"As long as it's against their superiors, you betcha." I growl. "Shoot who you work for, not who you work with."
Beth's an old friend, but she does have these annoying bleeding-heart liberal, quasi-pacifist tendencies. Normally, I'd ignore her remarks, or I'd dismiss them with a joke, or I'd remind her how "Lefty" Hooligan is a pseudonym representing a pure political "type." But I'm feeling cranky and obstreperous from a long day of wage slavery, so I give her a hard time.
"So, you're advocating that workers attack their bosses." Anger is creeping into her voice.
"For a start." I continue my provocation. "I also want workers to bash the rich."
"The rich are people too." She chides me. "They have feelings just
like you do."
"I certainly hope they have feelings." I snarl. "When the workers take away their property, wealth and power, I want the rich to suffer."
The conversation did improve, once I got into a better mood. Realizing what it means to be a worker under capitalism has always been the source of my foul attitude. So, let's talk about why I hate capitalism.
Let's start with the question: What is capital?
Capital comprises not just the means of production with its attendant
machinery and technology, but also invested money and that portion of profit
that is reinvested. The expansion of capital is the most basic feature
of capitalism. Capital exists to reproduce itself, plus a profit. Much
of this profit is then reinvested so that this larger block of capital
again reproduces itself, plus a profit. Despite the complicated reality
of business cycles, this basic growth cycle is the essence of capital,
and of capitalism.
Look at it closely. What do you see?
Unregulated, unending growth is the essence to both capitalism and cancer. But where does capital come from? From the expropriated labor of workers. According to basic bourgeois economic theory, there are three fundamental factors of wealth/value production in society; land, labor and capital. Marx understood that labor was needed to work land in some way in order to make it productive, and he also realized that capital and profit were attained by capitalists not paying workers the full value of their labor. This, in the quickest of thumbnail sketches, is Marx's labor theory of value and in particular the notion of surplus value. Marx contended that labor produces all value and all wealth in society, further insisting that capital arises through a process of exploitation in which a capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) extracts surplus value from a working class (the proletariat) by not giving the workers full value for their labor.
How does the capitalist class manage to get away with this?
By claiming to own the two factors of wealth/value production—land and capital—that labor either augments or creates. Indeed, this ownership of what can be termed "private property" in general, and the means of production in particular is what defines the capitalists as a class. Workers own only their labor, which they must sell to the capitalist in exchange for wages, and this lack of private property ownership is what defines workers as a class. The workers exchange their wages for the basic necessities of life, and they are kept from challenging the capitalist class's ownership of private property, or from "expropriating the expropriators" by the power of the state; the police, secret police and military all of which defend the property and interests of the capitalist class. As I keep emphasizing, the state is not merely the monopoly of legitimate violence in society, it is also the principal instrument of bourgeois class rule.
Alienation and repression are the consequence.
Alienation is actually a central aspect of human life. When a craftsman creates a piece of furniture, or when an artist paints a picture, the completed objects in which they have invested their labor stand outside of them and confront them as things independent of themselves. The piece of furniture and the picture are alienated from their creators, but this is a positive alienation in that the craftsman and artist still control what they've created. They can change their work, transform it into something else, or smash it up. When workers sell their labor for a wage, they lose that control over what they create. The things they produce with their labor stand outside of them and confront them not just as independent things, but as hostile forces they no longer control, objects that contribute to their exploitation, and commodities that they must then purchase back with their wages.
The use of the state—democratic or totalitarian—by the capitalist class to enforce this reality extends even to denying workers effective ownership of their labor. The working class strategy of collectively withholding labor, either in individual enterprises as strikes or society-wide in a mass strike, is permitted by the state so long as it does not fundamentally attack the position and power of society's capitalist class. So while an individual worker can choose to withhold his or her labor and then starve, workers are severely limited by the state in doing so collectively, for fear that the interests of capital will be harmed. Using the historical example one more time, the intense post-war US mass strike waves of 1919 and 1945-46 were brutally crushed by use of the military and red scares.
State repression, alienated work, exploited wage labor, bourgeois class control, cancerous growth; these ain't capitalism's worst crime.
Our very ancient, hunter-gatherer ancestors (and many current aboriginal peoples) worked around 15-20 hours a week to get all that they needed in order to survive in a relatively classless, stateless society. The farmers of the sedentary agricultural societies that occupy most of recorded human history did some 30 hours of labor a week to make ends meet and support various types of statist class society. As workers in modern industrial/post industrial society, we toil 40, 50, 60 hours a week for someone else just to get by, pay for the police to beat us up, and keep the rich in the style of life to which they are accustomed. The capitalist class has perfected the theft of our very lives. Eight hours a day, forty hours a week, for some forty years of our lives! If we're lucky!
