System Crash: an activist’s guide to the coming democratic revolution
Covid-19 is a disease of capitalism. Penetration of the wilderness on the frontiers of global capital accumulation has destroyed natural firebreaks. Viruses have entered the human food-chain and evolved new and more lethal forms. Agribusiness complexes and slum mega-cities have acted as incubators. Modern communications networks have ensured rapid spread. Neoliberal regimes have spent decades hollowing out public-health provision and outsourcing services to corporate profiteers. The result is a lethal pandemic and an economic disaster.
The pandemic is one facet of capitalism’s rupture with Nature. There are so many more: the toxins being pumped into the Earth’s water systems; the trillions of tiny particles of plastic in foodstuffs; the poisoning of the air in the mega-cities where most of us live; the destruction of natural habitats and the fast-unfolding ‘sixth mass extinction’; the loading of the atmosphere with carbon waste, the overheating of the Earth, and the accelerating collapse of the global ecosystems on which we all depend.
This ‘metabolic rift’ is a direct consequence of capitalism: a system of unplanned, unregulated, globalised capital accumulation in the interests of profit, corporate power, and the super-rich. This system is predatory and insatiable. It is responsible not only for ecological devastation but also for social collapse.
Inequalities, both within and between states, have soared in the 40 years of the neoliberal era. The gap between rich and poor has never been wider. Only a third of the world’s people are in secure jobs. The rest are precarious or surplus, the majority of these now living in mega slum-cities, some working in low-paid casual jobs, some in the informal economy, some displaced and destitute.
The demolition of welfare states in the Global North and the evisceration of national-development programmes in the Global South have deepened the anguish at the base of society. An ever more lopsided social order makes 1% obscenely rich, pampers and privileges another 10% – a middle class of functionaries in service to the system – and leaves the rest, the working class, facing increasingly precarious work, stagnant or falling living standards, disintegrating public services, and a growing sense of social decay and a darkening future.
The breakdown in the old ‘welfare consensus’ creates a crisis of legitimacy for the system – and the response is nationalism and racism to divide the working class, and militarised police repression to crush the resistance of those who fight back. That is why the shadow of fascism now hangs over the world.
The root cause of the crisis runs deep. Stretching back half a century or more, capitalism has been afflicted by an insoluble problem of ‘over-accumulation’ – too much surplus capital seeking profitable investment in clogged-up markets where workers do not earn enough to buy back the products of their own labour (‘under-consumption’). This explains the many pathologies of neoliberal economics: financialisation, speculation, and permanent debt; the waste of the military-industrial-security complex; the plundering of the commons, the profiting from privatisation, outsourcing, and state contracts; the laying waste of Nature; the sucking of all humanity into a vortex of sweatshop exploitation and manic consumption.
It is the greatest crisis in human history. We are hurtling towards the abyss. The system is terminally diseased. Capital came into the world, Marx wrote, ‘dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt’. Now, the ageing system is putrescent and gangrenous.
It is time to end it – time to terminate the 500-year reign of capital, time to overthrow the militarised states that uphold it. This means organising and mobilising the potentially transformative power of the international working class – the vast majority of us, women and men, black and white, young and old, gay and straight, disabled and able-bodied.
When the exploited and oppressed move into action, when the masses united come onto the stage of history, the Earth shakes. It happened in 1789, 1917, 1968, and 1989. It happened with the Suffragettes and the Civil Rights Movement; with the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements; with the Arab Spring, the school climate strikes, and the Black Lives Matter insurgency.
The world is ever more polarised. On one side stand the super-rich, the corporations, the middle class, the police, the fascists. On the other stand the workers, the oppressed, the poor, the wretched of the earth. They are few, we are many. That is why they need lies to divide us, as well as cops to bludgeon us if they are to maintain their rule.
Their power is immense. It is the power of corporate capital and the militarised states combined. It is the greatest concentration of power the world has ever seen. But, also, the global working class is bigger than ever before, and if mobilised in all its strength, it could bring the system down.
This alternative future is possible. But everything depends on politics. The growing scale and speed of the crisis will make a mockery of any programme of piecemeal reform. We have, in any case, seen a succession of reformist projects crash over the last decade: the Workers Party in Brazil, the MAS in Bolivia, the Chavistas in Venezuela; Syriza in Greece and Podemos! in Spain; the movements around Corbyn in Britain and Sanders in the United States.
We have also been witness to the failure of identity politics and autonomist organisation. The politics of difference and separation does not lead to ‘empowerment’, but to fragmentation, weakness, and easy containment by the forces of capital and the state. A plethora of small, local, independent campaigns that never co-ordinate, never combine, never become a mass movement is not an alternative strategy for social transformation: it is no strategy at all.
Capital and the state are highly centralised. Only a concentrated power can have any hope of defeating them. The fate of the Argentinian piqueteros provides a sharp lesson: a powerful mass movement from below is not enough in itself; it must be welded into a political force capable of taking control of the workplaces and overthrowing the state.
If there is mass resistance from below – strikes, blockades, occupations, demonstrations. If these swell and fuse into a united popular movement. If new organs of participatory democracy, of people power, emerge at the base and assume control over workplaces and communities. If these things happen, consciousness will grow, confidence surge, and ordinary human beings will discover that they do not need to remain cogs in the capitalist machine, but, collectively, can take control over their own lives. The name for this is socialism.
To achieve it, to weld ten thousand campaigns and struggles into one, to turn a world of discontent and resistance into a single mass movement strong enough to win, we need unity and organisation; we need a channelling of energy into a single tidal wave of transformative popular power. We need – whatever form it takes – a revolutionary party.
Capital and the state will threaten ferocious violence. They will be willing to drown the movement in blood, as they have done so many times in the past. So the movement must dispossess the capitalist class and overthrow the capitalist state. The name for this is revolution.
We, the authors of this book, are revolutionary socialists. We are active in Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a new organisation based on democracy, internationalism, ecosocialism, solidarity with the oppressed, and the revolutionary transformation of society.
The old order is doomed. We must build a new one. Join us.
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. This is the final part..