Radical media, politics and culture.

After Genoa, Reform or Revolution?

Max Kolskegg writes: "It would be hard to deny that the events in Genoa were, as
Starhawk has said, a major watershed in the history of the movement
to create a livable world. The repressive forces of capitalism were
in full display, so that even the most pacific of pacifists received
a salutary shock and have been forced to reevaluate the rationality,
if not the righteousness, of their strategy for social change. The
near-murderous assault on the sleeping place of the Genoa Social
Forum and the Independent Media Center on the 21st of July will go
down in infamy. The skulls cracked there may change more than a few
minds about who and what we're dealing with, and how best to

Useful analysis of the crackdown in Genoa by Starhawk, Lorenzo
Komboa Ervin and others has pointed to some of the lessons that need
to be learned. The capitalist class has shown remarkable solidarity
and class consciousness in developing a strategy to repress the
"anti-globalization" movement, both by force and by trying to split
the movement where it is weakest, the division between its
revolutionary and reformist wings. Some revolutionaries are
pacifists, and the events in Genoa are not likely to turn them into
reformists (although they may kiss their pacifism goodbye). But the
main efforts expended by the police, politicians and media have been
directed to splitting the reformists away from the revolutionaries by
literally creating an image of violent, out of control "anarchists"
who are ruining the party for everybody and should be shunned or
constrained. And their strategy is a good one, as shown by the
numerous calls for "self-discipline" from self-appointed leaders of
the reformist wing like Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange. The fact is
that a significant part of the movement is composed of people who
seek to be recognized as leaders and spokespeople of various segments
of the lower orders; by threatening to "put the masses in the
streets" and make business as usual impossible until their demands
are met, they hope to get a place among the powerful.

But then there are the revolutionaries as well. Although at
present they are fewer in number than the reformists, it's just
possible that they have a better understanding of the nature of the
situation we're in and what we're up against, and a better idea of
the appropriate strategies to pursue: strategies to destroy
capitalism, not reform it, because it cannot be reformed. For the
movement to go forward, it must remain united as one solid force
opposed to capital's plans. Capital wants to split it and conquer it
by division, it's age-old method. The solution? The reformist wing of
the movement needs to recognize the futility of reform, throw off its
leaders with their aspirations for power and prestige, and become
revolutionary itself.


The Veils of Capitalism


Once just one mode of production among others (although from its
birth marked as very different), capitalism has now become a
"totality", a Global Machine of exploitation, domination and
destruction. As Genoa showed so starkly, it permits no effective
opposition and allows only minor reforms, and must be itself
destroyed if the planet's ecosystems and lifeforms are to have a
future. For a short while yet, the hope still exists that if people
wipe away the obscuring veils that capital puts up over its horrific
face and body, they will see it for what it is and will collectively
find the will and nerve to drive a stake through its heart.

Perhaps the most effective veil hiding the true visage of the
monster is the very notion that it can be significantly reformed. The
tidal wave of promotion of "fair trade" and "green capital" by
reformist critics is quite successful in deluding people into
devoting their energies and resources to hopeless struggles for minor
palliatives. But there is no such thing as "fair trade", when the
workers who produce the commodities that are "traded" are exploited
in every country by virtue of their condition of wage slavery;
unfairness is ineradicable under capitalism. Without a critique of
the inherent unfairness at the very root of capitalism, reformist
leaders of the "antiglobalization movement" appear to be primarily
concerned with getting the capitalists and ruling elites of
undeveloped nations a better deal from their bosses in the
industrialized countries.

A "fair wage" or a "living wage" won't eliminate exploitation
either. In fact, many reformist heavies consider even this demand too
extreme; their non-profit organizations largely depend upon underpaid
workers. "Debt relief" won't solve the problem; "generic AIDS drugs"
won't; "campaign finance reform" won't; nor will "free and fair
elections", or "corporate welfare reform", or "universal health
insurance", or "public transit", or "the new urbanism". All of these
reforms together, implemented to the degree fantasized by their most
passionate advocates, would hardly slow the destruction of the world
by capitalism.

