Rebels Without A Clue
Gwydion M. Williams looks at a leading group of ‘Anti-Capitalists’.
People in Prague and Seattle were against Globalism as now practiced. They were much less agreed on what they wanted instead. Groups like the World Social Forum (http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/ingles/forum/Amanifesto.htm) have serious ideas, ideas I plan to study in detail in another article. But the street violence is down to ‘Global-Nots’, people who suppose a complex new world order ought to emerge spontaneously and be just what they want it to be.
Globalism is currently trying to replace itself, make its own form more abstract and asocial and to strengthen business interests at the expense of politics, even the most democratic politics being seen as an interference with the inherent human rights of the very rich.
Set against Yankee-Globalism we have the naïve Anti-Capitalism of the people who protested in Seattle and in Prague. And I am strongly reminded of the people who wrecked a socialist outcome to the crises of the 1970s by deliberately sabotaging any immediately feasible solution.
People who wouldn’t take yes for an answer
“Capitalism has been fiercely resisted since its inception. This resistance has taken many forms, from the radical, through the reformist, to the reactionary. The current fashion for worldwide mass protest timed to coincide with the meetings of global institutions is no exception.” (So what do these anti capitalists want?, http://www.reclaimthestreets.net/).
Saying ‘people against Capitalism from the beginning’ is like saying people have been against war and famine and death and taxes from the beginning. It’s a naïve formula that lays them wide open to ridicule and defeat. Makes defeat almost certain, in fact.
Very few people would be against all the changes of the last 250 years. You need to be clear what you oppose and what you support. The Marxist line succeeded for a century or so because it recognised gains as well as loses, which fits most people’s experience. It failed to update its world-view when the world changed, hence its subsequent fall. But in China, at least, an updated Marxism is allowing China to see through the New Right’s Asocialism
The same anti-Capitalists condemn movements like such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Jubilee 2000 and Oxfam because “Most consider capitalism to be reformable, and would normally describe themselves as working to help the current socio-economic system to overcome its social and ecological problems and run more smoothly.” (Ibid.)
But that is taking ‘Capitalism’ to be a monolithic system, ignoring the big shifts in culture. Contrary to the Marxist view – which I learned from but no longer believe – we have always had Capitalism Within Culture. And it is culture that makes functional humans out of the human raw material.
If a monkey is raised with food and shelter but no contact with other monkeys, it grows up socially inept, almost non-functional. Monkeys and apes are the most social of all mammals, and we are the most social of all simians. A monkey raised in social isolation is not a functional monkey, and we can safely assume that if anyone were cruel and criminal enough to do the same to a human, they would be much more visibly dysfunctional. (There may have been real-life cases, but some are frauds or babies abandoned precisely because they showed no emerging humanity, in any case it is culture that shapes us.)
People can form an order, an arbitrary number of different and incompatible variants of human order. You can be an Urban Tribalist, why not? The people in charge of the mainstream know this is not a serious threat and can be ignored or incorporated as suits.
You can be a tribalist on the Internet, these were the pioneers. And these characters were baffled when a following wave of venturesome capitalists easily swept them aside, because their own Internet-tribalism was obscure and uninteresting to 99.99% of the human race. They could keep it up for all anyone cared, but the significant stuff happened elsewhere.
It’s been called a ‘New Frontier’, by analogy with the Wild West of the USA. Frontiersmen, (very few women) opened up the territory, as well as helping with the genocide of the Native Americans. Once they’d done their bit, the people with real power swept them aside quite easily.
Scottish highland regiments were used easily enough for Britain’s Imperial conflicts, as were Irish on an individual basis, the Gaelic clans had been sufficiently sophisticated and hostile to make the British government wary of using them as such.
“Direct action, and self directed action, is not like joining a political party, adopting an ideology, or lobbying for reforms, it is about people both individually and collectively creating their own means of confronting and dismantling the power structures which dominate our lives and are destroying the natural world. There are no leaders and no party line, only the dream of a free and ecological world in which competition and coercion are replaced with community and co-operation.” So say the anti-capitalists. I see it as a neat formula for remaining marginal.
The attitude of these characters makes me glad they have just a voice and no authority. I’m sure that there are those who’d think just the same about me. But then, I’m not asking for power, nor claiming that I am a suitable personality for exercising it. I do note that Anarchists have only ever managed to exercise real power through charismatic leaders. Nestor Makhno made a brief showing during the Russian revolution, but only because his methods were as brutal as anything Lenin, Stalin or Trotsky did. He dealt with the rival Gregoriovite movement by inviting its leaders to a ‘peace conference’ and then murdering them. This achieved the immediate aim of taking over the rank and file, but it must have been a little difficult to make any further alliances.
The Direct-Action characters are not of Makhnovite calibre, yet this is the only way they might become significant. Not by being Urban Tribalists, certainly. Tribal rules mostly damn silly, I see no reason to bother with them or respect them. Commerce does as least try to give you value for money.
Among proper tribalists, tribal rules are enforced anyone who gets offended will beat you up, though you also may round up a few friends and get them back. Likewise once you got a few dissenters on the Internet, they were able to ‘tough it out’ and ignore tribal rules.
People who just sneer at the ‘cash nexus’ have maybe never been dependant on any other sort of nexus. You do have choices, which is why people keep on migrating out of traditional regions and into commercialised world.
