non-objectivist version of Marxism into a version of the anarchist critique of power, with all its obvious weaknesses: 'These leaders were just bad or stupid people!' Similarly, in the case of Zerzan, language is said to have arisen not so that people could co-operate with each other, but 'for the purpose of lying' (Elements of Refusal , p. 27). So we must blame, not class interests, but people's moral failings!

Whose progress is it anyway?

Primitivists say little about variations and changes in climate in pre-historic times. In certain times and places, there may well have been societies like the idyll described by Perlman; but it is equally likely that other situations were nightmarish. All primitive societies relied completely on the benevolence of nature, something which could easily change; and changes in climatic conditions could wipe out thousands.

Bound up with the primitivist view of pre-history as an ideal state is the rigid distinction they draw between nature and human productive activity. What makes us human are the set of 'first order mediations' between humanity and nature: our needs, the natural world around us, our power to create, and so on. To be human is to be creative. Through 'second order mediations', these basic qualities of existence are themselves mediated by relationships - of power, alienation, exploitation and so on - between classes. Zerzan idealizes a golden age before humanity became distinct from nature only because he conflates human creative activity per se with alienated creative activity; to him, any human creative activity - any activity which affects the rest of nature - is already saturated with exploitation and alienation.

What the anti-civilization position overlooks, therefore, is the mutual constitution of humanity and (the rest of) nature: humans are part of nature, and it is their nature to humanize nature. Nature and humanity are co-defining parts of a single moving totality; both are therefore subject to change and change each other. Changes in the world may lead to new social relations among human beings - relations which may involve a different relation to that world, a different praxis and technology (such as when the Iron Age developed out of climatic changes). We are products of nature, but we also create ourselves through our own activity in shaping the world that we inhabit. While it is certainly true that to privilege 'humanity' in any of these changes may be to damage the very environment we need to live, to privilege 'the natural world' by viewing all our activity as an assault on it may be to damage humanity.

If the change from pre-history to agriculture and other innovations wasn't necessarily alienating - if the latter weren't by their nature imposed within and through social relations of domination - then the whole historical opposition Perlman and Zerzan set up between progress and its popular resistance is thrown into doubt. Evidence from history suggests that progress is by no means necessarily the expression of the powerful; rather the powerful were sometimes indifferent to progress, and the powerless were sometimes the ones who contributed to it.

In Antiquity, particularly in Greek society, there was technological stagnation rather than progress. The surplus product of slave labour was used for innovations only in the sphere of civic society and the intellectual realm. Manual labour, and therefore innovations in production, were associated in the minds of the Greek ruling class with loss of liberty. Although the Romans introduced more technical developments, these were largely confined to the material improvement of cities (e.g., central heating) and the armed forces (e.g., roads) rather than the forces of production. In both cases, military conquest was preferred to economic advance through the forces of production.

In the feudal period, both lords and peasants had reasons to bring innovations to agriculture to increase production. The growing desires for amenities and luxuries in the aristocratic class as a whole, particularly from about the year 1000 onwards, motivated an expansion of supply from the countryside. Hence the introduction of the water-mill and the spread of viticulture. The peasants were motivated to create and satisfy new needs by the particular parameters of the feudal mode of production, which tied the peasant to only a certain weekly toll and fixed number of days to work: the rest of the time was their own, and could be used to improve their quality of life. Hence more and more villages came to possess forges for local production of iron tools; cereal cultivation spread; and the quality and quantity of production on the peasants' own plots increased.

The key to understanding the massive growth in productivity in the feudal period, however, was the recurrent rent struggles between peasants and landowners. Disputes over land, initiated by either pole of the feudal relationship, motivated occupation and colonization of new lands in the form of reclamation of heaths, swampland and forests for agricultural purposes. It was a continual class struggle that drove the economy forward.

Primitivism, by suggesting that the initiators of progress are always the ruling class, projects features of capitalism back into the past - as do most bourgeois theories. Previous class societies were based largely on a settled level of technology; in such societies technological change may have been resisted by the ruling classes since it might have upset settled relations of dominance. Capitalism is the only mode of production based on constantly revolutionizing technology and the means of production.

Moreover, characterizing capitalism as simply the rule of technology or the 'mega-machine' fetishizes fixed capital as a prime mover, thereby losing sight of the struggle behind the shape of the means of production. Progress within capitalism is characteristically the result of capital responding to forms of resistance. For example, in the shift to Taylorist production methods, the variables that the management scientists were having to deal with were not merely technical factors but the awkwardness and power of the workforce; this could best be controlled and harnessed as variable capital (so the scientists thought) by physically separating the job of work into its component parts and the workers along the production line so they were unable to fraternize. One of the next steps in improving output was the introduction of the 'human relations' approach, putting a human face on the factory, which was forced upon capital by worker resistance (in the form of absenteeism and sabotage) to the starkness of pure Taylorism.

Thus, we might understand progress in the forces of production not as the absolute imposition of the will of one class over another, but as the result of the class contradiction itself. If progress is in an important sense a compromise, a result of conflict - both between classes and between competing capitals - then some of its effects might be positive. We might hate capitalism, but most of us can think of capitalist technologies we'd like to keep to meet our present and future needs (though not as commodities, of course) - be it mountain bikes, light bulbs or word processors. This is consistent with our immediate experience of modern capitalism, which isn't simply imposed upon us monolithically, but has to reflect our own wishes in some way. After all, isn't the essence of the spectacle the recuperation of the multiplicity of our own desires? Therefore it is not some abstract progress which we want to abolish, but the contradictory progress we get in class society. The process of communism entails the reappropriation and radical, critical transformation of that created within the alienated social relations of capitalism. To hold that the problem is essentially technology itself is a mystification; human instruments are not out of our control within capitalism because they are instruments (any more than our own hands are necessarily out of our control), but because they are the instruments of capital - and therefore of reified, second-order mediations.

Given all this, the argument by Wildcat - that IF the productive forces need to be developed to a sufficient degree to make communism possible, and IF these forces are not developed sufficiently now, THEN revolutionaries might have to support their further development - applies only to Marxist objectivism rather than to the version of Marx's project we are trying to develop. At any time, the revolutionary supports the opposition to capital (and, by extension, takes the side of any communist tendency in any class society). Actions by the opposition to capital can force concessions from capital, making further successful resistance possible both subjectively (confidence, ideas of possibility etc.) and objectively (pushing capital beyond itself, weakening its mechanisms of control etc.). 'Progress' often describes the deferment of this revolutionary process, as the mode of production is forced to change its form: look at the way the class compromise of the post-war settlement entailed the development of new production and accumulation methods in the form of Fordism. In their attack on progress, Wildcat mistake the shadows for the substance of the fight.

Good and bad Marx

Perlman and Camatte certainly knew their Marx, and developed their early, more promising, revolutionary theory through a confrontation with him. But Against His-story and much of Zerzan's work recommend no such constructive confrontation; rather they encourage a simplistic and dismissive attitude by characterizing Marx as merely a nineteenth century advocate of progress. From that perspective, any apparently radical critique of Marx is welcomed, including that of postmodernist scumbags like Baudrillard. (The Mirror of Production, a book by the media darling and recuperator of situationist ideas, which groups Marx with the rest of the 'modernist' has-beens, is promoted in the primitivist-influenced Fifth Estate periodical.)

A critique of Marx and Marxism is certainly necessary, but primitivism (like postmodernism) is merely the ideologization of such a critique. The anti-civilization position is not just a necessary attack on leftism, but a counter-productive attack on everything in Marx. In defending some version of Marx against primitivism, we certainly need to acknowledge the problems in attempting to separate from some of its own consequences a theory which sought not merely to interpret the world but to change it. However, some of the primitivist critics seem to simply fit Marx up rather than attempt to understand some of the limitations of his theory. For example, Zerzan's critique of Marx claims to link Marx's practice with the supposed problems of this theory. But the critique consists almost entirely of a list of Marx's personal shortcomings and says virtually nothing about his theory.

At least Wildcat bother to dig out some quotes from Marx, which they then use as evidence in a critique of (their reading of) Marx's theory. From the Grundrisse, they find a quote to show that Marx thought that capitalist progress and thus alienation was a necessary step to the full development of the individual; and from the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy they quote Marx's well-known statement declaring that the development of the productive forces is the precondition for communism. These kinds of theoretical statements they link to Marx's failings in practice, in particular his support for the American Civil War. In response, we might pick out a dozen more quotes from different texts by Marx - or even from the same texts Wildcat draw upon - to show the importance he placed on proletarian subjectivity and self-activity; and we might link these with his important and innovatory contributions to revolutionary practice, such as his support for the Silesian uprising and the Paris Commune.

But a mere selection (or even an aggregation) of quotes from Marx is not an analysis. If we think there is anything useful in Marx's work, we could try to locate his limits and contradictions in their historical context rather than in the person of Marx in abstraction. As Debord argued, Marx's limits and contradictionsreflect those of the workers' movement of the time. The economistic element in Marx's theory - exemplified in writings such as Capital - was merely one facet of his project as a whole. When the struggle appeared to be at its most promising, the totality and hence the subjective came to the fore in Marx's theory (as in the case of the overall content and direction of the Grundrisse ); but in the face of setbacks Marx was reduced to scientistic justifications. It was also important rhetorically, of course, to foresee the inevitability of the communist revolution in the maturation of capitalism (as in The Communist Manifesto, for example). Understanding Marx this way allows us to critically develop his revolutionary theory in the direction of communism rather than leading us simply to dump it as a whole uncritically.

In an important sense, Marx was simply describing his observation that the development of the forces of production in the end brought communism closer through the proletarianization of the population. It is also true that at times he was an advocate of such development. But the main point is that such advocacy of capitalist progress does not flow from his theoretical premises in the clear cut way the primitivists would have us believe. Productivism is one trajectory from his work; this is the one taken up by the Soviet Marxists and other objectivists in their narrow, scientistic reading. But, taking his project as a whole, Marx's theory also points to the active negation of capital through thoroughgoing class struggle on all fronts.

Theory, history and future

In approaches to history, there is an important difference between looking to it for a communist ideal and attempting to understand why previous communist tendencies have failed - and thus why we have more chance than the Luddites, millenarian peasants, classical workers' movement etc. But in order to go beyond these previous tendencies, we also need to interrogate the present and the future. What new developments in technology call forth new unities within the working class? Do changes to the means of communication enable those engaged in struggles to understand and act more effectively upon their global significance?

To grasp present trends, we need more than the radical anthropology offered by primitivists. We need theory that allows us to understand the historical specificity of struggles. Capitalism is the most dynamic of class societies; the proletariat is the only revolutionary class that seeks to abolish itself and all classes. There are therefore many features of the present epoch of class struggle that are lost in the simple gloss 'civilization'. In order to struggle effectively, to understand the possible directions of struggles and the limits of particular ideologies within struggles, we need to develop - not reject - the categories Marx derived to grasp the capital relation and the process of its negation.

'Primitivism' is itself a product of a particular period of capitalist history. The same setbacks that have encouraged postmodernism among radicals in the academic realm have helped produce primitivism in circles of activists. One merely describes 'the end of History', the other actively calls for such an end; both are an inverted form of liberal idealism which reject the traditional liberal faith in capitalist progress.

However, if primitivism was, like postmodernism, simply a complacent expression by well-paid academics of the defeat of industrial class struggles then we wouldn't bother giving it space in these pages. All of us are forced to make a response to increased pollution and environmental destruction brought about by the growth of the alien power that is capital; primitivism is, at best, an attempt to engage in struggles around these kind of issues. The alarming and compelling new appearance of the fundamental problematic of alienation, in the form of world-wide environmental destruction for profit, has encouraged new forms of resistance (particularly in the U.S.A.), and these new forms seek ideas. Marxism, identified with the old forms (of both capital and its resistance), is seen to fail in the eyes of this new wave of resisters - hence the appeal of a radical alternative, such as primitivism. But the problem of primitivism lies in a flawed diagnosis of the problem of Marxism: the essential problem in Marx and Marxism is not the belief in progress, but objectivism. A revolutionary theory adequate to the struggle needed at the present time must therefore start with a critique of the objectivism of previous revolutionary theories.