And how would these reforms be implemented and enforced? Through
some giant increase in the controlling powers of states, or perhaps
of supra-state organizations, say a "reformed", super-powerful WTO.
(It was the state we saw in action in Genoa.) A high proportion of
the leaders of the reformist organizations are wannabe managers of
capital (in Europe, Social Democrats, Socialists and Communists, with
long track records of capital management in the past, and in the US,
liberals and Greens trying to reverse the "turn to the Right" and
take the reins). Their "critique" really consists in little more than
complaining that the wrong clique is at the controls and that they
themselves would do a much better job. They would claim to want to
raise wages a bit, make them "fair" if possible. . . only to find
that it's just not possible, sorry! Fortunately, the large numbers of
people they rely on for their prominence have no such intention and
may be open to a genuine critical analysis of the crisis we face.

For those concerned with genuine change, change in the core
content of social life, not just a new label on an old scam, the task
at hand is to leave the naked body of capital exposed to view. Even
naked it will be a formidable power, but it is really rotten at the
heart. It is unsustainable (think global ecocide), it is suffering
from an accelerating profit crisis (the coming worldwide crash), and
its mesmerizing powers are failing. In Genoa, the task of stripping
the veils away got off to a good start. Let's take it a bit


The Illusion of Naturalness


Capital presents itself as a state of nature. The story goes that
human societies have always bought and sold commodities, sought
profit and wealth, and been divided into rich and poor. Evolutionary
theory is invoked to claim that societies evolve like organisms, in a
struggle for existence that has selected for mass, hierarchical
states and empires which can survive in the natural battle of all
against all. Today we simply enjoy the good fortune of living in the
world-historical victor in this perennial fight, Western Civilization
(sometimes called Democracy). With the fall of the Soviet Union, we
are told, history has come to an end. We have reached a condition of
social perfection! This whole story is a tissue of lies, easily
disproven. It is dinned into our ears throughout our lives, by
parents, teachers, bosses and media, to make sure we adjust to our
situation and to shut off questioning.

Capitalism is a unique form of society with a specific birth place
and time, late medieval England. Some earlier societies in some
places did exchange commodities, and some of these used money as a
medium of exchange to facilitate the process, but they were not
capitalist. In capitalism for the first time material production is
undertaken not for the provision of the needs of the society (with
frequent normal surpluses exchanged with neighboring societies), but
exclusively for the continuous expansion of profit: the accumulation
of value. In pre-capitalist societies, even those based on slavery,
production was for the purpose of meeting people's needs.
Accumulation of wealth was achieved by warfare and conquest, not by
ever-expanding material production. But first in England, and from
there spreading over the entire world, a cancer grew that took over
the metabolism of the social body.

Some of the more sophisticated ideologists of capitalism,
economists and historians, admit that capitalism is a recent form of
society and claim that it got its start in Europe through the slow
growth of merchant wealth in the "free cities" that resulted from
"trade" between them. The point of this story is to emphasize the
peaceable naturalness of the process of capital accumulation. In fact
nothing could be further from the truth. Capitalism got its start
when lords in rural England realized they had both the physical power
and the incentive to evict the peasantry from the land they occupied
as tenants and from the forest and grazing lands they held in common,
and did so. On these "enclosed" lands the lords turned to maximized
sheep production to make wool for the European market. The peasants
were forced into the surrounding towns and cities as indigents with
nothing but their ability to work to exchange for survival. The
proletariat was born at the same moment as production for profit, and
the two have been wedded in a death-struggle ever since.

The main point here is that capitalism is a distinctive, indeed
highly unusual, product of a specific historical situation, and bears
little resemblance to the many other social forms people have
experimented with over time. It is the only social formation in which
all human activity is devoted to the production of continuously
expanding profit. In most societies down through history production
was undertaken to supply basic needs, and the whole sphere of
material provision was subordinate to other social objectives, which
varied from society to society. Sometimes the principal objective was
the concentration of power, as in Egypt under the Pharoahs or
Imperial Rome, but even this social distortion did not lead to
ever-expanding demands for labor and materials. On the contrary, the
goal of these power-oriented systems was stasis and stability, not
internal growth; expansion was through conquest.