And you wonder where my bad attitude comes from.
There's a strain of libertarianism out there (as in Libertarian Party, not libertarian socialism), an oxymoron calling itself anarcho-capitalism that jumps in right about now to argue that it is government that corrupts capitalism. All our social problems would be solved if government were abolished and capitalism given free reign. These folks go on to suggest that communities can purchase police, prison, court, and other governmental services from private companies in a free market.
If the present US government (which by the way is already bought and paid for by corporate capitalism) is ever abolished in some quixotic anarcho-capitalist revolution, the Fortune 500 will buy and install a new government, complete with police and military, in the New York minute after that revolution. The capitalist class, the biggest among them, have never believed in laissez-faire. John D. Rockefeller had his competitor's oil wells dynamited when he couldn't get laws passed against them. The capitalist class as a class has also seen in the state the means to protect their sacred institution of private property, one that anarcho-capitalism worships with equal fervor, from those "leveling masses."
The capitalist class wants and needs the state to keep the rest of society more or less subjugated and reasonably orderly.
I've talked in previous columns about the need for a thoroughly communist anti-statism. In the above tirade, as in the past I've emphasized that bourgeois rule relies upon brute state power. Military force and police violence, while necessary, are not sufficient to rule society however. At the very least the state needs the tacit consent of the governed. The state requires a sense of legitimacy, which translates into the governed believing on some level that the state has the "right" to rule. Weak governments that nevertheless had strong legitimacy among their people (US in 1789) have frequently survived whereas states with extensive police and armed forces (USSR in 1991) have often collapsed after they lost their "right" to rule in the eyes of their subjects. The use of force can go only so far in keeping a governed population in line. The state requires the cooperation of the governed population to some degree in order to continue to rule.
Undermining the legitimacy of the powers-that-be then is a part of anti-statist organizing.
I stress the connection between the capitalist ruling class and state power because to take on the former is necessarily to take on the latter. And historically the weak link in the armor of state power has been the military. The police obey whoever's in power, eagerly siding with the status quo as a dog protects its master. "[T]he police have invariably obeyed the existing political power in the state completely irrespective of the political tendency within the state," Adolph Hitler once keenly observed in his own rise to power. Perhaps because military conscription draws more democratically from the broader population, or maybe the military's myth of "protecting the country" (as opposed to defending the ruling class) has something to do with it. In any case the military rank-and-file time and again have turned upon their masters and backed revolutionary social forces. From the revolt of the Russian sailors on the Potemkin in 1905 to the Wilhelmshaven uprising of German sailors in 1918, from the massive mutinies, fraternization and desertion of Russian, French and German soldiers during the first World War to the insubordination, fragging, and race wars of the US military in Viet Nam; disaffection and rebellion in the military's rank-and-file have helped to challenge the powers-that-be in revolutionary times.
Encouraging the disintegration of the military is a particularly iffy strategy however. In the cases mentioned above there was disaffection among military officers as well, which often took a decidedly fascistic bent. General Kornilov's unsuccessful August 1917 Russian putsch and the Freikorps all-too-successful suppression of the German workers uprisings from 1918 to 1923 come immediately to mind. Overused examples in my columns, so let's consider the case of Allende's socialist Chile (1970-73),
Popular left-wing disaffection in the military never reached a point to counter the power of the generals who, under Pinochet, staged a successful rightist military coup d'état against a quite powerful yet unarmed social movement in the streets.
Given that the state is simultaneously the monopoly of legitimate social violence and the executive committee of the capitalist ruling class, taking it on is not going to be easy. Last column I provided a list of actions workers could take, mostly on the job but occasionally in the community. Because the workplace is the private property of the bourgeoisie, it has none of the guarantees such as freedom of speech and assembly, privacy and due process associated with society as a whole. On-the-job revolutionary class struggle by the proletariat thus takes on a more clandestine, guerrilla character. Work remains a main arena of struggle against the state as well as capital however because as organized working class actions have an adverse effect on the ability of the capitalist class to earn profits and run society, the state will intervene on capital's behalf to contest and crush the working class's social power.
That's a given.
The streets always parallel the workplace as a field of action, where the presence and power of the state is much more obvious (cops, National Guard, military, etc.). Street actions are a part of the "public sphere" and are more widely practiced: leafleting and soapboxing; press conferences, vigils, pickets, demonstrations, marches and rallies; guerrilla theatre, civil disobedience, direct action and monkeywrenching; streetfighting, riots and rebellions. There have been various organizing manuals produced by progressives in the past four decades describing the nuts-and-bolts of many such street actions, beginning with the legendary '60's OM (for THE Organizer's Manual natch), the mother of all such projects. Although far too pacifist for my tastes, the Resource Manual for a Living Revolution (Virginia Cooper et al; $17.45 postpaid; New Society Publishers, 4527 Springfield Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143) is quite detailed, covering the organizing how-to and things like group dynamics. Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book was intended to be a Yippie version of the classic organizer's manual and was reprinted recently by Four Walls Eight Windows ($7,95; 39 West 14th St., Rm. 503, NY NY 10011). Mostly out-of-date, and often quite silly, nevertheless the book has some basic organizing info, including rudimentary streetfighting and riot skills. Whatever you do "in the streets" or in your workplace, remember; things go better with self-organization.