Aufheben- Civilization and its latest discontents.pdf456.46 KB

Aufheben #05 (Autumn 1996)

Aufheben Issue #5. Contents listed below:

Aufheben05.pdf5.93 MB

The class struggles in France

Last year's social upheaval in France was one of the most significant moments in European class struggle for decades. This Editorial Introduction provides the international and historical background to our Intakes documents from the French events. We begin with the context of drives towards European integration, and then analyse the changing forms of class struggle in France in the last 50 years, including the 1986 riots, the '86-87 rail strike, the Air France rebellion in 1993, and the winter crisis of '95 itself.

Editorial Introduction to articles on the 1995 winter crisis in France

Two million on the streets burning Roman candles, waving red and black banners, and singing the Internationale... A strike, spreading like wildfire from one sector to another through rank and file delegations... Daily assemblies open to all... Occupations... The switching of electricity onto cheap-rate by striking workers... Rioting coal miners... Shock waves reverberating throughout Europe, echoes in Germany and Belgium... And a feeling that anything is possible............

And yet. A movement initiated by the unions. Peaceful demonstrations policed by the unions. Limited extension of the strike beyond the public sector. Silence in the banlieue. An agreement negotiated by the unions. A return to work called by the unions. Central demands not met. And the postponement once more of hopes for real social change............

These contradictory appearances of last years social upheaval in France make an analysis imperative. There is little doubt that the movement was one of the most significant moments in European class struggle for decades. The working class of France once again assumed a central role in the international amphitheatre of class conflict. In 1968 it launched perhaps the most advanced - if not the most enduring - assault on the post-war settlement. In 1995 the working class of France mounted the biggest challenge to date against European capitals attempts to destroy that same settlement and liberate capital from its institutionalized commitments to working class needs.

Around five million workers were on strike for the mass demonstration on December 12th, while a quarter of a million were on indefinite strike throughout the duration of the movement. This easily dwarfs the numbers involved in any struggles in France since 68. And whilst ten million were involved in the general strike of that year, the movement of 95 saw more people demonstrating, and more often, than did that of 68. More than two million took to the streets for the biggest demonstrations.

Was the movement autonomous? Or was it merely a trade union affair? It would be impossible to answer these questions in absolute terms. The realities of class struggle are riven with complicating contradictions even if revolutionaries often see things in black and white:

The struggles have raised echoes of the great movements of 1936 and 1968 and have placed the power of the working class firmly back on the agenda. (Socialist Review, Monthly review of Socialist Workers Party, January 1996)

In reality the French proletariat is the target of a massive manoeuvre aimed at weakening its consciousness and combativity; a manoeuvre, moreover, which is also aimed at the working class in other countries, designed at making it draw the wrong lessons from the events in France. (International Review, 85, Quarterly journal of the International Communist Current, 1996[1])

The trade unions played a major role in the movement. Union militants, with the approval of their leaders, pushed for the extension of the strike from its initial base and encouraged the setting up of assemblies. On the other hand these assemblies, consisting of union members and non-union members alike, controlled the day to day affairs of the movement and initiatedmost of what was exciting about the movement. Localized autonomy was one of its key features.

In this issue of Aufheben we include as Intakes a number of leaflets and articles translated from French in order to provide documentation of this important movement. The documents we reproduce here help us to appreciate the current state of class struggle in France. However, on their own these documents are not enough. They do not explain to readers outside France how the French working class has arrived at this juncture. In this Editorial Introduction we will therefore try to illuminate these events in the light of their international and historical contexts. We need to be able to appreciate last years movement in relation to the struggles which have preceded it and those which may follow. Our attempt to place the French events in context has inevitably been limited by the problem of the restricted availability of translated material, which may have led to a certain imbalance in the importance we have placed on, and detail we have given on, some struggles while others have been neglected. This imbalance will hopefully be corrected in the future by the increased availability of further translated texts on the recent class struggles in France.

The class struggle in France, whilst occurring within specific geo-political boundaries, does not however take place separately to those in the rest of the world. Its parameters are determined by forces which exert themselves globally and to which nation states are tending towards responding supra-nationally. It is necessary to place the events of last year in relation to the context of European integration.

(A) The European Context

(i) Maastricht and all that

The leader of the French Communist Party (PCF) denounced the government's call for a clamp down on the budget deficit as lining up with Chancellor Kohl of Germany, a move which raised questions for France and its sovereignty. In response to this and other explanations which blame Maastricht and all that for everything, it has been pointed out that the austerity measures implemented by the French government last November were required to assuage the needs of French capital regardless of foreign policy considerations. Indeed much of the pressure for action came from factions in the French capitalist class who are opposed to Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).

The international dimensions of the situation cannot be ignored, however. The French economy is locked into the global circuits of capital and therefore obliged to play by the rules. Soon after their ascendancy in May 95, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Alain Juppé sacked a minister who had pushed for action on the budget deficit. The result was pressure on the franc in the international money markets and panic in the French government. After the announcement of the Juppé plan, stock prices stabilized and the franc recovered. All the talk at the moment about the ideology of neo-liberalism obscures the fact that it refers to the political expression of the real imperatives of capital. The global autonomy of finance capital subordinates all would-be masters of capital to its dictates - never before has the alienation of the capitalist been so apparent.

Faced with this tidal wave which threatens to wash away all the messy compromises of the past, the French bourgeoisie clearly intends to cling to the life raft of European integration. Twenty-odd years of rationalization has still left European capital with a competitive disadvantage compared to the US or Japan. Whilst European capital faces an entrenched working class, doggedly clinging on to the concessions wrought from capital during the post-war boom, capital in the US has been able to outflank the battalions of organized labour by shifting investment away from the rust belt industries of the North and East towards the flexible labour of sunrise industries in the South and West. Likewise, Japanese capital has been able to reduce the value of the labour-power, which becomes objectified in its labour-intensive industries, through shifting investment away from its own highly paid workers towards those in Korea and other Pacific NICs. Since the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc, capital in Western Europe has increasingly come to recognize that confronting its working class in order to be able to compete with the emerging blocs of the Japanese Pacific and the US-dominated Americas will similarly require a continental territorial perspective.

The process of European integration has proceeded at a pace unimaginable during the years when global geo-politics were dominated by cold war rivalry. By 1999, proletarians in Europe will not only sell their labour-power in a unified market, but could well find it confronted with and bought by money with a single face, the imaginatively named Euro. The working class of Europe is becoming increasingly unified, but only behind our backs, through our alienated labour becoming increasingly integrated into the social abstract labour which is European capital. This contains an inherent possibility, which can be realized only through re-appropriating our activity as struggle: that of the political recomposition of the proletariat across the continent. But whilst this possibility remains as yet unrealized, the cycles of struggle which have occurred over the last few years have proved that the entrenchment of the working class throughout Europe poses a significant problem for the project of EMU. It cannot proceed if any of the central players, particularly France or Germany, fail to meet the convergence criteria. Moreover, the signal such a failure would send to the international money markets would lead to serious repercussions.

The formation of a single currency is conditional upon nation states being able to impose upon their subjects the strict criteria for EMU agreed upon at Maastricht. Meeting the targets for public spending (below 60 per cent of GDP) and national debt (below three per cent of GDP) require significant attacks upon the social wage and strenuous efforts to hold down wage levels. It is against this backdrop that the Juppé plan must be viewed. Class struggle throughout the continent is now mediated by political decisions made at the European level - the Maastricht Treaty has given the general requirement for austerity: quantitative targets to be achieved within a specific timetable. The gauntlet has been thrown down.[2]

The Maastricht Treaty also aims to introduce liberalization and competitiveness to areas of state monopoly such as post and telecommunications, transport and energy. A 1990 European directive liberalized telecommunications, with state monopolies due to end in 1998; a 1991 rail transport decree (which became law in France in 1995) separates management of rail infrastructure and access to the system, allowing private rail companies access to the rail network maintained by public funds; a 1993 agreement frees up internal rail travel; while the next area for liberalization will be energy, where major consumers will be able to buy power from the supplier of their choice while using existing infrastructure to deliver it.[3] Whilst such measures simply reflect the existing situation on the ground in the UK, they clearly have strong implications for France, the most state-dominated economy in the EU.

(ii) Working class opposition

The winter crisis in France was not the first to result directly from measures aimed at achieving the targets for EMU (or, perhaps more accurately in this case, reassuring the money markets that these targets will be achieved). Strikes and mass demonstrations have been seen in virtually every European country over the last few years. These movements have created significant problems for the national bourgeoisies of continental Europe. But, excepting recent events in France for the time being, those that stand out occurred in Germany and then Italy in 1992. The strike wave in both Eastern and Western Germany in the spring of 1992 wrecked hopes that unification would instrumentally undermine the power of the German working class, and further strikes in 1993, 1995 and 1996 have left German qualification for EMU on a knife-edge. Indeed much depends on whether the sweeping welfare cuts announced in April this year, aimed at slashing £22 billion from public spending by reducing sick pay and pensions and eroding employee protection laws, can be carried out in the face of concerted union opposition.[4]

Whilst national union federations throughout Europe have been mobilizing opposition to austerity, there can however be little doubt that they remain generally committed to the well being of their capitals and sympathetic towards European integration, if a little dismayed that the price to be paid for the Social Chapter is subordination to Europes bankers. And the problem remains that, on the whole, these struggles have occurred within a strict union framework. The apparent exception was the movement in Italy against the Amato plan in autumn 1992. This autumn budget comprised a freeze on public sector recruitment and wage negotiations, the abolition of health care for 66 per cent of families, and the imposition of new taxes on houses.[5] Spontaneous strikes broke out in many factories in response. The reaction to these measures combined with anger towards the trade unions because of an agreement they had signed with the government at the end of July abolishing the scala mobile, a mechanism for partial wage protection against inflation. This agreement had been signed whilst most workers were on holiday, in order to avoid an immediate backlash. The trade unions called for regional general strikes, and three million public sector workers took strike action. But when trade union leaders addressed rallies they were met with exemplary expressions of anger. In Florence, Milan and Turin, union speakers at rallies were pelted with rotten vegetables, bolts and ball-bearings, whilst huge demonstrations in Naples, Bologna, Bari, Genova, Parma, Padova, Venezia, Taranto, Brescia and Bergamo saw similar outbursts of anger directed at the unions. Alternative rallies and demonstrations were held, the COBAS providing the necessary autonomous organization.[6] The limits of this movement were exposed by the simple fact that, in terms of scrapping the proposed measures or exacting concessions from the government, it achieved practically nothing. The militants of the COBAS remained marginal with respect to the mass of workers still loyal to the unions. Italian unions have ridden this storm and retained control over the working class. The demonstration in Rome in 1994, the biggest in Italy since the Second World War, was essentially under trade union control. Nevertheless, the struggles in Italy in 1992, 1993 and 1994 will almost certainly mean that the Italian bourgeoisie will be unable to satisfy the convergence criteria for EMU in the foreseeable future.

But what of France? French qualification for EMU is also in the balance, but the whole project would need to be completely reappraised if the French bourgeoisie fails to meet the requirements. Last year's movement certainly came close to wrecking France's chances and following the end of last year's movement there was a strong feeling in France that the working class was not defeated and would mobilize again if provoked. But it is also necessary to look at this whole situation from another angle - that of the proletariat and its potential transnational, antagonistic recomposition. We must turn our attention to the major battles in the class war in France over the last few years and the light they throw ontolast year's events.

