System Crash: An activist guide to the coming democratic revolution

2 November 2020

Anti*Capitalist Resistance will soon be publishing this new book on the world crisis and the popular resistance in print format. Because of the urgency of the political situation, however, we will be publishing the book chapters as a series of long-read online articles over the next month or so. We begin with the introduction.


We may be alone in the universe. Despite ever better technology for looking and listening in space, we have still found no evidence for intelligent life elsewhere. Equally significant, as far as we know, no other life-form has ever attempted to make contact with us. Our species, homo sapiens, may be an accident, a chance event, a mere blip in an eternity of time and space otherwise devoid of intelligent life.

Either way, what now seems certain is that our species is hurtling towards extinction; or, at the very least, towards a comprehensive breakdown of existing civilisation, a collapse into some sort of post-apocalyptic dystopia. This is not science-fiction: it is extrapolation based on the current trajectory of global society; it is a statement about the depth of the world capitalist crisis of the early 21st century.

That this is the worst crisis in human history is now beyond reasonable doubt. There are three main reasons for this.

First, the rulers of the world control arsenals of weapons capable of destroying every living thing on the planet. In the First World War, they killed 15 million. In the Second World War, they killed 60 million. In a Third World War, they could kill everyone.

Anyone who thinks that because of the possible consequences this could never happen is a fool. The historian Eric Hobsbawm described the 20th century – with its wars, genocides, and hecatombs of dead – as ‘the Age of Extremes’. We have moved on. We surely live now in ‘the Age of Madness’ – an age when imbeciles, narcissists, and psychopaths are given control over thousands of nuclear missiles.

Perhaps we will avoid nuclear Armageddon. We cannot, however, on present trajectories, avoid climate catastrophe, ecological devastation, and recurring pandemics.

Our rulers are committed to a system based on profit, corporate power, and exponential growth – a system of unlimited capital accumulation that has now burst the limits of sustainability and begun to destroy the planet’s ecology.

No-one can escape. Here is a third reason for thinking this to be history’s greatest crisis. In the past, hundreds of millions lived as farmers in remote countryside providing for their own subsistence; they were not impacted by the hunger of the Great Depression, the carnage of the Second World War, or the fears of the Cold War.

Today, the traditional peasantry has largely disappeared, absorbed into the agribusiness complexes and mega-cities of capitalism’s final frontier. The pandemic, climate change, wars and rumours of war, economic stagnation, social collapse, rising fascism, police repression: the whole of humanity is engulfed by this compound crisis of the world system.

There is a way out, but it will not be easy. No amount of tinkering, no programme of piecemeal reform will do. It is not a matter replacing a leader, electing a new party, or changing the voting system. The political structures embedded in the system – let us give it a name: neoliberal capitalism; or globalised, financialised, monopoly capitalism – are part of the problem.

The whole system has to go. The repressive police states have to be overthrown. The giant corporations have to be taken over. The super-rich have to be dispossessed. The old power structures have to be replaced with a new system of mass participatory democracy, of popular power from below, of ordinary people taking control of society and putting all our collective resources in the service of humanity.

The word for that is revolution. To save ourselves and our planet, we need nothing less than an international democratic revolution of the working class and the oppressed; that is, of the overwhelming majority of the people on the planet.

It is close to midnight. We have a decade or so to make the change. We have no time to lose. This book is a modest contribution to the task in hand. It is an appeal to get active, to join a revolutionary organisation, to become a maker of history not an object of history; an appeal not to remain sitting in the waiting room of the future, but to join the struggle to create a different future.

In the first part of the book, we analyse the many dimensions of the crisis, with chapters on the coronavirus pandemic, the accelerating climate disaster, the social collapse, the growth of slum cities, increasing police repression, the rise of fascism, and the economic roots of the crisis in chronic over-accumulation and debt-based financialisation.

In the second part, we discuss the strategy and tactics of resistance, with chapters on the limits of reformism, the limits of identity politics, and the need for mass united struggle from below by the working class and the oppressed on a global scale.

The great Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci, who died in a fascist prison, said of the crisis last time: ‘The old world is dying, the new struggles to be born: this is a time of monsters.’

The new was smothered by Fascism and Stalinism in the 1930s. The consequence of this world-historic defeat for the working class and the oppressed was Stalingrad, Auschwitz, and Hiroshima.

This time, if we fail, it will be much worse. This time, we must win.

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