While admitting that the pharmaceutical companies defeat "doesn't seem to have done the drugs firms much harm" and that "corporate power shows little sign of retreating" he seems to believe that state regulation will be means to tame it. In the process he attacks anarchism. Sadly, neither argument is convincing.
Monbiot is right to say that being anti-capitalist is not enough. "Unless we start demanding solutions," he argues correctly, "our efforts will be wasted." However, his solution is no such thing and he attacks the only real solution, anarchism.
He argues that "the belief that the Zapatista revolution, which owes much of its success to regional identity, class loyalty and geographical isolation, can be reproduced among the deracinated people of post-industrial cities is as desperate as the hope that planting cannabis in Parliament Square will persuade global capitalism to come out with its hands in the air." Of course, the Guerrilla Gardening demonstration had no such hope and we are all aware that our movements have to be reflective of local circumstances. To re-produce the Zapatista revolt in Britain can only mean re-producing its spirit, not slavishly copying it. But that is obvious (or, at least, you would think so).
Then, after one show of ignorance, Monbiot decides to show another - his ignorance of anarchism. He wonders:
"Indeed, it's hard to see, in most circumstances, how stateless self-organisation could help any but the strong.
"Imagine, for example, what would happen to an autonomous community of blacks, next door to an autonomous community of rednecks in South Carolina. Or, as a friend of mine suggests, 'the moment the anarchist utopia arrives, every Daily Mail reader in the country will pick up a shotgun and shoot the nearest anarchist'."
Firstly, of course, the underlying assumption of this argument is that an "anarchist utopia" could come about overnight, without the majority of a population wanting it and creating it themselves by their own actions. It is useful to quote George Barrett on this issue:
"If, then, by some external means an Anarchist Revolution could be, so to speak, supplied ready-made and thrust upon the people, it is true that they would reject it and rebuild the old society. If, on the other hand, the people develop their ideas of freedom, and they themselves get rid of the last stronghold of tyranny - the government - then indeed the revolution will be permanently accomplished."
Thus an autonomous community of blacks and rednecks in South Carolina would have, in the process of creating an anarchist society, transformed themselves while transforming society. The very process of direct action and resistance politicises and changes those involved. An Anarchist society does not appear overnight, produced by the actions of a few enlightened militants fighting on behalf of everyone else. Such an elitist approach is alien to anarchism. Rather it is a product of struggle from below, by the mass of the population. As such his examples miss the point.
Secondly, anarchists are well aware of the dangers of social power. An agreement between strong and weak parties will benefit the stronger, as Proudhon argued in 1840. For that reason anarchists stress socialisation of wealth, equality and solidarity. By eliminating inequality, freedom for all becomes possible. Similarly, if the community of blacks and rednecks were part of a state then the larger community would dominate the government and so the other community. As such, the state would ensure the strong dominated the weak as the communities would not be autonomous. Unless, of course, Monbiot thinks that central government can override local government, in which case we have paternal rule by a (liberal) elite (you cannot let the ignorant masses make their own decisions) and little democracy and community control. Rather than being a failure of anarchism, autonomous self-organisation is the only way to ensure that the few are not dominated by the many while ending the domination of the many by the powerful few (as exists in class society and the state).
Thirdly, if self-organisation aids the strong, then why has the state always smashed such attempts in favour of centralised power for the few? For example, during the American and French revolutions the state eliminated self-managed citizen assemblies in order to ensure the protection of property and state power. Centralisation of power went hand in hand with marginalising and atomising the people whose collective strength, as expressed in their community assemblies and federations, was becoming too much for the rich. They ran to the state to protect themselves and ensure that the weak and poor stayed that way. Nor did the popular self-organisation of the masses confuse autonomous with isolated. They federated together to look after common affairs and ensure solidarity and equality between themselves. History shows repeatedly that the state, not self-organisation, benefits the strong.
Fourthly, in his vision of regulated capitalism we must, apparently, ("in some respects") make the state "stronger" and "not weaker": "It must be empowered to force both producers and consumers to carry their own costs, rather than dumping them on to other people or the environment. It must be allowed to distinguish between the protection of workers, consumers and the ecosystem and trade protectionism." But by strengthening the state, then we automatically "help the strong" - those with power to enforce their will upon the citizens (i.e. bureaucrats, politicians and their business backers). The state is designed to be stronger than its citizens. Why expect such a strong power to be neutral? It supposes that a party, starting with an unfair advantage in terms of power and resources, and backed by violence, will be the incarnation of justice itself. Common sense should warn us against this idea.
Monboit stresses that his "conception of market freedom is rather different to that of the neoliberals. A genuine free market is surely one which is free for everyone, rather than one in which the powerful are free to squeeze the economic life out of everyone else. The prerequisite of freedom, in other words, is effective regulation." Yet it is precisely this kind of regulation that was eroded and abolished in the 1970s and 1980s by neoliberal governments at the behest of corporations and business interests. He seems to think that these business interests will happily let governments, never mind citizens, restrict their activities. Sadly, every government becomes business friendly in order to survive. As Chomsky argued:
"In capitalist democracy, the interests that must be satisfied are those of capitalists; otherwise, there is no investment, no production, no work, no resources to be devoted, however marginally, to the needs of the general population"
Unless we destroy the source of this power - private property - by expropriating the capitalist class we will always see economic power dominating society and politics. Such expropriation cannot be done by a state as it requires the initiative, participation and energy of the masses which the state was designed to exclude.