(B) French Historical Context - Capital and Class Struggle 1945-1995

Part I: 1945-1986

A short note on French trade unions

A short preamble to this section is required to explain the difference between trade unionism in France and in the UK. Less than ten per cent of French workers belong to a trade union at present, an extremely low figure representing a decline in membership throughout the 1980s. For example, the membership of the CGT in 1994 was only a third of that in 1977. But this low level of membership can be misleading. The influence of French trade unions is far greater than the figures suggest, as it derives from their legal and institutional positions in the state organized system of works councils, comités d'entreprise. All workplaces over a minimal size have a works council in which the workers are represented. As well as being responsible for running facilities such as canteens, sporting activities, clubs etc., these works councils have rights to information regarding the profitability and future plans of the enterprise. This institutionalized social partnership extends all the way to the top, with, for example, meetings in which representatives from all of the councils in each Renault plant will sit around the table with the top management.

Union members and non-members alike vote in works council elections, so non-membership in France involves none of the consequences that it can in the UK. Indeed, to become a member of a trade union in France is quite a different thing to signing up in the UK where it is a relatively apolitical act of combination. In France it is an explicitly political act, nailing one's colours to the flag of the particular union federations political affiliations. The CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), the largest, is explicitly the PCFs union federation, whilst FO (Force Ouvriere) resulted from an anti-Soviet cold war split from the CGT, and the CFDT (Confédération Française Démocratique Du Travail) is closely linked to the Socialist Party (PS). Of course, the CGT has changed a great deal of late, as at least one of the Intakes articles reproduced here points out, due to the historic waning of Stalinist influence throughout Western Europe, although it seemed impervious to the wave of euro-communist revisionism for years. Other unions have emerged to complicate the picture, including the SUD, which resulted from the expulsion from the CFDT of postal service members deemed too militant.

(i) Liberation

As was the case elsewhere, many of the welfare commitments which capital has subsequently tried to rescind were granted in the aftermath of World War Two. The Conseil National de Résistance (CNR) drew up a programme, even before the Normandy invasions, for nationalization and social security[7], and for the direct involvement of the unions in processes of planning and the joint administration of social security. Following its patriotic role in the resistance, the PCF subsequently gained the largest proportion of votes in the 1945 Constituent Assembly elections and formed a tripartite government with the Socialists and the Christian Democrats. As a matter of the survival of French capitalism, all parties were committed to nationalization (in order to prevent social revolution), consensus (rather than class war), and the modernization of France along Keynesian lines in order to prevent a return to the crises of the 1930s.

Building on the measures introduced by the Vichy government, the Popular Front and before, a national planning mechanism was established, state education was extended to the age of eighteen, and women were given the vote. A number of key nationalizations were enacted, including the coal, electricity and gas industries, Renault, Air France, Paris transport, the four main deposit banks, 34 insurance companies, press agencies, press printing shops and distribution companies, radio stations and navigation companies. A law subsequently established the comités dentreprise, giving the unions special privileges in elections to them. In October 1946, the right to strike was recognized in principle; moreover, a special status was established for national and local government employees, laying down recruitment and promotion procedures, pension rights and elected joint administrative committees.

The widespread destruction resulting from the war, whilst providing the long term basis for the profitable reconstruction of industry along fordist lines, had left the economy in tatters. Food shortages, low wages and overcrowded insanitary accommodation led to widespread discontent in 1947. Investment in the form of OECD funds provided by the Marshall Plan served to stave off the immediate threat of communism, or at least the real threat of French alignment with the Soviet Union, forcing the PCF into opposition and locking the French economy into the circuits of industrial capital policed by the US. The CGT launched a wage offensive, triggering national general strikes of railway workers, miners and bank employees in the summer of 47 and the Marseilles general strike and factory occupations that November and December. In 1948 an eight week long national miners' strike ended in defeat when a number of miners were killed, thousands were imprisoned and the army occupied the coalfields. But concessions played a role alongside repression. A national minimum wage was introduced along with generalized insurance against unemployment, and urban renewal saw the tearing down of the festering shanty towns which were breeding working class antagonism, gradually replacing them with new suburban estates or banlieue.

These new banlieue provided the dormitories for the new working class concentrations, predominantly immigrants (many from North Africa but with significant numbers from Europe and the rest of Africa) rather than internal migrants, required to rebuild the French economy. The modernization of French agriculture was initially delayed in the post-war era, restricting the number of internal migrants available for the rapid modernization of French industry. The rural population did however decline from 35 per cent of the total to six per cent in 1990, whilst the number of students increased tenfold between 1950 and 1980. Rising labour productivity provided the basis for a modern fordist economy.[8] The production of relative surplus-value, dependent on the application of the mental labour of science to the transformation of labour processes, allowed for relatively stable capital accumulation[9] along with expanded consumption for the working class.

(ii) May 68

May 68 didn't come out of nowhere, unless one was looking for the prior existence of a revolutionary party, or for a major economic crisis. The successful accumulation of alienated labour posited as its opposite the accumulation of frustration and hostility. The resultant proletarian offensive which rocked Paris and the world remains one of the essential reference points for revolutionaries searching beyond the horizons of the old workers' movement in search of the richness of the project for the fully developed social individual.

As such the revolt deserves to be re-examined carefully. This introduction is not however the place to undertake such an examination - space does not permit it.[10] We will have to confine ourselves instead to the briefest of summaries, delineating the two phases of the movement and the separation between them that enabled the counter-revolution to emerge victorious.

The student movement was from the start a movement against the role of the student, developing from a reaction against the use to which power put knowledge in Vietnam to become a conscious desire to abolish the separation of ideas from practice and ideas of separation.[11] In conquering the territory of the university, it had become a movement in which students were a minority and in which the very category of student was being left behind with the division of labour. Through occupying and socializing the university, destroying the separate roles of thinker and worker, it had temporarily abolished it.

This occupations movement was revolutionary in both form and content - the discovery of new ways of living dependent on the full participation of all involved. The situation became a genuinely revolutionary one, however, only when ten million workers went on wildcat strike and occupied the factories, thereby posing the decisive question of control of the means of material as well as ideological production. Those who had seized control over the means of production of specialized knowledge[12], however, posited the same separation in the factory that they were abolishing in the university. Calls for the formation of workers' councils were issued to the workers. Unlike in the university, the task of seizing control of, transforming, socializing and thereby abolishing the factory was to be the prerogative of those who had been condemned to that particular prison by capitals social division of labour. The workers were expected to carry out the revolution in their factories. But in the era of the real subsumption of labour to capital it is only leftists who self-identify with the alienated role of the worker. The vast majority of workers remained uninspired by the ideology of self-management. Nor had they discovered a need for communism through struggle. Unwilling to make a history which was not their own yet not ready to make their own history, the workers of France delegated.

The CGT controlled the factory occupations, stitched up what passed for councils or assemblies, and locked the gates against the revolutionary tide. There was no organized challenge to the CGT stranglehold - that would have to wait until 86. In sharp contrast to the active nature of the strike in 95, the strikers largely remained the passive observers of the passing of an opportunity. The CGT negotiated the return of the factories in exchange for wage increases, and many never recovered from having to return to the old world when the new had seemed so possible.

(iii) Recession, Austerity and Resistance

(a) Stage 1

The costs of containing such an overt challenge to the rule of capital and preventing such developments elsewhere only served to compound the squeeze on profit rates which were falling globally. Along with those of the rest of Western Europe and the US, the French economy plunged into recession, particularly following the oil price hike in 1973 which saw increased inflation, balance of trade problems, the halving of growth rates and rising unemployment. Despite the fact that the Gaullists remained in power, the response was that of social reform, including an increase in tax on capital and increased social security. In 1976 however unemployment topped one million and inflation was becoming rampant. An austerity package was imposed by the incoming prime minister Raymond Barre in an attempt to reduce wage inflation and curb public spending. Despite a one day stoppage in protest, social security contributions were increased and a wage freeze was imposed. The second oil shock of 1979-80 pushed unemployment over 1.6 million.

The reimposition of material poverty for the surplus population, amongst whom immigrants were disproportionately represented, led to insecurity for those still in work, resulting in a gradual decline in the confidence and combativity of the French working class. There was rioting after a striking steel workers' demo in Paris in 1979, but this was to be the last such riot in central Paris until 1986. And the one day strikes in 1976 marked the beginning of a long decline in the number of days lost (reclaimed) through strikes, a decline that continued all the way through the 1980s (with a slight blips in 1982 and 1988) and 1990s until it was arrested in the strike wave of last year.

(b) Stage 2

At the same time as right-wing leaders such as Thatcher and Reagan were coming to power in the Anglo-Saxon world with explicit mandates to tear up the post-war social democratic consensus and confront the organized power of the working class, the Socialist Party (PS) came to power in France with a Keynesian reflationary programme. A commitment to increase public spending was to be guaranteed by nationalizing the remaining private banks. President Mitterand, backed by a PS majority in the National Assembly and support from the PCF, aimed to create 55,000 public sector jobs, nationalizing aeronautics, electronics, chemicals and information technology companies, taking the state share of turnover from sixteen per cent to 30 per cent and public sector employment from eleven per cent to 24.7 per cent. Further measures designed to reduce unemployment included a reduction in the working week to 39 hours, an extra week of paid holidays, early retirement, and retraining for the unemployed. The national minimum wage was to be increased by ten per cent and family allowances boosted. All of this was topped off by a proposed tax on wealth and rhetoric about attacking the wealthy.[13]

The result was somewhat inevitable. The competitiveness of French companies declined whilst imports were sucked in, leading to inflationary and balance of payments problems. Capital took flight for pastures greener, and the franc had to be devalued three times in eighteen months as the global balance of class forces reasserted itself through the international money markets. The reform policy was put into reverse gear in 1982, with an initial wage and price freeze followed by wage restrictions in the public sector. Interest rates were cranked up to reimpose global disciplinary conditions upon French capital, taxation increased, welfare spending reduced, and wage indexation scrapped. The response to this dose of socialist austerity was a strike wave[14], but it was relatively weak and certainly unable to counterbalance the pressure upon the French state from capital. Thus in 1984 the coal, steel and shipbuilding industries were all subjected to rationalization, resulting in a wave of redundancies. Other companies were encouraged to shed labour in pursuit of the increased exploitation of the remainder.

The French car industry was already engaged in the process of restructuring: introducing automation, shedding labour, running down certain plants and reorganizing the assembly line along neo-fordist lines in order to re-impose managerial control over the labour process.[15] The inability of previous concentrations of working class power to resist this restructuring, the extent to which the car worker had been fractured (particularly along racial lines), and the confusion of labour at once antagonistic to capital and desperate not be consigned to the scrap heap, were demonstrated by the pitched battles between workers at Talbot-Poissy in 1983.[16] Indeed a major element in the decline in strike activity from 1982 onwards has been the reluctance of private sector workers to strike, public sector workers being on average between half (1980s) and a third (1990s) more likely to strike than private sector workers.[17] But, notwithstanding this historic decline in the level of strike activity, there have been important developments in the class struggle, beginning with the bitter dispute of railway workers in the winter of 1986-7.