But power-oriented societies themselves have been rather rare in
history. Vast regions of the world and long spans of time never
witnessed the growth of mass, centralized societies. Ancient Greece,
to cite an obvious example, was a society of city-states, scaled to a
human dimension and without the incentive, by and large, to aggregate
into an empire. Production of material needs in the Greek city-states
and the surrounding countryside was primarily for local consumption,
with only a limited amount of production of luxuries for trade with
neighboring areas. Instead, tremendous energies were devoted to arts
and crafts, poetry and philosophy, science and technology, in ways so
imaginative and creative that we still are dazzled by their
achievements. In no arena is this more true than in their
experimentation with and development of truly democratic forms of
social organization, reaching a level of popular participation in
meaningful decision-making never attained again by their cultural

The history of capitalism since its beginnings in the English
countryside has been bloody and sordid. The process of Enclosure of
common lands eventually spread throughout the British Isles right up
through the 18th Century, and similar seizures of peasant lands got
underway, with a substantial delay, on the European mainland. Britain
had a strong headstart, which meant that its development of
industrial production utilizing the labor of the newly-created
proletariat was also well in advance of similar processes in France
and Germany, enabling it to maintain a superior navy and control the
seas. With this advantage Britain built up an Empire on which the sun
never set, and into which it introduced the same land seizures and
capitalist social relations as had developed in the home country.
Other powers, mostly European, were not far behind, and a race was on
to carve up the world into competing empires.




Miraculously, a small number of indigenous groups in Africa, Asia
and Latin America are still resisting the penetration of their
ancestral forest or mountain strongholds by the forces of capital and
the state, but they are under severe threat. (In some cases NGOs
singing a song of "sustainable development" are acting as the
spearhead of this penetration.) With these exceptions, however,
capitalism is a global system; there is no country on earth which has
eluded its grasp. The present "globalization debate" for most
participants is an argument over details of its admininstration. It's
a fight over crumbs, really. Should nation states be permitted to
maintain legal protections for large internal constituencies, or
should such laws be finally removed to permit absolutely unrestrained
movements of capital?

With the planet on the verge of ecological collapse through
deforestation, ozone depletion, soil loss, chemical pollution, and
global warming; with plant and animal species undergoing a
catastrophic rate of extinction, orders of magnitude greater than in
any natural period of "great extinction" of the past; with languages
and indigenous cultures dying out rapidly; with human hunger,
disease, war, racism, sexual and child slavery, and rape and other
forms of violence against women all at crisis levels over much of the
world, it's clear we don't have a lot of time to dicker over minor
palliatives. We need to kill capitalism before it kills off the
entire planet. So why aren't we proceeding straight to the task at
hand? Because capitalist society, in addition to its massive physical
coercive powers, has perfected mind control.

People raised in modern capitalist society are subjected to forms
and processes of mystification from birth to death: authoritarian or
decentered parents; prison-like schools, and tyrannical workplaces,
all presenting themselves as natural, unquestionable and inevitable,
and all permeated by toxic mass media pollution. The great majority
of people buy into it completely; they develop the *social character*
of capitalism. It is a shroud worn over the body of each individual
person, which has the magical property of obscuring what they see and
transforming it into its opposite. Absolute dominance of market
forces is "freedom". Hierarchy, patriarchy, authority, deference,
private wealth, money and a life devoted to consumption, recreation
and other forms of mindless infantile narcissism all feel cozy and
natural. We have adapted to our social environment. We reproduce it
every day. We are our own cops. We pass on the blow. We beg for
favors or mercy from those above, and torture those below. Capital's
got us right where they want us.

