Make a foreshortened critique of capitalism history!

Without a radical critique every action becomes mere activism- reflections on the anti-G8 mobilisation 2007
Shift Magazine - Issue 1 (Sept 07 - Jan 08)

3, 2, 1…action!

Without a doubt, it was the event for the European left this summer: anti-racist groups, queer activists, squatters, debt-relief groups, anti-fascists, trade unionists, environmental organizations…in June, all of them travelled to the small German village of Heiligendamm in order to express disagreement or even disrupt the G8 summit. Months before there was a marathon of meetings, conferences, fundraising concerts, and every leftist place in Europe got swamped with flyers and posters mobilizing against the summit. The focus of it all: action. Demonstrations, riots, blockades, vigils, clandestine actions…there was something in it for everybody.

Those calling into question this mode of ‘action for action’s sake’ are often accused of trying to break or slow down the movement, of being a threat to the radical left’s unity, of intellectualizing. But protest in itself is not emancipatory – how often have we seen racist mobs in the streets protesting the building of a refugee home or mosque, or large-scale fascist demonstrations that also aim at ‘the system’. Even ‘anti-capitalism’, the leitmotif of the more radical part of the anti-G8 movement, can be a deeply reactionary ideology, as can be seen not only when looking into the ideology of the Third Reich, but also when looking at contemporary campaigns by fascist groups who are decidedly ‘anti-capitalist’.

Keeping all of this in mind, it would be naive for a radical left to simply want to take part in whatever social movement comes along. Those who do not want to mix up Islamists, neo-Nazis, landless peasants, welfare recipients and fare dodgers in one subversive mass, to group them together as ‘the people’ standing up against ‘the system’, will come to a lowly result. An intervention without a critical definition of one’s own standpoint is less than a sad ‘being part of’ - it turns itself into a tool for the wrong purpose. Therefore, theory becomes necessary - not because of a ‘more-radical-than-thou’ battle, but in order to truly understand just how capitalist society functions so that it can adequately be overcome.

G8: légitime!

Against the popular opinion among the anti-globalization movement that the summit was illegitimate in the sense of ‘undemocratic’, we need to take note of the realities of bourgeois society: Not just a gang of robber-knights but in fact representatives of constitutional states with basic laws and acknowledged proceedings of legitimisation came together at the summit. As juristic persons states can “freely” and “equally” arrange informal meetings and close contracts. Instead of forging alternative models of democracy and law, an emancipatory movement should recognize that domination and exploitation in capitalism are performed not primarily against law and democracy but within and through these forms.

This insight should have had large-scale consequences for the mobilization against the G8 summit. It implies an explicit refusal of economistic and personalized (state-) conceptions. Whereas the first wants to directly debunk the state as a mere tool of the economically dominant class - to demand its ‘right’ use for the common good in circular reasoning-, the second primarily conceives the condition of the world as a result of individual misconduct of single capitalists and politicians acting out of greed, venality or an absent sense of responsibility.

One of the inherent dangers of this logic is to fall into anti-Semitic stereotypes: the anti-Semitic ideology is usually embedded into a worldview, which ‘explains’ the evils of modern capitalist society. Capitalism in this worldview is not seen as a process, which arises following its own structural logic without a particular leadership, but rather as an exploitative project consciously put into effect by evil people. Historically, this way of thinking emerged in the 19th century in Europe in a time of to the rapid spread of capitalist society and the social upheavals this triggered. The anti-Semitic worldview thus consists of personification for non-understood economic and social procedures and draws upon the picture of the ‘Jewish capitalist’ that is deeply embedded in Western culture, which for centuries associated Jews with money. It can be displayed in talk of ‘the capitalists’ who ‘pull the strings’ from ‘the US East Coast’, ‘dominate the world’ and just can’t get enough with their ‘greed’.

Less reactionary but similarly problematic is the moral conviction of certain companies and multinational corporations, whose practices are - often rightly - stigmatized as especially abhorrent. What falls out of this perspective is a critique on the plain ‘vanilla’ exploitation - that lies in every wage dependant, commodity-producing labour. Furthermore, the notion misconceives that in capitalism the economic actors are following a rationality that is forced upon them by the economic relations themselves. Even the capitalist is dammed by the band of competition to make profit or to perish. The process of concentration and centralization of capital is insofar a structurally caused moment of the dynamic of capital accumulation. That’s why it would be ludicrous to demand for instance ‘fair competition’ against the ‘power of corporations’ or to classify capital under the motto small = good and large = evil with sympathy points.

To conceive ‘rule of law’ as a specific form of capitalist domination does certainly not mean that within capitalism legal norm and legal practice, ideal and reality are always in accord with each other. That would mean to ignore the ideological character that the law form has in a capitalist society. That on an empirical level not only several capitalists but also institutions of constitutional states are using illegal practices - disposing toxic waste in Africa, killing trade unionists, practising torture, etc. - has been widely scandalized. However, a political movement that primarily criticizes what is generally defined as ‘criminal’, acts on the level of critique of an attorney. The fallacy of such a position admittedly is: The world would be all right if just everybody would respect the law.

Theory in action

While the contradictions of capitalism can be experienced in daily life, as a complex social relationship of domination capitalism withdraws itself from every-day-life’s consciousness. To introduce a radical approach into the struggles against the G8 does target on more than a ritualized gesture. But building a foundation of theory does not mean to withdraw into the ivory tower and never take to the streets. On the contrary, such a conclusion would be fatal: if one does not want to capitulate in face of capitalist reality, a call to action is more than necessary.

The G8 summit can be conceived as one of the forms in which capitalist society reflects itself on the political level. An irreconcilable act of negation towards these should not aim at the ‘One Family’ of the defrauded and the disappointed, but at the possibility of bringing the scandal of capitalism in its totality into the focus of critique: to criticize its structures in institutions and in our heads and to develop a perspective beyond domination, violence, repression and exploitation. At this year’s summit, this only happened to a certain extent – more visible were the ‘analyses’ that conceived the Group of Eight as the ‘spider in the web’ or the ‘distributing centre’ of ‘predatory capitalism’ and the personalisation’s that imply some of the dangers and shortcomings mentioned above. More important than protesting against the summit seemed for us to critically intervene into one of the biggest leftist movements at present tense and challenge some of its dominant assumptions.

While talking about revolution seems to be pretty naive today, it appears to be even more stupid to waste all of one’s abilities to arrange oneself with the status quo. The G8 summit can be seen as a cause to go the whole hog with the critique of capitalism – not because the G8 is the personified evil but rather because domination in capitalism basically has neither name nor address. The ‘right place’ for anti-capitalist resistance is never immediately given. It is defined exclusively by the experience of social contradictions, leading to the insight that there is a necessity to (to speak with Karl Marx) “overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable essence.”