Part II: 1986-1996

(i) 1986: Riots Return to Central Paris

In electoral terms, the right-wing gained from the disillusionment of the working class with socialist austerity, although the experience may have played a part in the determination of railway workers in 86 to control their own dispute as the unions were tainted by their attachment to the PS-PCF government.[18] The 1983 municipal elections and 1984 European elections witnessed the rise of the National Front, which was supported by many PCF and Socialist Party officials in an attempt to split the right-wing vote. Indeed Mitterand changed the voting system for the 1986 National Assembly elections in order to boost the NF vote, but it was the conservative UDF (Union for French Democracy) and RPR (Rally for the Republic) which gained a majority, electing Chirac as Prime Minister to work alongside President Mitterand. Privatizations and deregulation (excluding those industries which had traditionally been in the public sector such as gas, electricity, aerospace and telecom), a reform of labour legislation to favour employers, and the refinancing of social security all formed important parts of his programme. But perhaps the most important element was the plan for outright repression of the unemployed second generation immigrant youth who constituted the beur movement.[19]

The first generation of immigrants played an important role in the revolts of the mass worker, from the struggles over the assembly line to the rent strikes of the Sonacotra foyers (hostels and living quarters where large numbers of migrants were housed) in the late 1970s. Marginalized by the processes of restructuring, the torch was handed on to the second generation and their revolts in the early '80s, beginning in 1981 with the summer of rioting in Minguettes, the banlieue east of Lyons. Besides launching a cycle of urban revolt which has continued right up to the present day, the riot led to a number of initiatives to recuperate the beurs' struggle, beginning with the 1983 March for Equality and Against Racism, which many young blacks and Arabs used as an opportunity to protest against racist attacks and violent police repression (despite their rejection of miserable institutional anti-racism), and ending with SOS-Racisme. This organization was launched by leftists with media blessing in 1985 with the express intention of regaining control over the beur movement and reducing it to a moralistic and non-violent media-oriented vehicle to integrate and destroy the real social movement and promote the re-election of Mitterand. Despite a certain degree of success initially, no doubt succeeding in preventing more riots than the cops, the organization rapidly began to lose its legitimacy in the banlieue, particularly after the movement had reasserted itself as a predominantly anti-police movement in the winter of 86.[20]

The 86 election had been won with a strong law and order platform, aimed particularly at dealing with the beurs. Home Secretary Pasqua introduced a new policy against immigration and expelled 101 Malians on a charter flight, and legislation was passed by the new assembly to change the nationality laws so as to deny automatic French citizenship to kids born in France or to French parents. At the same time, the Devaquet Bill was passed, restricting what had previously been automatic and universal access to university for anyone with the baccalauréat (French equivalent of A levels), a move which would have disproportionately affected those already discriminated against in other spheres. The spectre of terrorism, intifada and Islamic fanaticism was the cloak used by state terrorism, justifying routine harassment, searches and the like - and shootings. Cops were pulling out their guns and pointing them at black and Arab kids on a daily basis, on two occasions accidentally killing drivers for going the wrong waydown a one-way street. Years of repression and now this - no wonder that when the opportunity arose the situation exploded.[21]

From November 26th onwards, students began mobilizing against the Devaquet Bill, organizing meetings and demonstrating peacefully. On the 4th of December, however, a concert to end a march at Invalides erupted into a riot with some 4,000 or so youths, mainly high school students, disrupting the show and fighting the cops, injuring 121. The following day, students gathered in the Latin Quarter to protest against police repression and proceeded to occupy the Sorbonne. Unlike in 68, however, non-students were excluded, and the whole affair served only to illustrate the extent to which students reflected the defensive nature of the times, having moved from a position of subverting their role to defending it. Later on, however, in the streets of the Latin Quarter the smashing up of a couple of shop windows and torching of a Porsche provoked the cops into attacking the crowd, killing Malik Oussekine.

Despite the fact that the crowd naturally enough comprised many non-students just hanging out in the area, Malik Oussekine was an Arab student. SOS-Racisme along with student bodies sought to exploit this incidental fact by excluding non-students from the funeral, outrageously proclaiming him one of their dead. But since the riot on the 4th, the mobilizations had ceased to be simply student affairs in defence of the university but were seen by many as a vehicle for the expression of anger towards the police and the whole stinking system.[22] Many non-students turned up as well, and as the march passed near the 13th arrondisment police station, the CRS (French riot cops) were pelted with missiles. Later that night, rioting erupted in the Latin Quarter, injuring 58 cops. Burning cars, barricades, and looting served to demonstrate the extent to which the initial premises of the movement had been left behind, despite the opposition of many students to such a process of generalization. The repeal of the Devaquet Bill was announced on December 8th, followed almost immediately by repeal of the new nationality law.

Two things need to be noted. First, that the reluctance of many students to embrace the struggle of the marginalized and their wrecking and looting would be overcome when they mobilized again in 1994. Second, as in 68, and as would happen again in 95, the initial impetus created by a student movement was followed by a workers' movement. Although plans for a rail strike were already well under way, the governments climb down boosted the railway workers as they prepared for what would be an historic battle.

(ii) The 86-87 Rail Strike

Through its exemplary quality the movement has created an incomparable precedent (Emergency stop, in France goes off the Rails, BM Blob & BM Combustion).

It was the first time in France that such a large movement broke out completely autonomously while simultaneously setting up organizations of direct democracy to ensure the strikes continuation. (Henri Simon, France Winter 86-87, The railways strike, An attempt at autonomous organisation, Echanges et Mouvement).

During 1986 there had been fourteen one-day strikes organized by the unions in response to rank and file pressure. Although strike committees began to emerge during these strikes, the symbolic nature of the strikes rendered them ineffectual.[23] Then, in November, a non-union train driver from Paris Nord circulated a petition demanding better conditions and the scrapping of a project for salaries based on promotion by merit (read subservience), proposing to have it out once and for all if the demands werent met. Other drivers brought out a leaflet reiterating the demands and calling for an unlimited strike from December 18th. From midnight the strike spread like wildfire, without a single call from the unions, engulfing virtually the entire SNCF (state railway) network by the end of the second day. On December 20th non-drivers joined in as well.

The CGT, with a strong base in the railways, initially opposed the strike openly, tearing down strike posters and in some depots organizing work pickets to encourage drivers not to strike. Finding their position untenable, they made a swift U-turn. But the strike was characterized right from the start by its autonomous organization. Mass assemblies of strikers made all the decisions concerning the running of the dispute and elected strike committees subject to recall (except in the Paris Nord depot where the assembly refused to delegate to a committee at all, seeing it as being a form of separate power potentially above that of the assembly itself, and contrawise in Caen and Gare de Lyons where control lay in the hands of the CGT). Co-ordinations between the different committees were established, beginning with local and regional liaison committees, and then national liaisons, to ensure the circulation of information and maximize the impact of the strike.

At the same time, there were strikes by seamen, dockers and metro workers, as well as patchy strikes by postal and munitions workers. And trouble was brewing amongst gas and electricity workers, and miners in Northern France. Although all of these strikes were initiated and controlled by the CGT the potential was there for a generalization of the struggle on the basis of the methods of the railway workers. But the government was determined to crush this experiment in autonomy before it got out of hand. The CRS were sent in to violently evict the strikers from the railway stations and signal boxes they had been occupying. The government refused to negotiate with the co-ordinations. Then on December 31st it conceded on the demand of the merit wages and announced negotiations with the unions over working conditions - the central concern of the strikers.

Following the evictions there was widespread sabotage of tracks and rolling stock, even extending to the ambushing of trains in the countryside in order to fuck up the brakes. But faced with the government-management-CGT negotiations axis on the one hand and the full force of the state's violence on the other, together with the collapse of the strikes on the metro and in the electricity industry, the strikers felt unable to continue. Although the strike became increasingly violent and bitter, the sense of isolation contributed to a growing recognition of defeat and there was a full return to work by January 14th.

In one sense the railway workers were defeated; they had been battered by the cops and they had been forced back to work without having had all of their demands met. But in having taken control over their struggle, the railway workers had made a huge advance. In 68 the workplace assemblies had been mere audiences for the unions to tell the workers what was happening. In 86 the assemblies themselves were sovereign, accepting no power outside of themselves. They were not without important limitations however. Ultimately it was these limits that allowed the unions to represent the strike.

The co-ordinations were never sufficiently well organized to truly represent the movement as a whole, whereas the unions were able to claim that they represented it because they existed everywhere. And despite outright hostility to the unions at a local level in some places - forcing union members to remove their badges in some assemblies, expelling the CGT in others, and in most insisting that the day to day running of the strike was their responsibility alone - many workers believed that they needed the unions to negotiate with the government. But perhaps the most important weakness of this movement was the extent to which divisionsimposed by the SNCF were reproduced in the autonomous movement. There were joint pickets involving all the different categories of railway worker at Montparnasse, Gare de Lyons and St. Lazare, but sectional differences remained an abiding problem. Separate mass meetings were held by train drivers who insisted on differentiating themselves from the rest of the workforce. Naturally enough this division on the ground reproduced itself at the level of the co-ordinations. Nevertheless, regardless of however else it fell short of it, the development of co-ordinated organizational autonomy in this movement represented a significant advance upon the delegation to the CGT during the general strike of 68.

(iii) Further Co-ordinations/Recuperations

Other struggles of the proletariat over the next couple of years demonstrated that the conditions which had given rise to co-ordinating committees in the railway workers strike also existed elsewhere. Workers in the private sector remained in a situation of precariousness, subjected to team-work and increasingly employed on temporary contracts. Between 87 and 90 the average length of the working week increased by 30 minutes whilst wages fell in real terms. But in the public sector the response to the increasing subjection of public services to capitalist imperatives and attempts to restructure the workforce along similar lines was leading to a number of strikes. Whilst lacking the impact of the railway workers' strike, many of those which occurred in 1988-89 led to the re-emergence of assemblies and co-ordinating committees, and in some cases open antagonism with the unions.[24] Particularly important was the nurses' strike between March 1988 and January '89; this occurred in practically non-unionized sector, tempting the government to deal with the co-ordination and thereby posing a threat to the mediating role of the unions. Also, workers at Banque Nationale de Paris (a state-owned bank) held assemblies, formed strike committees and established co-ordinating committees during a two month strike in 1989, attacking and ransacking the local offices of the unions who negotiated a return to work behind their backs.[25]

The lycée (secondary schools) movement of autumn 1990 however demonstrated that the form of the co-ordinating committee is no more a guarantee of autonomous content than workers' councils. In that movement (for more money, better buildings and more teaching staff) two co-ordinating committees were established - one close to the JCL (PCF youth federation), the other close to SOS-Racisme - which aptly illustrated that the open and democratic nature of the co-ordinations was no assurance against their political recuperation. The TV seized upon media-friendly leaders, but the lycée students tended to reject them and their co-ordinating committees, preferring spontaneous violence to dialogue with leftist recuperators.[26]

The demonstrations were characterized by clashes with the police, in which kids from the banlieue were particularly involved, and the emergence of looting as an aspect of mass demonstrations. The media tried to split the movement by criminalizing the casseurs (hooligans, wreckers) in the hope that, as they had in 86, students would disown them. But this was a movement of high school students rather than university students and thus closer to the harsh realities facing lower order labour-power. Many casseurs were ex-students, but more significantly many students recognized that they too might be in the same situation as the casseurs. This awareness enabled the movement to embrace the involvement of outsiders and take up the themes of the revolt in the banlieue.

On the terrain of the banlieue themselves there was to be a heat wave the following spring. In Vaulx-en-Velin (a suburb of Lyons), cop cars were being smashed up regularly from February onwards to avenge the killing of Thomas Claudio, and more than 600 cops had to be mobilized following the ram-raiding of a cop shop with a BMW. In Sartrouville (suburb to the North West of central Paris), on the 26th, 27th and 28th of March, three days of rioting followed another death, with further incidents on April 10th. Cops were attacked with stones and petanque balls, plainclothes cops beaten up, cars burned and a furniture shop set on fire. TV journalists were systematically attacked and a TF1 camera stolen.

But if the left had proved incapable of recuperating those who knew French society had rejected them, an alternative was offering itself in the aftermath of the Sartrouville riots. Whilst cops guarded the supermarkets, the streets were being watched by 30-40 year-old North Africans wearing the green armbands of Islam. A spate of murders to which the rest of French society seemed indifferent, the rise of Le Pen, institutionalized racism, and the rage against anti-Arab media manipulation during the Gulf War - all of these factors combined to produce a climate favourable to the development of Islamic rackets; and following the riots Islamists attempted to reinforce the ghettoization of the beurs. The anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was circulated; and, journalists, shopkeepers and the Mayor of Sartrouville were criticized as Jews in meetings held to discuss what to do next.

