The Initiation and Development of New Strategies of Struggle against Capital and its State Power

The Initiation and Development of New Strategies of Struggle against Capital and its State Power

The Changed Nature of Capital’s Crisis

At the beginning of The Uncontrollability and Destructiveness of Globalizing Capital Istvan Meszaros writes

We live in an age of unprecedented historical crisis. Its severity can be gauged by the fact that we are not facing a more or less extensive cyclic crisis of capitalism as experienced in the past, but the deepening structural crisis of the capital system itself. As such this crisis affects — the first time ever in history — the whole of humankind, calling for quite fundamental changes to the way in which the social metabolism is controlled if humanity is to survive. [1]

Meszaros’s conception of capital’s structural crisis has been developed in the above text and in his work Beyond Capital [2].

The unfolding of global capital’s structural crisis is filling every channel, every tributary and capillary of society, infusing itself and its effects into every aspect, without exception, of the life and relationships of society. It is this structural crisis-process of capital which is increasingly making necessary the creation of new strategies of struggle through which communities can defend their public services. An essential role of these new strategies of struggle must be to defend the public services for the present and future generations. On a wider front it is, taken as whole, a question of defending both the natural and socio-cultural conditions of the future human society which capital’s catastrophic crisis is destroying on a global scale.

The very nature of this structural crisis of capital, the widening of its extensive, and especially the deepening of its intensive, character on a global scale, gives rise to the social need for higher forms of organisation and strategies of struggle and opposition to its rule over society as the dominating social relationship of production and distribution. This defence of the natural and socio-cultural conditions of human life is a highly charged political process because it raises the question of who rules and on what basis : capital for profit or human beings for need. This direct challenge to the rule of capital therefore raises the more political question of appropriation. What is implied here is the appropriation of the powers of capital to defend these conditions in the face of mobilisation and resistance by the state power that defends the rule of capital. The commencement of the assault on public provision by that state is merely the opening salvo in a planned trajectory towards the complete privatisation of all public provision for profit. In other words, to deliver all the public services into the clutches of private capital. Healthcare for profit would mean literally millions being left to suffer and die. The clamour in the boardrooms for the privatisation of all public services is a symptom of the depth of capital’s crisis. It must now expand – like the hyphae of a fungal mycelium on a decaying piece of bread – into any areas left for exploitation, extracting and draining the life blood and nourishment out of society. The ‘privatisation’ of the utilities in the 1980’s and 90’s is now to be followed by the rest of public provision in the next decade. Strikes and marches will continue to have their strategic and political uses but these forms of struggle taken in themselves (which are more appropriate to past conditions) are going to be inadequate to deal with the intensity of the crisis coming towards us.

The formation of the traditional political organisations of workers took place under different conditions in a different epoch to those which are now emerging with capital’s unfolding structural crisis. In Britain we are referring to trade unionism and social democratic reformism. Trade unions were the main force in the formation of the Labour Party at the beginning of the 20th century.  They supported and financed the Labour Party. The trade unions would fight for better conditions and wages by means of the strike when and where necessary and the Labour Party would work through the parliamentary system to bring in legislation to improve the social and economic position of the proletariat as a whole. The high point of development of these endeavours was the 35 year period between 1945 and 1980. It corresponded to the post-war period of global expansion where capital was temporarily able to displace its contradictions by adopting Keynesian inflationary monetary measures. It was in this period that the strike weapon most effectively won improved working conditions and better wages.

The trajectory of the Labour Party and the increasing prostration of official trade unionism to capital over the past quarter of a century has very definite roots in the transition to an epoch in which the capital order has no more room for compromise with labour because its own space for manoeuvre is rapidly diminishing as its structural crisis deepens. Capital demands absolute subservience and, if it does not get it, will adopt the necessary measures to enforce it.

These new relations correspond to the new epoch of capital’s structural crisis. It is an age which demands, at the same time, new forms of workers’ organisation which can take to the offensive against global capital and its state powers. Hence the urgency of the question of the form and structure of trade unions which needs to be addressed under emerging conditions which are qualitatively different from those of the past under which workers formed their organisations to fight for their class interests.

Up to the present, trade unions – formed under defensive historical circumstances – have adopted a wholly inadequate, defensive posture in relation to capital’s structural crisis. These methods of struggle are anchored to the old conditions and cannot serve workers in the emerging struggles. Trade unionism – if it continues in its presently defensive, bureaucratised organisational and structural form – will gradually sink and disappear into the quicksand of history.

This structural crisis of capital therefore brings in its wake a very deep and profound crisis for labour as regards the old defensive forms of organisation. They – the old ways of organising trade unionism – are fundamentally unfit for purpose in their present structure and organisation and this will become increasingly evident as capital’s crisis matures and its assault on public welfare provision opens up and develops. The need to throw off the old defensive form and replace it with the new offensive form directed uncompromisingly against capital and its state power will increasingly assert itself. This, of course, is no guarantee that the required historic metamorphosis will actually take place.

Labour’s growing crisis of organisation therefore arises out of the unfolding and intensifying structural crisis of global capital itself.

