Reflections on “Reflections on June 18”

The events in London and in many other places around the world on 18 June 1999 were significant and, in many ways, encouraging. Here we had “an action which attacks capitalism itself”. An action which claimed to attack capitalism itself, rather than a particular aspect of it. What’s more, let’s not forget this was global: actions and demonstrations were undertaken from Bangladesh to Nigeria to Germany to Uruguay. Since then there has been the “Battle in Seattle” accompanying the World Trade Organisation meeting and there’s more to come with events planned for 1 May no less (M1Y2K).

So, plenty of interest for those of us trying to organise for world socialism—and we in the Socialist Party are serious in wanting to talk with anyone who shares our aim of abolishing capitalism, with its destruction and wage slavery, and replacing it with common ownership and a united, classless human society.

One of the interesting things to come out of J18 has been a collection of articles written mainly by people involved in the events, called Reflections on June 18. What is most heartening is that these contributions show a critical and thoughtful attitude. Without exception they are written with a view to progressing from what they see J18 to have been towards a deeper understanding of how capitalism really dominates us, and of how we can get rid of it. They are particularly aware of the dodgier political perspectives of some of those involved. Specifically, they pre-empt what may become a major ruling class tactic to stifle any coming movement against capitalism—i.e. that of presenting “capitalism” purely in terms of finance capital (stock market wheeler dealing) and “multinational corporations”. And in a way, by concentrating in the UK on “the City” J18 has shown the dangers of this. All the Square Mile is is one of those places where the thieving bosses gamble with the wealth they extract from us. The profits and power of the ruling class comes though from the wider capitalist mode and process of production and exploitation. As one article puts it:

“Capitalism is not a place (‘financial centres’) or a thing (‘multinational corporations’), it is a social relationship dependent upon wage labour and commodity exchange where profit is derived from capital’s theft of unpaid labour” (our emphasis).

Concentrating on “nasty” finance capital and multinationals and defining “capitalism” in those terms can only end up as a massive diversion from the goal of abolishing the capitalist system. In fact it is potentially disastrous. As more than one contributor in Reflections on June 18th notes, targeting “finance” and “big business” (or the WTO) is something a lot of disparate groups can agree on—including those of the extreme nationalist right. The idea of “bad” multinationals as the “undemocratic” enemies of government and the nation state is bound to be seized on enthusiastically by both nationalists and smaller, local capitalists. Equally with the notion of “globalisation” being the real problem—as though capitalism as a system hasn’t always been a globalising one. It is the nature of capitalism as a system to seek to expand remorselessly—until, that is, we end the whole system of class ownership of the means of production, of wage labour and of production with a view to profit.

Which sort of leads to the issue of the “activist mentality” raised by one article. This makes an important point about what social revolution is all about:

“[T]he identification of some cause separate from one’s own life . . . is fundamentally mistaken—the real power of capital is right here in our everyday lives—we re-create its power every day because capital is not a thing but a social relation between people (and hence classes) mediated by things.”

Until, of course, we decide as a majority to take the political action necessary to change our lives.


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