The left wants the beurs to identify themselves with the nation whose subject they are. The Mullahs encourage the beurs to identify themselves ethnically. Neither want them to identify themselves in terms of what they do. But other ideologies compete for their minds. Excluded from work, they are nevertheless seduced by the images of consumption and the French way of life they depict. Whilst the Mullahs are content with the Koran, the beurs want these things, and want them immediately. And they can gain access to the commodities of French society by involvement in the black economy or through joy-riding, ram-raiding and looting. Through these collective criminal activities, the beurs share not only the wealth of modern society but also in the construction of an identity. This identity is neither ethnic nor French but subverts both categories. It is constructed socially, as they are, but through opposition rather than acceptance. It is antagonistic to both backward and modernist variations of hierarchical society. Moreover, it is one which is constructed alongside the marginalized French kids and Jewish kids of the banlieue, through the formation of multi-ethnic territorially delineated gangs. The beurs have more in common with these other excluded subjects than they do with the Mullahs. Furthermore, women in particular will not want to renounce the freedoms of bourgeois society for the subjugations of a theocratic one.[27]

The experience of blacks in the US has demonstrated, however, that this separatist ideology can be extremely influential amongst the most marginalized. As in the US, the youth of the French ghettos waste much of their anger on gang fights and the like. We should resist the fetishization of violence that forgets to question the ends to which it is used. But, in LA in 92, gang rivalries and separatist ideologies were superseded practically through ferocious anti-hierarchical violence. As we shall soon see, such a supersession also occurred in France in March 94.

(iv) Truck Drivers 92

The relative failure of the first co-ordinations and their subsequent political recuperation, compounded by fragmentation and restructuring in the public sector, led to a gradual decline in the tendency in working disputes towards forming co-ordinating committees. The result has been a tendency towards localization - fragmented struggles concentrating on localized autonomy of action.[28]

The truck drivers' strike in the summer of 92 was characterized by a refusal of mediation through virtual non-organization and an emphasis on spontaneous activity. Public sector strikes in the spring of that year had seen off Edith Cresson, who had prioritized the fight against inflation on replacing Rocard as Prime Minister. But, despite the problems they posed for the project of restructuring the public sector, these public sector strikes remained the usual uninteresting affairs. The truck drivers actions on the other hand captured the imagination on a wide enough scale for the Carling Black Label ad men to base a TV commercial on them.

In response to the announcement of a new points system for driving licences which they saw as a potential threat to their jobs, the truck drivers blockaded the motorways. Riot police and soldiers used tanks to break up some blockades but new ones sprang up in their place. Refusing mediation, communicating locally by CB radio rather than establishing committees, they just waited for the government to accede to their demands - which they did when major industries began to complain about the damaging effects of the strike. By paralysing the arteries of commerce, the truck drivers caused one billion francs of damage to the tourist industry and cost Spanish fruit firms 150 million francs. More significantly, the strike revealed the vulnerability of the just-in-time factory regimes which had built on the neo-fordist experiments of the 70s.[29] Renault and Peugeot had to close car assembly plants due to shortages of parts whilst the production of Michelin tyres was disrupted.

Whilst the truck drivers' victory was important, it did not serve to bury the culture of defeat and subjection amongst workers which had been produced during the long period of PS rule. But such a transformation occurred the following year when the honeymoon plans of the new conservative government were rudely interrupted by trouble on the runways.

(v) Air France 93

The PS lost out in the National Assembly elections in March 93, although Mitterand remained President. A significant minority of the electorate (33 per cent voted for the RPR and UDF, sufficient to give them 80 per cent of the seats in the new parliament) was unhappy with the sacrifices which had supposedly made the French economy one of the strongest in the industrialized world.[30] Notably, unemployment had risen from 1.7 million when Mitterand took power to 2.9 million, no longer only affecting blacks and Arabs but making the rest of the population feel insecure and concerned about its social costs. Not the least of which was the continued destruction in the suburbs - particularly worrying for the petit-bourgeoisie who voted for the right.

In 1991 France had signed the Maastricht Treaty and joined the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), committing the French government, of whatever shade, to pursuing the Franc Fort policy of tailing the relatively strong Deutschmark. This circumscribed the government's ability to deal with the onset of recession in late 1992 through monetary policies (interest rates etc.), leaving only budgetary (tax and spending) and structural policies - exactly the kind of head on measures liable to provoke a working class response.

The incoming government under Edouard Balladur faced a dramatically deteriorating economic and financial situation.[31] A sharp downturn in the economy at the end of 1992 had led to both an unexpected shortfall in tax revenues and an increase in social spending as unemployment rose. As a result, the government's budget deficit, which only six months before had been comfortably within the Maastricht convergence limits, was now projected to double to 5.8 per cent of GDP and was threatening to spin out of control. In response to this financial and econom ic situation, Balladur's government announced a package of tough economic measures. The package comprised making workers in the public sector work for 40 instead of 37.5 years to qualify for a pension, freezing public sector wages, and increasing hospital charges. Shopkeepers and other petit-bourgeois elements on the other hand were rewarded with grants and other forms of assistance. They were further appeased by the race card the government had used to steal votes from the National Front. Nationality laws and immigration procedures were to be tightened up once more.

The proposals met with only muted opposition from the PS and PCF. The CGT, alone amongst the unions, held a day of protest, but this was a damp squib of an affair. Although the size of the government's majority in relation to its proportion of the votes had produced an air of unreality and a gulf between government and electorate, this lack of opposition to a pretty drastic assault on living standards did not bode well for the prospects for class struggle against the overhaul of the state. Which is why, when frustrations did surface, the struggles were so significant.

The government embarked on a series of privatizations: June 93 Crédit Local de France, October 93 Banque National de Paris, November 93 Rhone-Poulenc, January 94 Elf Aquitaine, May 94 Union des Assurances de Paris, November 94 Renault, etc... Shares in nearly all of these privatized companies have fallen since they were floated and, now that they are no longer shielded from the blackmail of competition by state protection, squeezing more surplus-value from their workers in order to arrest their decline is the logical response. And the threat of privatization, along with European directives demanding liberalization, has loomed large over industries that remain part of the state sector. The fear of being fragmented from the state sector and subjected to the discipline of the market has played on the mind of workers in the post office, telecom, EDF-GDF (Electricity de France and Gaz de France), RATP (the Paris public transport authority), SNCF and Air France ever since.

The privatization programme was however only one aspect of the government's plans to drastically accelerate the process of industrial reorganization and the restructuring of the wage relation. Fundamental to these plans were legislative changes to reflect in labour laws the de facto situation in the post-fordist social factory. The Five Year Employment Law, supposedly aimed at reducing unemployment, comprised removing job protections guaranteed by the Popular Front and Liberation governments. But first the government tried to push through a programme of rationalization in one of those industries still directly under state control - Air France. Four thousand workers were to be sacked, with reduced wages, increased productivity and new functional hierarchies for the remainder.

The response by Air France employees was both massive and determined.[32] A national one-day strike called by the unions for October 12th was rapidly spread and extended to all sectors, bringing together all categories of ground staff for the first time since 68. Almost immediately, strikers began to take action to increase the effectiveness of the strike by occupying runways to prevent planes from taking off. The government stated that the plan was irrevocable and sent in the CRS. On October 20th at Roissy, strikers blocking the runways responded to police intervention by launching a vehicle at their lines (missing them and hitting a plane). On October 21st at Orly there were violent confrontations on the runways between the CRS and strikers, masked and tooled-up in anticipation, using vehicles against the cops water cannons, and further confrontations the next day with strikers smashing windows in the terminal. On the same day in Toulouse strikers blockaded the runways and the central railway station. Unable to break the strike by force, unable to get the strikers to accept a compromise, and unable to withstand the huge losses the strike was causing, the government withdrew its plan on October 24th and the manager of Air France resigned.

The strike was characterized not only by its violence, but also by its organization and its openness. A significant minority of strikers were consciously hostile to the unions, but the unions were generally given reign to control the formal organization of the movement - organizing the general assemblies, co-ordinating the different sites within and between airports, and handling negotiations with the government. The CGT in particular had learnt the lessons from the 86 rail strike and adapted their approach to the assemblies in order not to provoke the re-emergence of non-union co-ordinations. Nevertheless, when it came to actions the unions were practically outflanked. During the hot week at Orly the morning general assemblies called by the unions were quickly terminated by cries of to the runways!, where tactical discussions around immediate practical objectives took place outside of union channels. And when the FO (and in some places the CGT) called for a return to work following the government's revocation of the irrevocable plan in order that workplace elections could go ahead, assemblies voted for a continuation of the strike - at Orly 3,000 marched on the police to demand the dropping of charges, and at both Orly and Roissy victory demos were held on the runways on October 26th. Furthermore, despite a degree of corporatist pride and identification with the well-being of the company, not unusual in the state sector, the movement was open. Divisions within Air France (freight vs passenger, white collar vs blue collar etc.) were broken down, and outsiders were welcomed - the strikers received huge popular support.

The most significant aspect of the strike however was the blow it had struck against the bullish new government so early in its term, and the boost it had given to the rest of the working class in the face of the timidity of the unions.[33] Wary of sustaining another defeat, the government turned its attention to an area where it reasoned that the forces of opposition would be weaker - training. Youth unemployment was high, the unemployed relatively disorganized, and the student movement not directly concerned with the issue of wages. The government argued that youth unemployment was a result of high labour costs and attempted to impose a reduction in the youth wage, the CIP (Contrat dInsértion Professionnel or beginning work contract), only for it to explode in its face.

(vi) Youth Revolt March 94

The government's defeat at the hand of the Air France strikers only served to increase the popular perception that the right-wing government lacked legitimacy. There was a pervasive air of alienation from the political sphere, and this extended to the PS and PCF as well. The rejection of the usual channels of discontent was expressed in January 94 when a demonstration in Paris against a law authorizing regional and city authorities to fund private (predominantly Catholic) schools was taken as an opportunity to vote with the feet. Between 600,000 and one million people took to the streets, many of whom had no real concerns about the educational issue but wanted to express their general opposition to the government and frustrations with society in general.[34]

The demonstration was peaceful, which is partly why it has almost been forgotten, overshadowed as it has been by the confrontations which rocked France on either side of it. Incidentally, the law was scrapped as unconstitutional. But the demonstration was significant for establishing a practice of responding to unpopular decrees from above by taking to the streets en masse, taking the opportunity to develop a popular but diverse unity of opposition therein, and using the demonstrations to protest against a general malaise without having to go through bureaucratic channels. This demonstration can be seen as a prelude to those against the Juppé plan when exactly the same phenomenon occurred, but repeatedly, on a wider scale, and connected with a strike wave.

If the peacefulness of this demonstration marked a break with the violent tendencies of the lycée movement and Air France strike then such a tendency was to be quickly re-established. In February 94 French fishermen rioted, and, in an attempt to hit the cops with distress flares, burned down the Breton parliament (a local court building) in Rennes. Although some other elements used the opportunity to have some fun, it remained a strictly sectional affair, defined by opposition to measures affecting the fishing industry. But the following month saw the emergence of a movement which combined the tendency towards violent confrontation with that of using demonstrations to express an opposition held in common by different social groups.

On February 24th the government presented the CIP, allowing employers to take on first time wage-slaves at only 80 per cent of the legal minimum wage, establishing a SMIC-jeune or minimum wage for youth. [35]The response to this 20 per cent wage cut for young proletarians was a month of almost daily marches which increasingly tended to become full blown riots. Prime Minister Balladur became haunted by the fear of an explosion of the May 1968 sort whilst President Mitterand began to talk of the danger of imminent social revolt,[36] and on March 30th the government conceded defeat.

The movement was unprecedented. Although in some respects it marked a continuation of tendencies which had been emerging in the student movements of 86 and 90, the Air France strike and the recent schools mobilization, it nevertheless had a unique character.[37] The CIP created an immediate basis for unity between different types of students, workers, and the unemployed. Each sector was concerned to fight an attack on the terrain, defined socially, as that of the wage relation - the fundamental social relation of capitalist society - but on the terrain defined physically of the streets.

