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Marxist Critique? In The New York Times?
Jack Straw
On July 7, The New York Times, regarded by many as the voice of American capital, carried a review of the new book  Empire by Michael Hardt and Tony Negri, whose critique of the new world order was described as basically Marxist. It was a surprisingly favorable review. On July 20, the two wrote a column in the Times about the imminent G8 meeting at Genoa, Italy, and the mass demonstrations to confront that meeting. At about the same time, the book was reviewed in Time Magazine, again getting a pretty favorable review though the reviewer rejected the authors' "marxism". What is going on? Is the corporate media suddenly falling in love with the marxist critique?

Hardly. This is the next chapter in the game of "co-opt and rule". The role of the US media in setting the parameters of debate on policy within strict narrow limits determined by corporate needs has been discussed by, among others, Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent. Unable to suppress a growing movement against the continued internationalization of decision-making under corporate auspices, the powers-that-be have decided that a better strategy is to play soft cop for a while. Tendencies within the movement that show themselves capable of being co-opted will be increasingly courted, with the reasonable hope that they can split away from those tendencies that seek a more fundamental change.

We see people such as Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange being quoted in the   San Francisco Chronicle to the effect that "we have to show people that (reform) can be done without disorder" and that "if we don't police ourselves, the police will do it for us" (7/25/01). In the same article, Daniel Seligman, policy director for the Sierra Club says "We've been moving in the direction of making a pragmatic list of demands before the craziness in Genoa." And the  Time review of Empire concludes that the book will help in the effort to put a human face on globalization. This in no way should be taken to mean that we support mindless trashing. Lots of the people present at Genoa were neither Black Bloc nor members of NGO's, but simply folks who favored non-violent direct action to strike at capitalism, people such as the Tute Bianchi (White Overalls). And many reports from the scene indicate that lots of so-called anarchists were actually police units operating as units in a coordinated fashion with other police units.

Many people within the movement have yet to grasp any notion of change beyond some rules (e.g. environmental, labor) which will make the process more "fair" and less harmful to the world's working people and environment. They have not been able to visualize any social arrangement that goes beyond the current one, i.e. capitalism. And thus they don't see how the process of increasing dismantling of all brakes on the behavior and movement of capital is the inevitable result of the very nature of capital's historical development, one which cannot be stopped by some reforms.

Accumulation is capital's very reason for being. Otherwise it wouldn't be capital, a sum of money whose aim is to expand itself into a larger sum. And this accumulation has only one source: the time that working people all over the world spend working beyond that which is necessary to produce our needs, surplus time. As capital develops, it relies more and more on machines, due to a process which favors enterprises that produce more cheaply per unit. Thus, even as there is more and more capital demanding to be invested for a profit, there are proportionally fewer and fewer people to produce the surplus to create that profit. Capital thus finds itself under pressure to cut costs ever more, especially wages, and eliminate regulations which keep it from going where it wants to go, doing what it wants to do, and getting around obstacles. This has been its way since its birth in late Medieval England. And the current state is the culmination of its drive to conquer the world, to turn every activity, every facet of living, into a commodity ruled by the rules of capitalist production.

Notions that the current system can be changed to one which safeguards (and even restores) the environment, and which lifts the living standards of all of the world's people, while still sustaining profitable production, are at best naive and illusory. At worst, they are deceptions, meant to channel people away from a direct challenge of the status-quo and towards some sort of a managed situation in which some of the protest leaders get rewarded handsomely for keeping things under control, on the model of post World War I Germany, in which the Social Democratic Party was placed in charge of a mass repression of a workers' rebellion. Of course, once that rebellion was repressed, the Social Democrats were returned to the stable, and eventually bloodily repressed themselves. Perhaps ironically, the same party is now in charge of Germany and its moves to undo social welfare legislation so as to make German capital more competitive, and the party head was one of the G8 leaders in Genoa.

Like growing reference in the mainstream media to the need to listen to the demands of protesters indicates not only that the opposition is rattling the nerves of decision-makers, but that those managers are moving on to new tactics in carrying out their plans. They will rely less upon open repression (while of course not doing away with that option) and more upon cultivating an image of people who really care, who are willing to compromise, provided the opposition is likewise willing to compromise, to drop any notion of radical social change, and settle for a seat at the table, even if it's a seat at the end of the table, whose rewards are everyone else's scraps. This only shows the movement and its actors desperately need to do some theoretical reflection, to understand what they are up against and where they want to go, if they are not to become mere cogs in a campaign to spruce up the present barbarism.

(August 11, 2001)


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