The ‘Direct Action’ people get a good laugh with parodies like “In the latest episode of what is becoming an increasingly frustrating spectacle, more than 20,000 extremists intent on mayhem have descended on Prague for what has been described as the ’55th meeting of the IMF and World Bank’. Once again braving the cynicism and thuggery of these self-styled economists, concerned citizens from around the world will do their utmost to stop events degenerating into the usual scenes which the economists refer to as “adjusting to globalisation”. (Ibid,, Economist thugs converge on Prague). But what coherent action does it lead on to – beyond more brawling with the police next time?
It was the negative militancy of the 1970s and the failure by socialists to back coherent alternatives like Workers Control that led directly to Thatcherism. The working mainstream of the society know they depend on a complex world and will grow tired on continuous disorder or pointless militancy.
The 1970s were open to a reshaping the culture. The Green movement did it, not always wisely, but very successfully. As indeed did the Feminists, with gender barriers that had stood since Neolithic times suddenly eroded. Sex outside of marriage became the norm, with parents recommending to their children that they try living together first to see if they really get on. The ‘Wedding Night’ is now a non-event, the couple have done it all before and often do no more than sleep after a good meal and round of boozing.
The set-back for socialism on the economic front was due to the senseless hostility to ‘reformism’. Socialist militants thought that if they could only sabotage left-wing reforms like incomes policies and workers control, the system would seize up and a socialist utopia would automatically follow.
Reformism is real politics, revolution is a bump in the road. Lenin was a reformist in 1914, and changed his mind only when it became clear that the existing imperial system was pointlessly slaughtering millions in an avoidable war.
The Bolsheviks in 1917 proposed a new culture, racial and sexual equality combined with a disrespect for religion and monarchy. Cultural values that are now the norm, but the Anarchists and Trotskyists of the 1960s insisted on describing this success as a disastrous defeat.
All or nothing, they said. A great formula for nothing.
What actually happened was the emergence of a new capitalism within the new culture. It emerged almost by default, because too many socialists called ‘all or nothing’. (A neat formula for achieving nothing.)
The current Yankee-Globalism is in competition with other alternative visions of Globalism – systems that are potential alternatives in a way the ‘Direct Action’ crowd are not.
“Growth markets embraced with glee in the early Nineties by McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Philip Morris and other US consumer giants, are proving more difficult to crack than expected.
“Russia, in particular, where poverty has rendered the concept of brand loyalty largely meaningless for many people, is not being won over easily.
“In the past year, long-neglected brand names from the Soviet era have started to make a comeback as consumers turn their back on all things Western.
“The Coca-Cola Company, which led the charge of Western brands into Russia, has been forced to switch production to traditional Russian soft drinks, such as Kvas, a cloudy, brown yeast concoction.
“Philip Morris, whose Marlboro cigarettes once epitomised Western sophistication for Russian consumers, has found more success recently with a brand called Peter the Great.
“In France, the wave of public support for a farmer who wrecked a McDonalds restaurant was a sign that dissent had spread beyond the university campus…
“The anti-capitalism demonstrations in Seattle, London and elsewhere may have failed to impact on the multinationals’ bottom line.
“But they appear to have tapped into a wider sense of unease about the homogenisation of global culture.” (The limits of globalisation, by BBC News Online’s Brian Wheeler, Tuesday, 7 November, 2000)
What must also be said it that the Keynesian economic system that broke up in the 1970s was significantly better than the “free market” order that succeeded it. The shift from Welfare-State to Asocial Markets is done with a lot of rhetoric about speeding up and bursting barriers to growth. But the bald fact is that they are second-rate successor to Keynesianism.
Economic growth following the New Right’s triumph has remained much the same in Britain and the USA – despite the vast advantage of being English-speaking nations in a world where most international business deals are done in English. Meantime France, Germany and Italy have slowed to UK levels as New Right ‘reforms’ took effect. And the New Right showpiece, the restructuring of the Soviet Union and its former possession, has been a disaster with years and years of negative growth.
Some people find these characters very impressive, because of their current power. Me, I see them as a vast herd of small-minded greedy people, unaware that they are destroying their own culture, that they are doomed.
Their collective power is a fact of life, but also nothing to be impressed by. It is the collective power of people who deny that they are a collective or that their culturally-defined nature is anything less than inevitable. “God gave me my money”, said John D. Rockerfeller. Today’s characters would not dare be quite so vain and blatant, yet they do seem to think that God or Fate favours them.
The USA succeeds thanks to Plutocrat Socialism. The rich and powerful ensure state money gets pumped to them, which has indeed allowed the economy since New Deal times to go on growing, faster than it did when the state was far away and most enterprise was self-financing. The proposed Missile Defence System is mainly another huge hand-out for the very rich, though no doubt they hope something useful will also be built.
Microprocessors, the Internet and much else comes from pioneering state-funded work. Justified as military defence, but the military-industrial complex has been the engine of growth from the 1940s and remains so.
Naturally, Plutocrat Socialism for anyone else is seen as offensive, unfamiliar members of the privileged class. Likewise any generalised or standard welfare, which the Plutocrats do not need, merely some charity for the hopelessly poor or helpless.
People are making the premature declaration the US has won. It is for the moment eroding other ways, but slowly and with some reversals. And I suspect that the success of the 1990s was a one-off gain from being the biggest and most dynamic English-speaking economy.
They also lost Russia, and neither China nor India seems much inclined to capitulate, as distinct from taking what they need. Hindu holy men with mobile phones are likely to become more effective defenders of Hindu values.
The biggest problem on the Internet is how to stop people copying stuff without paying for it. A rather tricky problem if everything has to be paid for and if everyone views themself as a ‘superior person’ not tided to the laws of the common herd.
But why not just give away free and subsidise by social usefulness?