The movement was diffuse - both spatially and organizationally - and stronger for it. Spatially, it was the first movement which was not dominated by the gravitational pull of Paris;[38] marches happened in Lyons, Nantes, Rennes - literally everywhere. Organizationally, the movement was characterized by an almost complete absence of legitimate representation. The movement made use of the traditional structures - the unions, including the student unions UNEF, UNEF-ID and FIDL, and the co-ordinations of technical university institutes - which were used for the initial mobilizations and to develop the movement nationwide. Assemblies were held in university buildings which had been occupied by striking students. But as the interaction of the subjects in the streets developed its own dynamic, formal structures, and the unions in particular, became marginalized. The level of organization characterizing the movement was fluid and unstructured, arising spontaneously out of the marches themselves. This outflanked attempts by the unions to establish march monitors/stewards. Thus the movement developed in a direction that was both haphazard and powerful. [39]

The movement was also heterogeneous. No single social subject asserted hegemony over it. It was not a student movement. When the state came to analyse the composition of the 5,000 or so arrested during the course of the movement, 30 per cent were found to be university and technical students, 30 per cent secondary school students, and 30 per cent unemployed or precarious workers. The gangs from the banlieue, including beurs who were also angry about the ID checks and nationality laws recently introduced by the government, were incorporated without being neutralized. This heterogeneity gave the movement a truly proletarian character, breaking completely, in the direction other movements had only pointed, with the politics of the labour movement.

What characterized the movement more than anything, however, was its systematic and targeted violence. Initially defensive and determined to resist the state's attempts to physically repress the movement, it brought the intifada from the peripheries to explode in the centre of the metropolis. The lack of any centralized organizing structure allowed for differences, however. In Nantes, for example, there was night after night of violent clashes with riot cops guarding the prefecture, but in the main shops were spared, some having their windows smashed but not looted. In Lyons on the other hand, not only were there daily clashes with the cops, but over 200 shops were looted. And in both Paris and Lyons cars left along the route of the marches were routinely wrecked or torched. Indeed the police had to ban parking along the proposed routes of demonstrations in Paris and insist that shops within a mile radius put up their shutters.

This endemic violence was extended from the movement's most apparent enemy - the cops - to a more insidious one. Television crews and anyone else with a video camera were confronted, their equipment smashed up, and chased from the demonstrations. These attacks were not just a response to the immediate threat posed by this equipment[40] but was also a response to the media role in the government's attempt to divide the movement.

The government sent the CRS in hard and made thousands of arrests. But, as it had been with the Air France dispute, it was concerned not to get into a continually escalating spiral of confrontations for fear of where it might lead.[41] The state needed to be able to target its violence, and thus needed to get the movement to disown the casseurs which it had identified as the most dangerous subjects. In Paris and Lyons efforts were made to intercept the multi-ethnic gangs from the banlieue as they arrived at Metro and railway stations linking the centre to the peripheries, and efforts were made, helped by union stewards in some cases, to single them out on demonstrations. But the main tactics were ideological. That old scumbag Pasqua, who had overseen the murderous period of 86 and had come back to preside over the latest bout of state terrorism, defended the right to demonstrate but said he would not permit thousands of hooligans to come in from the banlieue and attach themselves to demonstrations in order to engage in street fighting and looting. He then expelled two Algerian kids from Lyons in order to give the impression that the violence was ethnic in origin. After having tried to paint the movement as a whole as nothing more than one of mindless hooliganism, the media quickly picked up on this theme of a division within the movement between the respectable students and the casseurs.

But the movement refused to be divided. Nous sommes tous des casseurs! (we are all wreckers!) was one of the slogans used to counter this propaganda offensive. Another was simply to argue that it was the government and capitalists who were the real wreckers. The movement, except for the union stewards who also wanted to rid the movement of this element, refused to accept that the phenomenon of wrecking was down to a separate contingent who could be disowned. On March 25th in Paris all of the sections of the march demanded the freeing of comrades arrested, casseurs or not, during the confrontations. The movement as a whole had come to accept the legitimacy of the methods which the youth from the banlieue had brought to the movement. Hence when the government tried to split the movement by conceding to university students, restoring the legalminimum wage for those with a two-year university diploma or its equivalent, those students insisted on remaining with the movement as a whole until the government backed down completely. University students had recognized that, rather than being the bosses of the future, most of them looked forward to a future in which they would remain (skilled) proletarians, possibly even unemployed ones at that.

(vii) The stage is set

We arrive almost on the eve of battle and it is time to assess the troops. This short survey of class struggle in France since the Second World War has revealed something quite important. The working class has for sure been on the defensive since the heady days of 68. Inevitably such a rearguard campaign has meant that there have been many defeats. But there has been no defeat on the scale of the miners' strike in the UK. There has been nothing to send a signal throughout society as a whole that the boot is firmly on the other foot. In the UK it has been a pretty sure bet that kicking up a fuss will lead to defeat. But quite the opposite is true in France. What lessons would the working class of France have drawn from the major battles with the state of the 90s? Surely the main one would be that taking to the streets can defeat the government - that active opposition bears fruit.

This is not to say that capital has not succeeded at all in restructuring the factory. As we have seen, workers in the private sector feel less inclined to take strike action. Nevertheless private enterprises are far from having eliminated strikes altogether. For instance, in March 95 a spontaneous strike wave paralysed Renault plants throughout France by blockading or occupying the plants.[42] Nor is it to say that no progress has been made in rationalizing the welfare burden. But, as we have seen, attempts by the state to restructure the reproduction of labour-power (Devaquet Bill or CIP for instance) have been repulsed.

What of the union question? Following the initial experiments with the co-ordinating committees, we have seen a tendency towards seizing control over the actual daily activity of struggles but, rather than making a direct organizational challenge to the mediation of the unions, allowing the unions to play the role of representing the movement and negotiating for it. And why not? Alternatives to unions tend to become alternative unions as a result of having to perform the negotiating role. In these recent struggles in France the negotiating position has been made clear to the unions at the grassroots level - repeal of the law, or the bill, or the plan. It has been absolute. A single measure on the one hand and outright opposition to it on the other. What room does that leave for a sell out? But what happens to the opposition when that single measure becomes split up into a number of measures and the unions have been left to resolve the situation - does the opposition fragment as well?

(C) The Social Movement of November - December 1995

(i) Paris in Spring

If the French state's economic strategy had been in any way blunted by a right-wing government having to compromise with a socialist President then that problem would be resolved in May 95 with the election of Jacques Chirac, bringing to an end fourteen years of Mitterands rule. In March 95, France had been brought to a virtual standstill by simultaneous air, rail and urban transport strikes, to which the Presidential candidates had responded by exuding sympathy. This understanding approach was used in Chiracs successful electoral platform, which promised to put employment first (unemployment had now reached 3.3 million), increase wages, cut taxes, heal the countrys social fracture and protect social welfare benefits.

Alain Juppé was installed as Chiracs new Prime Minister. The rent-fixing scandal, involving his acquisition, when Mayor of Paris, of city-owned luxury flats at bargain rents for his friends and family, coming hot on the heels of other corruption scandals and exacerbated by the resumption of nuclear testing in the Pacific, sent the government into an unprecedented slump in the opinion polls. But priorities lay elsewhere. U-turns and broken promises on economic priorities had led to speculation that the government would fail to cut the public sector deficit enough to keep to the timetable for EMU, and consequently there was a run on the franc. On October 6th Chirac was overheard muttering The priority is to avoid a monetary disaster. The government has not convinced the financial markets. We must send signals.[43]

(ii) Autumn Rumblings

The statement above reflected the situation which existed after the September budget for 1996 which included a freeze on public sector wages, a measure over which Juppé publicly refused to negotiate with the unions. The job security, retirement rights and conditions of workers in state owned companies like France Telecom and the SNCF were also effectively denounced as special privileges. Trouble had already been brewing in the public sector, with a series of local strikes and occupations in the post office against the piecemeal introduction of a restructuring plan, and over 700 strike notices issued in the SNCF on top of regular wildcat strikes. The response from the public sector unions to the pay freeze was to organize a day of united public sector strikes and demonstrations for October 10th.[44] Over three million went on strike for the day, the biggest such stoppage for over a decade, with the demonstrations mobilizing 382,000 (according to police figures). The scale of this protest gave a clear signal to the unions that further calls would be heeded.

Meanwhile science and technology students returning to studies in Rouen from their summer holidays had started an indefinite strike against a spending cut resulting from the Bayrou plan which was endangering their adequate reproduction as technical labour-power, demanding twelve million francs for more teachers and equipment, and demonstrating the extent to which the grim realities of survival had come to replace the hope for real life as the central concern of students over the years since 68. A strike committee was formed and the strike quickly became an active one, seeing 1,000 students blockade Rouens rail traffic on October 16th, followed by motorway blockades and toll-booth occupations. On October the 25th the university administration offices were occupied and barricaded, whilst the police were kept busy by a student demonstration elsewhere, only to be violently evicted by the cops that night. This only resulted in an escalation of the strike, however. Over a thousand students demonstrated in protest at the eviction and humanities students joined the strike.

By the first week of November, having had an offer of six million francs rejected by the Rouen students assembly, and remembering 86 and 94, the government was sufficiently concerned about the possibility of the movements extension to concede nine million francs to end the strike. But far from containing the movement within this one university, this concession encouraged it to spread throughout the provinces. Within the next fortnight, students in Metz, Toulouse, Tours, Orleans, Caen, Nice, Montpellier, Perpignan and elsewhere staged strikes and demonstrations, each raising demands for greater funding, and on November 16th students in Paris finally joined in the movement.[45] More than 100,000 students demonstrated across the country on November 21st, three days before the first big demonstrations against the Juppé Plan, and on the November 30th student demonstration the numbers swelled to 160,000 as railway and other workersjoined in with their banners as students had the demonstrations against the Juppé Plan on November 24th.

This mobilization gave an added impetus to the spreading of the public sector strike following the November 24th day of action. The fact that it was about money, plus the fact that many students defined it as a social movement rather than a student movement, made it easy for the two movements to grasp their connection. But the student movement as such began to subside just as the struggle elsewhere was picking up, with those students who wished to participate dissolving themselves into it as individuals - proletarians - rather than constituting themselves as a separate body within a coalition of specific groups. Part of the reason for this was the disastrous outcome of the student co-ordinations meeting in Paris. Delegates from the provinces, where the movement was strongest, tended to be representative of assemblies whilst those from Paris, where the movement was relatively weaker, tended to be hacks from the student unions or leftist groupings. Centring the co-ordinations in Paris therefore resulted in a high degree of politicking and ideologically-motivated sectarian rivalry which alienated those who wanted to take the movement forward. At the University of Jussieu on November 23rd, the nationally co-ordinating body unsuccessfully tried to exclude students who, having two days earlier looted the university book shop, had just overturned a number of cars, thrown molotovs at the cops and raided the canteen. The result of separating the political representation from the social movement ended in chaos when the excluded finally gained admittance. The student co-ordination appears to have disintegrated soon thereafter, unable to contribute anything useful to the unfolding of events apart from a lot of hot air.

However, the main reason for the subsidence of the student movement was the government's policy of selective appeasement. On December 2nd the government opened negotiations with student representatives and conceded to their demands in order to split them off from the rest of the movement, a tactic which would be repeated with great success with the railway workers a week or so later.

(iii) The Juppé Plan

On November 15th Alain Juppé revealed his package of measures to cut the deficit of a welfare budget argued to be heading towards bankruptcy.[46] This set of measures was seen as crucial for reassuring the foreign exchange markets that France would be able to stick to the Maastricht timetable.