Perhaps it's necessary to respond to the point often made that
many of these aspects of capitalist society are as old as the hills,
and must derive from "human nature". Religious fundamentalists and
reactionaries in general, for example, believe men are naturally
superior to women physically and intellectually, so that patriarchy
is natural and has always existed in all societies (or if not in some
particular case, it should have!). But this should just tip us off to
the inseparable connection between patriarchy and religion. Organized
religion is above all a system of social control that is designed to
render male domination "natural" in the eyes of its subjects, men and
women. It has been highly successful for thousands of years, and has
simply been appropriated by capitalism and maintained as a prop to
its operations (remember the Protestant Work Ethic?). Even as
capitalism takes over all inherited, traditional social forms it
transforms them; the father morphs from the symbol of God in the
family to the representative of the Boss. But the fact is
non-patriarchal societies have existed (and may indeed still thrive
in some remaining tribal enclaves), disproving "natural" male

Capital has inherited as well a few thousand years of social
hierarchy, authority and deference. Such a social structure seems so
familiar and inevitable that anything else is almost unthinkable. In
Classical Athens, however, it needed to be defended, and was not
simply taken for granted; in *The Republic* Plato makes Socrates
score one of his cheap points by remarking how you certainly wouldn't
want to be on a boat where the course was chosen by majority vote of
the farmers on board rather than by the captain who knew all the many
dangers lurking in wait to sink the stupid democrats. Equality is
nice in theory but it doesn't work! So just get used to having a
boss, to rich people, bureaucrats or technical specialists making all
the decisions, and bow down!


Marx and His Enemies


Capitalism goes one better, however, over past structures of
social hierarchy and domination, by hiding its reality under false
appearances. The market is promoted as the realm of free exchange of
equal values. Even leftists at anti-globalization protests chant
about "fair trade" and "fair wages", subscribing to the capitalist
myth that the market could be, if only the right people (e.g.,
themselves) were in charge, a neutral arbiter of value and mechanism
of "trade" of equivalents. These illusions live because the nature of
exploitation under capitalism has been successfully obscured.
Capitalism's apologists, practitioners of the charlatanry of
economics, have worked overtime for the last 125 years to hide the
source of value, human labor, from view.

That the source of the value of a commodity is the human labor it
contains was known to Aristotle, over 2300 years ago. Political
economists of the 17th , 18th and 19th centuries, including Adam
Smith and David Ricardo, who attempted to understand developing
capitalism objectively and scientifically (even if their class
allegiances lay with the "rising bourgeoisie") also knew that the
source of value is human labor. They failed, however, to explain the
source of profit, the Holy Grail of their efforts, for the discovery
of which they were unworthy. But then along came Karl Marx, who
carried their analysis through to its logical conclusion, discovering
the source of profit in "surplus value", the portion of value created
by human labor that is appropriated by the capitalist for his own

On the surface the "exchange" between the capitalist and the
worker seems to be a "fair" one. The worker agrees to work for the
capitalist for a certain wage, and is paid what his or her "labor
power" (i.e., ability to perform the particular kind of work
involved) is worth on the "labor market". In general this wage is
more or less equivalent to the value of the commodities the worker
needs to "reproduce" his or her labor power (food, clothing, shelter,
etc.) so that the work can continue day after day. But as Marx
carefully shows, there is a hidden component to the transaction, an
additional value which is appropriated entirely by the capitalist.
This "surplus value" derives from the quality possessed uniquely by
the commodity "labor power": its living, creative, human force, which
has been channelled into the commodities it produces by the relations
of domination and subservience that are maintained by capitalists as
a class over working people. Simply put, workers create more value in
a unit of time spent working than they receive as a wage for that
time, even if that wage is "fair" or "a living wage". The difference
goes entirely to the capitalist and enriches him or her, while the
worker, like a rat on a treadmill, never gets anywhere.

Capitalism, then, as explicated with precision and clarity by
Marx, is most fundamentally a system of "social relations of
production" which maintains the social domination of the capitalist
class over the rest of humanity by the imposition of wage labor (or,
for some categories of workers, salaried labor). The surplus value
appropriated by the capitalists is converted, by sale in the market
of the commodities in which it is embodied, into its money form, the
source of profit. The key process of social control under capitalism
is continual "value accumulation", in which profits are reinvested in
new cycles of production to expand the system on an ever larger

Unfortunately for the capitalists, however, the system is fraught
with ineradicable tendencies to break down, the most acute of which
is the tendency of the profit rate to fall as the mass of accumulated
value grows. The rate of profit falls over time as more and more
value is embodied in machinery and materials while the relative
proportion of value devoted to wages and salaries falls. Because of
the competition between capitalists they are forced to reduce their
production costs to a minimum, and the primary means to do so is to
replace living labor power with machinery and automation. But since
the only source of new value is that human labor input, the result is
the inevitable reduction in the proportion of new surplus value to
the mass of value already accumulated.

