From toby harrison firstname.lastname@example.org
Date Wed, 15 Dec 1999 15:17:52 -0500
The idea of coming together today to coincide with the start of the third meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle, is an attempt to go forward from the actions of June 18th earlier this year. On that day, thousands of us descended on one of the nerve centres of the world economic system for a Carnival Against Capital. The crowd took over the City of London for the day, invaded the Futures Exchange, destroyed capitalist property, held off the police and generally disrupted business as usual. The police response since then shows that the authorities take us very seriously when, by taking direct action, we refuse to accept that politics is about voting for the right-wing or left-wing capitalist politicians or marching between police lines. The power of those who rule us is based on our acting as isolated workers and consumers - by taking action we felt our collective strength. Now of course the police - the guard dogs of capital - are trying to identify and punish participants who took action on the day. A lesson we must learn is that if we are going to act against the law then MASK UP - oh yeah, and if we are going to fling things at the cops then go to the front.
However, capitalism will not be destroyed by one action - no matter how exhilarating. It will require a sustained social movement of millions of people. It will also require us to think about what we are doing, to understand our enemy and the forces we can draw on against it. Having an action on the day when the WTO meets is as good a day as any to come together. In Seattle, representatives of nation states and large capitalist enterprises will try to agree on the rules to govern the world of trade and commerce, which treats humanity and the planet as resources to be exploited for the expansion of abstract wealth. Looking at the WTO reminds us that capitalism is international and must be opposed globally. However, many of the arguments that are used against the WTO fail to grasp the nature of the beast.
Globalisation and all that...
The concept of globalisation is now a commonplace both among those who support and many who try to criticise the present world order, but this idea can be misleading. It is not about the weakening of good democratic nation states in favour of bad unaccountable corporations. It is the democratic states themselves and the big corporations which are setting up international frameworks like the WTO, the European Union etc. The plan which governments and corporations are trying to agree on is to dismantle the barriers to the free passage of money and commodities while keeping up the barriers to the movement of people. Nation states are in no danger from the process of globalisation because they are to remain prisons for their peoples. These states are not getting weaker but are increasing their powers of repression. Here in London it is the very British bobby who is defending capitalism today while in Seattle it is the very American cops and FBI. The European Union allows its members to move around a bit but it increases the power of the police to keep track of them. For those from other countries who cross its borders without permission it builds prisons like Campsfield in Oxfordshire while at the same time relying on such immigrants to do the most shitty jobs. The state and capital are two sides of the same coin.
We need to think why we are against the WTO. The problem is not free trade because the opposite of free trade is protected markets, which are still markets. The problem is not corporate rule because the opposite of corporate rule is government rule, which is the control of our lives by politicians rather than businessmen. The problem is not the loss of sovereignty to an undemocratic and unaccountable institution because we are no more in control of the sovereign democratic state than we are in control of the WTO. The problem is not just private capitalists because state run enterprises rely on the same exploitation and drudgery). The problem is not big business because small business lives by the rules of the market just as much. The problem is not that the free trade of the WTO is not fair because all trade is about the trading in human misery.
The problem is capitalism as a whole, the fact that humanity is divided against itself, politically into seperate nation states, economically into separate capitalist enterprises (whether private or state run) and individually into seperate atomised worker/consumers competing with each other. Capitalism separates us from the means of production, forcing us to sell ourselves as wage labourers in order to buy the commodities we need in order to survive. Human beings produce those commodities and the means to produce them but what we produce exists separate to us as capital. In this upside down world we are the objects, while it is the things - money, commodities, capital - that are the subjects. Capital, while it appears in the form of things, is not a thing but a social relation. It is nothing but our own power, our own activity existing against us as an alien power. Some people, those with political or economic power, gain from this division. They identify with capital and think of it it as a natural order. For most of us it is a misery. It seems here that we are dealing with abstractions but these are real abstractions which dominate people's lives. We may not all be experts on the WTO, but we all are experts in the power that money has over our lives. Ultimately the social relation of capital and labour is that between us and our alienated activity. All we have to do is take it all back.
Off the rails
J18 gave us a sense of how we can take back some of our power when we come together, but to really overthrow capital we must go beyond our isolated situations and "scenes". Today one connection that is being made is with the way that capital is attacking both passengers and workers on the railways and Underground. Most people can see through the bullshit about 'private public partnership' and see a stitch up where private companies are to be allowed to malke huge profits by squeezing workers and putting up fares. The government is obsessed with bringing in private money and management to the tube despite the disaster of rail privatisation, because it wants to attack the tube workers. Tube and railworkers have shown a willingness to strike in defense of their interests. The government wants to attack their unity by splitting London transport into numerous separate bits like it has done with the railways. Passengers will suffer through increased fares and worsening safety as we saw at Paddington. This is the real story behind the arguments over how to fund the tube. The media wants us to get caught up on issues like how much interest should be paid on the investment etc. -even 'red'(?) Livingstone admits that his bonds plan is also a private public partnership and would involve private management practices. Above all they don't want strikes because they claim that they cause 'commuter misery' and 'harm the economy'. But as the Reclaim the Streets leaflet for today put it "But what is the economy about? It is about working hard just to survive, while making profits for others to live at our expense. The economy is a human misery. By striking, workers reduce the misery!"
But if the attack represented by privatisation is to be defeated, workers are going to have to break the anti-strike laws. They need to take action without following the rules, they need to connect to other groups of workers. The RMT union will tell them that they have got to stay within the law but the real strength of workers lies not in following the law but in supporting together. The electricians on the Jubilee line and other sites have shown the way forward for workers by taking action outside the union against the anti-strike laws. They have won victories as a result. Connecting different groups like tube workers and those of us who took part in the carnival in the City etc is a way forward, a way of getting beyond our divisions and seeing that we are all in the same position. Whether in a job or on the dole, we share the reality of not having control over our lives under capitalism, while at the same time acting together gives us the power to do everything!
Moving onto the terrain of work, and the resistance to it, we encounter groups and conceptions of the old Left. Claiming to be experts in this topic of capitalism certain groups try to send us down dead ends. While privatisation is an attack on passengers and workers alike we must not fall into some nostalgia for the days of nationalised industry. In the slogan "Reclaim Our Railways" the false picture is presented that we ever owned or controlled the railways. Of course it was people like us who built and worked the railways but we have never controlled them; under private or 'public' ownership they have always been a capitalist enterprise. The old Left, whether old labour, stalinist or trotskyist, have been tied to a failed project of identifying our emancipation with state control. They have always tried to make us put our faith in something outside us - in left wing politicians, in a 'workers government' etc. -the only answer for u1s lies in organising and controlling our own struggles autonomously from all those who would seek to represent us. Some political groups say they are against capitalism but believe we should lobby the Labour Party or vote for Ken Livingstone. The problem with them is not that they are not 'socialist' enough -the problem is that they are capitalist! What the 20th Century has shown is that the old idea of 'socialism' as state control of industry rather than private control was a dead end. Our future lies beyond the nation state and separate enterprises, against the plans of our rulers for a single global economy. We need a world human community! The only way to that community is by building communities of struggle in the here and now.
Some Unknown Proletarians
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This page last updated January 15, 2000
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