The austerity package was such that many of the measures only had a direct impact on workers in the state sector. Above all, workers in the SNCF and RATP were to be subjected to specific measures on top of those aimed at the rest of the public sector, and at the working class in general.

The Juppé Plan

... A new tax (the RDS, Réimbursement of the Dette Sociale) of 0.5 per cent on all wages, breaking with the practice of exempting the low paid from direct taxes, to be introduced to clear an accumulated welfare deficit of 250 billion francs over the next thirteen years. The current welfare deficit was to be reduced from 64 billion francs in 1995 to seventeen billion francs in 1996 through a series of increased contributions and reduced benefits.

... Reduced spending on health, estimated to account for up to half of welfare losses, and increased charges on patients for public hospitals. Introduction of log book medical records to restrict prescriptions and prevent patients from consulting specialists without the approval of a GP.

... Family benefit (paid to low income families with children) to be frozen in 96 and taxed from 97. Suspension of plan to introduce a home-care allowance for the elderly.

... Pension system for public sector workers to be brought into line with that of private sector workers, extending from 37.5 years to 40 years the length of service required for a full pension. Also abolition of the régimes particuleurs for those in the public sector with difficult working conditions, under which SNCF or RATP train drivers can retire at 50 or other RATP, EDF-GDF, post office and coal workers at 55.

... Radical restructuring of social security administration, transferring health, pension and family allowance financing from joint control by the unions and employers into a form involving an enlarged role for the state, along with a planned constitutional amendment to allow the government to set a ceiling on welfare spending.

... At around the same time, the details of the contrat de plan, a restructuring package for the SNCF, were revealed to include the regionalization of management, closure of 6,000 km of track and the sacking of 30,000-50,000 workers. Considered by many to be a prelude to privatization, a threat also hanging over the heads of workers in telecom, EDF-GDF etc.

... Also at the same time, the Treasury mooted the removal of a 20 per cent tax allowance given to all employees.

The nature of the Juppé package may explain why, as we shall see, the strike started in the SNCF and spread to the RATP first; above all, it explains why the movement was concentrated in the public sector. It also gives us some clues, but not the whole reason, as to why the unions adopted such a degree of militancy in opposition to the plan.

The package was presented to the National Assembly without any official consultation with the unions. In the eyes of the unions, this threatened to undermine the acceptance by the French bourgeoisie, one that had endured since 1936, of the role of the unions as social partners. Indeed the main employers' federation, the CNPF (Conseil National du Patronat Français), also resented the government's unilateral declaration of the Juppé plan and the way it interfered with its partnership with the unions. Bipartite negotiations over major social issues such as unemployment had been established between the union confederations and the CNPF, which had been particularly concerned over recent years to maintain institutional channels for the expression and mobilisation of discontent....[47]

On top of this the social security reforms explicitly sought to limit the power of the trade unions to manage the welfare system. The trade unions derived a great deal of benefit, in terms of entrenchment, perks and cushy jobs for functionaries, from this administrative function. In particular the usually moderate FO particularly resented measures which would have meant removing its nose from the trough of health insurance administration. Indeed, whilst the leader of the CFDT, Nicole Notat, greeted the proposals with the statement the reforms proceed in a sensible manner, the leader of the FO, Marc Blondel called them a declaration of war to the FO and called for a day of action on November 28th.

The unions needed to flex their muscles in order to demonstrate to the government that they could not be either disregarded or ousted from their spheres of influence. At this point it is worth remembering that for all the French bourgeoisies attempts to impose austerity upon the working class there had never been a challenge to the unions' position as social partners. The Popular Front and Liberation governments had promoted the unions to a central position in the social organization of French capitalism, and such a position had remained unchallenged. Whilst such a relationship was being terminated in the UK by the new broom of Thatcher and in the US by Reagan, Mitterand was coming to power in France determined to work with the unions. His fourteen year rule had ensured that the relationship had been maintained despite the eventual rightwards shift in policy. It was only now, following the election of Chirac, that the partnership role of the unions was being explicitly questioned for the first time.

However, if the unions' position was being threatened by new developments in the French state, they also had to beware that their mediating role was not to be endangered by the rising discontent which had sometimes sought to bypass them in the past. Whilst not wanting to precipitate a general strike, the CGT and the FO certainly wanted to unleash a strong public sector strike. But in order to make clear the basis of their status in the social partnership, the unions had to ensure that they did not do anything to provoke or encourage the development of autonomous organizations which would have threatened their role as sole legitimate representatives of the workers in negotiations with the state. Thus they were not in the least antithetical to the development of localized autonomy in the form of strike assemblies. Indeed the contradictory experiences of the 86 rail strike and the 93 Air France strike had shown them how to maximize their influence with the state by minimizing interference at the grass roots level. However, the tendency to portray the struggle as one in which the unions simply ran fast to stay abreast of autonomy in order to get in a saving tackle on the strikers says more about the limits of an analysis which sees unions only as firemen for the bourgeoisie than it does about a contradictory movement, like the one we are dealing with here, in which the union structures themselves as well as the workers were under threat.

(iv) The Response

(a) The strike

The CGT called for a day of action in support of civil servants for Friday November 24th. Perhaps sensing a determined groundswell of discontent, the unions one by one issued strike notices to coincide with the demonstration - the CGT for 8pm on the 23rd until 8am on the 25th, the FO for a five-day strike to connect to their day of action the following week, and the CFDT, demagogically, for an indefinite strike. Whatever, it was to be another three and a half weeks before most of the workers who struck that day returned to work.

Throughout the whole of France, half a million took part in huge demonstrations which were relatively larger in the provinces than in Paris, with tens of thousands marching in cities as far apart as Marseilles, Lyons and Toulouse in the South to Lilles in the North. In Paris, workers from throughout the public sector, from train drivers to teachers, were joined by workers from a wide variety of private sector companies. Nicole Notat, leader of the CFDT, was subjected to violent abuse by workers belonging to her union, forcing her to leave the demonstration. And it was clear that this was not a tokenistic affair like the usual one-day strikes. The public transport system in the Paris region, including the railway network, was completely paralysed.

Railway workers held general assemblies in the big rail depots, deciding to continue the strike and to hold further assemblies on a daily basis. Delegations of strikers, including union activists acting with the approval of their leaders, then played a crucial role in the extension of the strike, first to the RATP, and then to the major postal sorting offices (usually located near rail depots) and other urban public tr ansport systems. Some of the most active minorities engaged, without the democratic blessing of the assemblies, in exemplary acts of sabotage. Whereas in the 1986 strike movement the sabotage was more of the traditional variety (train couplings etc. with a hammer and spanner), that which occurred last December comprised hi-tech sabotage of the control boxes on the railway and of other computer systems and communication equipment including the bringing to a standstill of nuclear power stations (without danger of release of radioactive substances)[48] This level of rank-and-file activity was in marked contrast to the passive nature of much of the 68 general strike. The way the assemblies operated also marked an advance on those which the rail strike of 86 had produced. Not only were the divisions between different categories of railway worker transcended - drivers, ticket collectors and all the other grades discussing how to proceed together - but complete outsiders - other workers, the unemployed etc. - were also welcomed, transcending the divisions which cripple the class. However, we must not overstate the self-activity of the assemblies. In the first place, the assemblies varied in openness across different workplaces; and, second, the assemblies were ultimately unable to escape the control of the unions.

By the end of November, substantial numbers of electricity and gas workers, kindergarten and primary school teachers, and some secondary and tertiary lecturers had joined the strike. In those sectors where only a minority were on strike (post, telecom, electricity and gas), occupations of premises were used to increase the impact. In exemplary fashion electricity workers occupying distribution centres switched domestic consumers onto the cheaper night tariff during the day.

Despite some autonomous efforts to encourage the spread of the strike to the private sector, as a rule such an extension did not occur. There were exceptions though. In some parts of France, lorry drivers blocked roads in support of their unions' demand for retirement at the age of 55. At Caen, Renault workers from Blainville along with workers from Moulinex, Citroen, Credit Lyonnais, Credit Agricole and Kodak struck in order to join the regular demonstrations. In Clermont-Ferrand thousands of Michelin workers did the same, and in Lorraine miners went on strike for higher wages and fought running battles with the police. But the only place where substantial numbers of private sector workers broke down the political barrier separating the two sectors was in Rouen where a delegation of 800 strikers went to the Renault Cleon plant to encourage them to strike and join them in blockading roads and the like.

(b) The demonstrations

Whilst there was no general strike, the winter crisis amounted to more than simply a public sector strike. Local government buildings were occupied, the channel tunnel was blocked, runways were invaded, and motorway toll booths were requisitioned to raise strike funds. But perhaps the most notable feature of the movement was the series of demonstrations which brought hundreds of thousands of people out onto the streets: the Juppéthons of November 24th and 28th, December 5th and 7th, culminating in the huge rallies on the 12th and 16th of December. Juppé had promised to resign if two million people took to the streets, thereby setting a target for the movement. Other public sector workers including civil servants, dockers, airport workers and hospital workers, as well as delegations from the private sector, struck on the days of the demonstrations, and they continued to grow in size. By the first week of December, more than a million were taking part in the demonstrations. And by the second week the magic number of two million had been reached.

The demonstrations were both massive and carnivalesque. Proletarians mixed and had fun regardless of professional or sectional differences, unlike on the funeral marches so typical of normal political demonstrations, producing a tangible feeling that social relations were being transformed through transforming the psychogeography of the street. But although there were clashes with the cops after demonstrations in Paris, Montpellier and Nantes on December 5th, the marches themselves did not erupt into the kind of confrontations which occurred regularly in the movement of the previous year. In large part this may have been due to the fact that the demonstrations were too big for the cops to attack so the CRS had to be kept on a tight leash.[49] Rather than risk raising the stakes it was left up to union stewards (including revolutionary ones from the CNT) to keep the peace. Moreover, without an initial spark provided by friction with the cops, the step to riot and direct appropriation is, psychologically, a huge one for most people.

It has to be recognized, however, that the movement did not attract the casseurs who might have transcended the limited dialogue of the workers' movement in favour of the universal language (spoken by worker and non-worker alike the world over) of the proletarian riot. The demonstrations remained peaceful, within certain boundaries and limited in impact. Only in Montpellier and Nantes, the cities where the clashes occurred, did the kids from the banlieue join in with the social upheaval. In the main, the banlieue remained quiet.

Some 6,800 acts of urban violence had occurred in 1995 according to the French intelligence services, causing the junior minister for urban affairs to denounce what he called an intifada à la Française.[50] Riots had occurred throughout the year in the suburbs of Paris and elsewhere. But it seems as if the gangs were not attracted to the movement. Perhaps it was because they were not being directly attacked as they had been in 94. Or perhaps because from their perspective, that of the marginalized, the government's labelling of the main protagonists as privileged rang true. Or could it be that the attraction towards a separatist ideology had increased? In May beurs and Jewish kids in a Parisian suburb had fought the cops together after the latter had issued racist statements attacking both groups. But since then there had been a wave of terrorist bombings related to the civil war in Algeria and Islamic fundamentalism had become a national obsession, labelling anyone without a white face as a potential terrorist suspect. The French media had celebrated the public execution on September 29th of terrorist suspect Khaled Kelkal, an unemployed 24 year-old of Algerian origin from Vaulx-en-Velin, a suburb of Lyons. TV pictures showed a cop kicking the corpse, and reactions to the footage revealed deep divisions. Whilst many felt relief that an enemy within had been eliminated, Vaulx-en-Velin exploded at yet another state atrocity.

(v) Prospect of European Escalation

The movement in France was also beginning to hear echoes of itself beyond its national boundaries. Solidarity rallies were held in Rome and Athens. In Berlin on December 14th a demonstration in solidarity with foreigners inside Germany turned into a demonstration of solidarity with the struggle of those in France. But the most significant developments occurred in Belgium where, after a month long strike by Alcatel employees against redundancies, and following a demonstration of students and teachers in Liege which ended in a violent confrontation with the cops, a demonstration was called by the unions for December 13th. Sixty thousand or so marched in Brussels against spending cuts. The railway workers of the SNCB, who had been on strike for three days, along with Sabena employees, whose strike had disrupted air traffic, were at the forefront.