The tendency of the rate of profit to fall over time leads to
repeated economic crises, which appear as "overproduction" problems
at first, then as recessions and depressions. Productive capital
takes flight into stock speculation, finance, and other forms of
fictitious capital (as well as new sectors of production, where
possible), which does nothing to restore profitabililty for
capitalism as a whole but merely redistributes the agony among
sectors. (The world has been in a continuous and worsening profit
crisis since the 1970s; the barrage of media hype about "prosperity"
over the last few years has been a campaign to obscure the
ever-deepening fall in living standards of the vast mass of humanity
and the destruction of the natural environment, while capitalists
have abandoned productive activity for speculative stock and
financial investments.)

When Marx broadcast his discovery to the workers of the world in
*Capital* and other writings, the whole field of political economy
was abandoned by the ideologists of capital and a new truly dismal
"science" was born, economics. Since Marx the main effort of
economics has been expended in the attempt to hide the source of
value and profit. Marx's Labor Theory of Value and concept of surplus
value are sharp weapons in the hands of the proletariat, enabling
them to see how exactly they are ripped off by capitalism, and where
the system's weaknesses lie. Marx's achievements were bad news for
the masters, and their lives have never been the same since. They
don't sleep well.

Marx is not easy to read quickly; he takes application, so today
with attention deficit disorder so widespread he doesn't get much
attention. His name has also been associated by his enemies with
totalitarian state capitalist regimes like the Soviet Union,
Communist China and Cuba, sullying the reputation of the man who has
contributed more than any other to the understanding of capitalism
and of post-capitalist society as well. Nowadays it is required for
people to show their post-Marxist credentials. Anarchists especially
believe that Marx was a bad guy, because of arguments he had with
Bakunin (a 19th Century Russian anarchist) and because his name has
been glued to the monstrosities of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao and
Fidel to put over the lie that the regimes were "workers' states".
But put anarchist polemics and vulgar Marxism aside, and actually
read Marx himself, and a very different man comes through: not only a
brilliant analyst of capital and a great literary artist (*Capital*,
volume 1, [the only volume he saw through to the press] is a
great work of art), but even perhaps the greatest theoretician of
anarchist thought as well.

Marx, like numerous socialists before him, had a vision of
post-capitalist society that today stands condemned by Right and Left
as "utopian". He considered the term "socialism" to designate a
condition of freely-associated people in a society without social
classes based on differences in private possession of wealth and
control over the means of production of material needs. Decisions
about what to produce, how much to produce, and how to carry on the
productive process are made by everybody able to participate and
interested in partcipating, democratically. Bureaucrats, technocrats
and bosses no longer exist; they've been "consigned to the dustbin of
history". People are equals again, as they used to be. Money and
markets are also non-existent; there is no attempt to exchange
equivalents, but simply to provide for everyone's needs. Everything
is free for the taking. Abundance rules, not scarcity as in
capitalism. Marx's vision, it must be admitted, has little in common
with the states associated with his name.


The Left Bastion of Capitalism


The rump of "actually existing socialism", still hanging by a
thread in Cuba and perhaps elsewhere (North Korea?), and still
promoted by nostalgic, aging leftists remembering the good old days
of the Soviet Union and the Second World, is a fossilized remnant of
the previously widespread but now defunct form of capitalism properly
designated as state capitalism. The difference between private (or
corporate, or monopoly) capitalism and state capitalism is merely one
of the degree to which the state controls the process of production
and distribution of commodities. Commodities, that is, products of
human labor containing value and surplus value, that are produced by
wage workers who do not receive the full value of the products of
their labor in exchange (because this value is greater than the value
of their wages) but are forced to surrender a portion of it
uncompensated to the controlling elite, are the basis of state
capitalist society as much as they are of private capitalism.

