Marxist Critique? In The New York Times?
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
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)