Monbiot accepts the myth that neo-liberals want to make the state "weaker." Far from it, they want the state strengthened to protect private property and private power. Ironically, he acknowledges this himself when he notes that "true market freedom also demands that governments must stop rescuing corporations whenever they get into trouble. It requires that we remove such dispensations as limited liability (which allows corporations to wriggle out of their responsibilities) and ever more generous property rights (which grant them control over such fundamental commodities as knowledge, the genome, plant varieties, land and water)." And, of course, "as corporations have been deregulated, so citizens have been reregulated, partly in order to prevent them from challenging corporate power." Hardly examples of neoliberalism seeking a weaker state. In fact it seeks a strong state that is outside popular influence. This is achieved by centralising power as far as possible and removing it from popular control, as, for example, in the European Parliament (Monbiot's apparent model for a "true market order").
Similarly, anarchists do not seek to "weaken" the state, we want to abolish it simply because it exists to protect class society and is the embodiment of unequal and centralised power. Thus his attempt to link anarchism and neoliberalism fails. The later wants to strengthen state power in the interests of capitalist power, the former to destroy it along with capitalist power.
Showing scant regard for the realities of state power, he argues that "if we are to reverse world trade treaties, however, first we must seek to democratise global decision-making. Perhaps we should envisage a world parliament, rather like the European parliament, governing the activities of global agencies." After all, the European Parliament, like Washington, is immune to corporate lobbying and reflects accurately and quickly the views of the electorate as expressed by a cross on a piece of paper every 4 years or so.
He acknowledges that "the sheer scale of some corporations has now become an impediment to democracy, dwarfing the power of both citizens and competitors." Yet market power has been exercised over governments in the past when corporations were much smaller in size. As the history of the US shows, market power can effectively limit the anti-trust policies he recommends on a global scale. Ultimately, he paints a picture of capitalist society in which the state is a neutral body, in which all interests can be represented equally. Such a thing has never existed and never will. The state exists to defend capitalist power and always will. Ultimately, the function of a political system in any country is to regulate, but not to alter radically, the existing economic structure and its linked power relationships. The great illusion of politics is that politicians have the ability to make whatever changes they like.
Needless to say, he still sees the need for managers and employees. His vision is not anti-capitalist, simply anti-corporation (indeed, not even that as he opposes only corporations that get too big). Wage slavery will continue and he seeks merely to "restrain" the coercive power of the rich. Yet, as he argues, a free contract between the strong and the weak will benefit the strong. Because of this we have to abolish wage slavery and class society - they cannot be "restrained." Moreover, the coercive power of the rich will be applied to governments and states, making them the tools of the wealthy just as they have always been.
Nor is the continued nationalisation of key public services a real alternative to privatisation. Nationalisation has never allowed effective participation of people in their running or in the services provided. They are run by and for the state, with their workers still wage slaves and their users still consumers. That is why anarchists argue for socialisation of industry under workers' self-management and communal control. Only this decentralisation of power will ensure effective participation of people in these services. Thus Monbiot's alternative to privatisation just changes the boss, replacing private capitalism with state capitalism. It is no alternative at all.
He ends by arguing that "in other ways, the grip of the state should be relaxed . . . Power needs be devolved not only from international bodies to the state, but also from the state to its citizens. Community planning exercises, for example, better determine how a neighbourhood should develop than delegated authority." Yet this is similar to the decentralised, communal, federal system of anarchism which Monbiot dismissed earlier in his essay. In other words, we have the implicit acknowledgement that the state has more power than its citizens and cannot provide the framework for a free society. Yet rather than admit the obvious, he tries to square the circle by maintaining centralised economic and political power while arguing for community power.
He asks the question: "So what should we be campaigning for?" And answers "What is the antithesis of totalitarian capitalism? I believe that it isn't anarchy and it isn't a command economy. It's market freedom." Yet his vision of a regulated and nicer form of capitalism is not the antithesis of globalisation. The regulated capitalism he supports was the thesis against which the antithesis of working class resistance fought it out in the post-war era. Globalisation was the synthesis, as capitalist firms ran away from the rebellion of the wage slaves and other oppressed peoples in the 1960s and 1970s. The antithesis of globalisation will be globalised resistance, the struggle between the two producing (hopefully) the synthesis of anarchism once capitalism is defeated. Thus anarchism will be created via social struggle, not by wishful thinking.
A real alternative society must be based on autonomous communities and their federations sharing the world, with workers managing their own work and communities managing their own affairs, from the smallest communities to the global level. This society will be one without concentrations of economic, social and political power and without wage slavery and alienation.
Only by understanding we need to destroy, not modify, capitalism and replace it with self-management from the bottom-up will we actually be able to go beyond anti-capitalism and create a real "clearly visible collective agenda" - the agenda of anarchism. We need to go beyond market freedom into human freedom. To do that we must apply our ideas to everyday life and struggle.
Monbiot argues that "the people's movements now deployed against it are perhaps the biggest and most widespread popular risings the world has ever seen. Every major trade meeting is blockaded by protesters; every big corporation has attracted its own campaign." Yet these campaigns are being ignored by the powers that be. Globalisation is continuing and, clearly, the protests must move forward. That is why anarchists argue we need to apply the tactics and spirit of the protests to where we work and live. Direct action, solidarity and self-organisation at the point of production and in the community can create a power by which we impose from the streets and workplaces that which politicians are incapable of realising in parliament. Unless this is done, the process of corporate rule will continue.
And by applying our ideas in everyday life we will create the facts of the new world while we resist and change the current one. We must create that part of anarchy which can be created in existing bourgeois society and do so precisely to combat that society with direct action and solidarity.