Although these state capitalist regimes were promoted as
"Socialist", in fact they were (and are, where they still survive)
forms of capitalism which were forced on essentially peasant-based
societies, in a far more rapid and brutal manner than occurred in
Western Europe in preceding centuries. The assaults on the Russian
and Chinese peasantry by the dictatorial regimes of Lenin, Trotsky,
Stalin and Mao resulted in millions of deaths by starvation,
execution and labor camp incarceration, on a scale fully equivalent
to the Nazi Holocaust. (This well-attested fact is denied by a few
remaining apologists for these regimes, such as the unrepentant
Stalinoid Michael Parenti.) Both eastern Communism and western
Nazism/Fascism show the extremes to which capitalism will go to
maintain control of refractory workers. The really impressive aspect
of these bloody regimes was the scale of their operations. But with
their eclipse the underlying processes of expropriation, domination
and exploitation haven't really changed. Ask peasants under assault
today by armies and paramilitary deathsquads in Latin America, the
Middle East, Asia and Africa. These mopping up operations of capital
proceed at full pace, funded and organized by the power centers of
global capital, in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo.


Those Anarchists!


Although the New World Order is presented as a harmonious cross of
Democracy and the Market, its underlying reality is quite the
reverse. An accurate characterization would be something along the
lines of State-Imposed Corporate Oligarchy (SICKO), that is,
tyrannical rule of a tiny elite maintained by the brutal physical
force of states and the total penetration of psychological control
mechanisms. Genoa and its aftermath provide a clear and succinct
snapshot of its operations: ruthless crackdown on dissent,
pathological application of torture, and a continuous blitz of
defamation and denunciation, while behind the scenes the state
planners develop new levels of integration and surveillance to
suppress future resistance. Now let's ask ourselves again, what
exactly do we hope to achieve by pleading with the sickos to let up
on us a bit? One image says it all: helpless people at the Diaz
school raid, raising their empty hands in signal of total submission,
yelling "pacifist, pacifist" as their skulls were mercilessly cracked
open by the Fascist foot-soldiers of capitalism.

Anarchists have been warning us about the state for a long time,
and trying, rather ineffectively, to keep it at bay. In the past they
tended to focus on it almost exclusively, as the hypertrophied form
of social hierarchy and institutional coercion. But nowadays many
anarchists are savvy to the context in which states operate, and
recognize with Marx that the state's modern role includes more than
simple suppression of rebellion. Under the conditions of modern
capitalism the state is the principal organ for planning capitalism's
predations, both against people and the planet, where all capitalists
have common interest and the goal is maximal exploitation, as well as
the ever-present tendency of the different private concentrations of
capital to devour one another wherever possible, a process that
requires some overarching control if the "anarchy of capital" (Marx's
term) is not to result in imbalances and undermine the profitability
of capital as a whole and the security of its rule.

The nation-state is the dominant form historically, but we may be
witnessing the growth of new supranational states at present, such
as, potentially, the World Trade Organization. It looks like the
obvious candidate for this distinctive role, the United Nations,
can't serve this function on behalf of capital, as it no doubt would
be willing to do, because its structure permits too much sunlight.
The new supranational state(s) will be highly secretive. Their task
is not an easy one. Global coordination of capital will have to find
a way to control the excessive ambitions of individual capitals and
regional blocs which are in a condition of perpetual competition. The
largest multinational corporations, despite their far-flung
operations, still, for historical reasons, maintain strong ties to
their nations of origin and have supported regional planning efforts
(NAFTA, the FTAA, the European Union, etc.) to increase the physical
territory over which they can maintain uncontested control.
Unfortunately this raises the competition to the regional level as
well, with the development of contending blocs, mainly the Americas
(under the domination of the United States), Europe (with Germany in
the driver's seat), and East Asia (where Japan seems to have an edge
over China). This breakup of the globe into regional factions was
accurately foreseen by George Orwell in *Nineteen Eighty-Four*.

The reformists in the "anti-globalization" movement are, whether
they admit it or recognize it or not, statists. The solutions they
propose and the reforms they seek all presuppose an increase in the
interventions of states into social life. They operate with a false
analysis of the state as essentially distinct from and potentially
opposed to corporations and capital. But in fact the state, in all
its modern forms, is a *function* of capitalism. This is perfectly
obvious with sickos like George W. Bush or Silvio Be"