The power of organization can't be understated. I can't tell you how many times I've sat through a meeting of 50-75+ very diverse, very opinionated folks, complete with fully democratic process and duly elected chair, only to watch a handful of articulate, well-organized people actually take over and run the meeting. I've seen a handful of leftists, rightists, even anarchists accomplish this very simple feat. I've been one of that handful on occasion. Simply put, a small group of individuals with clear and common goals can frequently outmaneuver large meetings with as many opinions as those in attendance to set the agenda, define the issues and more often then not decide the policy. The small group doesn't even have to conspire in the formal sense of that word, eg. plan ahead to control the meeting. All they have to do is have similar goals, come prepared on the issues, and be willing to speak up and argue for their points. In an unorganized mass, an organized force often prevails. This applies as much to social revolutions as to leftist meetings; a lesson that Bolsheviks, then and now, understand all too well. The alternative, at least for social revolution, is to break up the mass into a number of self-active, self-organizing collectives; a minor variation on my theme for the past two columns. You know how I feel about meetings...
This column's jumped around a bit so it's time to bring it to a close.
Next column, not so abstract, okay? Now here's...
...ALL THE NEWS THAT FITS...
CORRECTION... Arthur Scargill is no longer a member of the British Labor Party as I mentioned three columns ago. As of 1996 he has thrown his weight behind the electoral, trade-union based Socialist Labor Party to carry on his dream of rebuilding Britain's welfare state and renationalizing everything privatized by the Tory's. What a snooze...
MORE MEXICO NEWS... Karl Koons strikes again with two articles from the San Diego Union-Tribune. Mexico's still ruling PRI no longer holds a majority in that nation's largely rubber stamp Chamber of Deputies after the July elections. The rightist PAN and leftist PRD as well as two other minor parties won 261 of the 500 seats, but when they tried to hold an inauguration in August, all 239 PRI delegates boycotted the event (8-31-97, SDU-T). A hint of things to come? The PAN and PRD are actually succeeding in working together on some key issues, such as electing a common presiding speaker and reducing the unpopular national sales tax (8-24-97, SDU-T), but whether they can hold that unity effectively challenge the centralized power of the Mexican presidency in the long term from their bare majority position in what amounts to the lower house of the Mexican legislature is dubious. Independent Mexican labor is on the move according to Labor Notes #233 (8.5x11, 16 pgs., newsprint; $20/1 year sub-12 issues; published by Labor Education & Research Project, 7435 Michigan Ave., Detroit, MI 48210). Delegates from 132 unions formed an independent labor federation, the National Union of Workers (UNT), covering some 1.5 million workers on August 22-23. The UNT is up against both the PRI-dominated Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) and the state-affiliated Congress of Labor (CT). Another independent labor federation and a member of the UNT, the Authentic Labor Front (FAT) represents only some 50,000 workers, yet its Metal, Steel and Allied Workers Union ousted a company-dominated union in a Tijuana miquiladora factory by vote on October 6 according to the 10-8-97 SF Chronicle. Another version of this story is provided by the 10-7-97 SD Union-Tribune under the headline "Workers rebel at maquiladora." The state's labor board so far has failed to certify the new union's victory as of mid-November, violating NAFTA.
Karl Koons submitted the latter piece and writes: "We'll see a strange rash of 'accidents' start to happen soon..."
OASES... I still consider the net an interactive equivalent of the vast TV wasteland, but I can recommend a couple of interesting sites. For a second mention, check out http://www. geocities.com/~johngray/ for a good straightforward chunk of the left communist milieu, heavy on theory and the classics. It has links to current publications and organizations. Http://www.diggers.org/ gets you lots of archival documentation associated with the San Francisco Diggers. They considered Tim Leary a charlatan, gave out free food in Golden Gate Park, opened free stores in the Haight-Ashbury, mercilessly criticized the hip merchants of that psychedelic ghetto for their greed and hypocrisy, and buried "Hippie" after the "Summer of Love" with their declaration of Freeman. RIP Emmett Grogan...
PERSONAL PROPAGANDA... I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. My book, End Time, can be purchased from AK Press (POB 40682, SF, CA 94140-0682) for $10. Keep sending me your newsworthy items and interesting news clippings c/o MRR.