Any possibilities of transcending national divisions in a unified struggle against the formation of a bankers' Europe were stillborn, however. Negotiations between the government and the unions in France had begun to seek a settlement. Within two days of the demonstration in Belgium, strike assemblies in France were discussing a faxed circular from the CGT calling for an end to the strike.

(vi) The Settlement

Through paralysing circulation, the strike was beginning to have a major impact upon the French economy.[51] Shortages of raw materials began to hit the production of surplus-value whilst a lack of customers in the cities hit at its realization. All in all, the strike was estimated to have cost French capital up to eight billion francs in lost production. But the government was unable to break the movement by force. Efforts to run a fleet of scab buses for Parisian commuters had to be abandoned due to the paralysis of the traffic system. The RPRs attempt to organize a demonstration against the strike, using De Gaulles half million strong demonstration in May 68 as its model, ended in farce, mobilizing only a couple of hundred people. And attempts to form transport users' committees barely got off the ground. Clearly the strikers enjoyed overwhelming, if still overwhelmingly passive, support. So threats to call a referendum or general election to resolve the crisis also had to be forgotten quickly.

Unable to face down such a strong and unified movement on December 5th, the government offered to open negotiations with the unions, offering a few paltry concessions with no mention of the planned changes to pensions. This offer in itself was taken by the CFDT as reason enough to call off the strikes, indicating the extent to which the priority of all the unions was to regain their invite to the bargaining table. But the CGT and FO dismissed the offer as a non-response and vowed to continue the strike until the welfare reform plan was withdrawn. However, the opening of negotiations signalled that the movement's unwillingness to challenge the unions' overall control would fatally undermine its ability to achieve its demands. On November 28th, the government had declared that the welfare reforms are a single package, and the movement had united around the twin demands of scrapping the package as a whole and sacking the man responsible. But in the negotiations the government's strategy became one of selective appeasement in order to split the movement. Concessions had already been made to the student movement in order to split it from the main body of struggle, and the government now proceeded to separate and isolate the different aspects of the package in order to deal with each one separately over a longer period.

On December 10th the climb down was announced. The contrat de plan for the SNCF would be put on ice and the proposal to increase the number of years public sector employees would have to work for their pensions dropped. The régimes particuleur would remain. Promises were made to protect the public services from the deregulation demanded by the EU. Wage negotiations with the miners were to be reopened. Assurances had been given to the FO concerning their position regarding social security reform. A social summit between the government and union leaders was announced for 22nd December.

The dissatisfaction of the rank-and-file with these concessions was evident when two million demonstrated on December 12th. But the fax from the CGT on December 15th marked the beginning of the end. It was greeted with anger by many strikers including CGT

branch officials who were initially convinced it was a forgery. General assemblies at the Gare du Nord in Paris, the South West Paris rail depot, in Lyons, Rouen and elsewhere initially voted to continue the strike, unhappy that the demands of the movement as a whole had not been met. But no alternative to union control had been established. There was no national co-ordination to organize the continuation of the strike and negotiate a better deal. Anyway, the seeds of division had been sown with the withdrawal of those aspects of the Juppé plan which had particularly riled the most combative sectors in the struggle, those who had been on all-out strike. The assemblies of striking railway workers began to exclude the outsiders who had previously been made welcome. Votes for a return to work were carried. Within three days, and despite the fact that the demonstrations on December 16th were still huge, the rail strike was practically over. The return to work followed, gradually, elsewhere. Bar a few notable exceptions, the movement had ended.[52]

The union leaderships had won major concessions from the government. Railway workers and other workers in the public sector had ensured that the aspects of the package which had made them most angry had been scrapped. But those measures which had figured in the immediate deficit-reduction timetable remained. The RDS, the increase in hospital fees, health spending caps, the freeze on family allowances - all of these measures which would together reduce the social security deficit by 43 billion francs - remained intact. These were the measures which had united the demonstrators, measures which affected public and private sector worker alike. But by ending the strikes the government had managed to preserve these measures, described by The Economist as the essentials.[53]

(vii) Reflections

Only idiots complain about sell outs. We can criticize unions and parties, recognize their role of recuperation and mediation, but our criticisms must begin with and develop from within the movement of the working class itself. The question is why the movement was unable to go further. If it could not go all the way, and had to settle for crumbs, then could it still not have achieved more? What was missing was some kind of co-ordinated autonomous control over the movement. Perhaps if the local examples of autonomy had co-ordinated nationally... But this would have been a big step. The unions were wary of provoking co-ordinations, and thus avoided confronting the strike assemblies, even going so far as to praise their autonomous activities. And those railway workers who wanted to trigger an all-out strike did not see the need for autonomous organization; quite the opposite, they knew that if they tried to revive something like the co-ordinations they risked confrontation with the unions and the end to the spirit of unity that seemed to be of paramount importance in persuading hesitating workmates. Besides which, their strike of 86, for all its advances in self-organization, and perhaps in part because of them, had ended in harsh defeat.

Perhaps this is the wrong way to look at the question. There was no autonomous organization because there was no clash between the strikers and the unions to give rise to it until it was too late - the forms of autonomy arise out of circumstances which make them necessary. The CGT and the FO roundly condemned the Juppé plan and encouraged an all-out strike in the public sector. The problem then is that the movement was unable to extend itself beyond a public sector strike on the one hand and limited demonstrations on the other. Or to put it another way, the fundamental problem was that the class remained divided between those prepared to throw themselves into the struggle and those who supported it passively.

In strictly formal terms the movement was simply a trade union affair. It cannot be denied that the unions remained in charge, permitting and even encouraging a certain level of autonomous activity. But it would be an easy mistake to look at these events from the sort of perspective which looks only for particular organizational forms, seeing in the unions only monolithic structures of domination. The new unionism which tolerated autonomy should be seen as mediating a real expression of antagonistic subjectivity. Like that of the state, the mediating and recuperating role of the union is made and remade through struggle - crystallizations of previous waves of struggle liquefied by new antagonisms. The movement can be criticized for not developing the requisite organizational forms in order for it to go further. But it is also necessary to identify the more positive aspects of the struggle in the hope that - next time - they may develop the forms adequate for the realization of their full potential. The Intakes articles we reproduce in this issue of Aufheben draw out some of those aspects.

Epilogue: France Risks New Unrest

The most important thing about the movement of November and December 1995 must be how the working class of France follows it up. The only thing that is certain is that it will come under attack again. The pressures which led to the Juppé plan remain. The convergence criteria for Maastricht still need to be met.

In May 96 a special cabinet meeting was held where ministers were ordered to make savings of £7-8 billion over eighteen months. Chirac had demanded draconian cuts, insisting that a change of mentality on public spending had to be made either voluntarily or by force. A government official announced that No figure has been fixed yet on eventual savings, but the effort needed to meet targets will mean cuts on a scale never seen before.[54]

It is because more battles will be fought that it is necessary for the limits of the winter movement to be superseded. There is a need for critique. The articles we reproduce here are attempts at such a critique by people who were participants. Without necessarily agreeing with every point in them we recognize their importance. The movement towards communism depends upon critical reflection and practical supersession. It is to be hoped that the inclusion of these articles may hasten the day in which the struggles of the French working class become as one with our own.


1 The SWP is the largest (far-)leftist organization in the UK; the ICC is (probably) the largest left-communist organization in the world (not saying much!). That theoretically the ICC puristly upholds communist positions while the SWP opportunistically flits between different counter-revolutionary positions is of course a difference between the organizations. What is interesting with regards the French events is their similarity. The SWP thinks all the movement lacked was the right leadership which was not given by the PCF, the unions or French Trot groups. The ICC on the other hand sees the working class as completely hoodwinked by these cunning factions of the bourgeoisie. But, as Leninists, they both agree that they somehow possess what the working class lacks - the correct leadership or consciousness.

2 See EMUs in the class war in Aufheben 1.

3 From France after the strikes, in Frontline (Australian activist newspaper), posted on the internet by Harry Cleaver for Accion Zapatista de Austin.

4 See Dr Kohls prescription for trouble, in The Guardian, 1st August 1996.

5 See A New Hot Autumn: The struggle against the Italian government and the official trade unions is the struggle against the Europe of the bosses, London Notes, 1993.

6 One account of the COBAS is Gregor Gall, The emergence of a rank and file movement: the Comitati di Base in the Italian workers' movement, in Capital & Class 55 (spring 1995). A more satisfactory account, but earlier and therefore more about their origin, is David Brown (1988) The COBAS: Italy 1986-88: A new rank and file movement (Echanges et Mouvement).

7 In considering the extent to which bourgeois anti-fascism played a central role in shaping post-war France, the period of the Popular Front government should not be forgotten. Many enduring labour protection laws, such as the 40 hour week and significant nationalizations (Banque de France, war industries, railways etc.) were enacted in June 1936 in response to a wave of strikes and factory occupations involving two million workers. An account of internationalist resistance to fascism is contained in the pamphlet Internationalists in France during the Second World War by Pierre Lanneret.

8 The reference to a fordist economy requires an explanation because of a later reference to the neo-fordist labour process further on in the article. By fordist economy we mean Fordism, a mode of capital accumulation based on the mass production and mass consumption of consumer durables. The establishment of the fordist labour process was its necessary prerequisite. As a valorization process extracting relative surplus-value it allowed for rising profits to occur alongside expanded consumption for the working class. By using the assembly line to dictate the pace of work to a workforce which had already been broken down into deskilled component parts by Taylorism, the fordist labour process was, up to certain limits, able to impose progressive increases in productivity. See previous issues of Aufheben (in particular EMUs In The Class War in no. 1 but also the review article in no. 2 and Auto-Struggles in no. 3) for our use of the concept of Fordism and for our criticisms of the regulation school which developed them.

9 Interrupted only by strike waves in 1953 and 1963.

10 Readers unfamiliar with the events are encouraged to seek out original sources. Fortunately there are a number of decent pamphlets available in English: R. Gregoire & F. Perlman (1969) Worker-Student Action Committees: France May 68 (Detroit: Black & Red), R. Vienét (1968) Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement, France, May 68 (New York: Autonomedia / London: Rebel Press), and the eye-witness account produced by Solidarity (1968) Paris: May 1968 (London: Dark Star/Rebel Press).

11 This analysis obviously owes a debt to that of the Situationist International.

12 It would be inaccurate to say that the movement seized control over the means of production of ideas per se because the mass media was able to continue its function of counter-revolutionary propaganda unthreatened by the movement. This criticism, amongst others, is made in the text by Gregoire & Perlman, referred to above (note 10), an account notable for its willingness to engage in self-criticism.

13 As with all Keynesian programmes which involve concessions, these measures are ambiguous in that they necessarily involve the rationalization of capitalist production and the struggles that result from this. For example, most of these nationalizations were undertaken in order to perform badly-needed restructuring in these sectors; and the implementation of the 39 hour week involved the suppression of certain benefits in working time.

14 Whilst the government was forced to back-track on certain measures, it did not retreat on all of them. Moreover it did not opt for the Thatcherite model but rather pursued policies which were more consistent with Gaullism. No attempt was made to tear up the social consensus - the unions were kept on board. This point is extremely important because it is only now that the French bourgeoisie are considering emulating their Anglo-Saxon counterparts.

15 The technological elimination of aspects of the labour process, making redundant whole sections of semi-skilled workers, was combined with an organizational restructuring of the remainder. The fordist labour process had individualized its component workers at distinct work stations connected by the assembly line. The neo-fordist labour process retained the assembly line in order to dictate the pace of work but brought workers back together in groups. By breaking with some of the accumulated rigidities of Taylorism, allowing the groups themselves to organize how to meet