For trade unionists and for the proletariat as a whole, therefore, the emphasis must be on the perspective that the deepening of the structural crisis – where ‘even the bare maintenance of the acquired standard of living’ as well as defence of past gains and any attempts to acquire new ones – will necessitate major changes in strategy and organisation. Indeed…

There will be no advance whatsoever until the working class movement, the socialist movement, is re-articulated in the form of becoming capable of offensive action, through its appropriate organisations and through this extra-parliamentary force

(Beyond Capital, p.985)

Capital’s Offensive against Public Provision.

The gains made after 1945 by means of the trade unions and social democratic reformism were, contradictory as it may appear, a necessary and positive constituent of the inner dynamic of capital’s self-expansion itself [p.941, Beyond Capital] and continue to provide an outlet for the sale of its commodities. The state power of capital, in this regard, faces a dilemma as its structural crisis deepens. It must progressively withdraw the funding and continuation of social provision (health, education, housing, social services, etc). However, if it runs these down it will, at the same time, necessarily constrict an arena in which capital finds an important outlet for the sale of its commodities. The only way capital can seek to resolve this dilemma is through the transfer by its state power of all public provision and assets into the domain of capital exploitation so that all these services operate exclusively on a profit-only basis.

Attempts by the state power to resolve this contradiction are potentially explosive and the class-conscious mandarins of capital are aware of this. It would fuel the drive of the proletariat as a whole towards re-constituting itself offensively with new strategies of struggle and opposition to capital and its state in the form of new, more broad-based, organisations. Trade unionism, by itself, would be totally inadequate in this regard.

This process of capital seeking to resolve the current dilemmas it faces in the management of social provision is effectively under way. As the structural crisis deepens, it must move increasingly towards the completion of the trajectory of ‘public provision’ for profit. Just to take one well-known prefigurative example, in healthcare, the establishment of the ironically mis-named NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. The fundamental purpose of this body is to look at healthcare and medication provision through ‘cost/benefit’ calculations and decide whether or not a dying person’s life is worth prolonging on the basis of such hideous formulae. The local PCTs (Primary Care Trusts) – which government plans to abolish by 2013 – are also employing the same inhuman methods.

The undoubtable implication of these continuing developments would be, for example, in healthcare, that if the provision of a vital treatment or use of a specific medication could not yield a profit then it would not be made available and people would be left to suffer and die. In fact, in some cases this is already happening and people have actually been left to die because their case has come out on the wrong side of the ‘cost/benefit’ calculations. If, in education for example, the purchase of equipment for schools digs into the profits of the agency running them, then the schools would have to ‘make do’ and do without. This is the immovable logic of capital itself : hospitals and schools run on the basis of the most sacred principle of ‘production’ for profit. No profit. No provision. No service. i.e. service provided on condition of profit only.

The government in Britain is now planning the abolition of a whole plethora of state and sub-state organisations. In order for the proletariat to ‘pick up the tab’ for the onslaught on public provision, they are seeking to bamboozle it with an utterly transparent notion of ‘the big society’ which simply means, in plainspeak, you must run the remnants of your public services yourselves with your own unpaid labour or you will lose them. Capital will run any services out of which it can make profit and leave the remainder to you. Get on with it.

The depth of capital’s crisis could not be made any clearer. The inherent requirements of finance capital are hoovering up every last ounce of value. Any available value in the whole system of welfare and public provision is being sucked unceremoniously into the gilded chamber of finance capital. What is approaching very rapidly, unless capital can directly make profit out of it, is ‘provision’ and ‘welfare’ run by charitable endeavours, unpaid do-gooders and salvationists. The real outcome will be more misery, suffering and people’s lives sacrificed on the high altar of the Moloch of capital.

The transfer, en masse, of the public services into the clutches of capital is already pre-figured in, for example, the PFI (Private Finance Initiative) in which private capital not only owns many hospitals and healthcare centres but continues to reap a very fat interest from the ‘public purse’ for investing the capital to construct them.

It is feasible that a situation may arise where conditions alter to such a degree that capital could sell off infrastructure and land and, under such conditions, hospitals, etc, would be closed or sold off to whoever would buy them, etc. Again, what is operative here is the untransgressable logic of capital.

Such developments, in themselves, arise out of and are animated by the deepening of the structural crisis of capital which eyes, and must eyeevery area for capture and expansion. The extension of capital’s domain is complemented by the progressive and most crippling increase in the intensity of its exploitation of acquired resources. Nothing is excluded. Nothing is sacred. The forests have been spared only because of a countrywide revolt against their sell-off. The self-valorisation of capital is the highest, the most sacred principle to which everything else is subservient and subordinate, including (especially!) human life and well-being. And in the course of the unfolding of its structural crisis, this principle must be multiplied many times over with its disturbing and devastating impact on nature and the life of humanity.

Capital’s Offensive against the so-called ‘Benefits Culture’

Today, across the major capitalist countries, many millions are condemned to the prospect of indefinite, endemic, structural unemployment. Millions will never work again. This structural unemployment is multiplied many times over in the so-called ‘underdeveloped’ regions of the globe. In India alone, for example, more people are actually registered unemployed than are employed and this is only those who are registered jobless. Add to this many millions more who are unregistered, destitute, homeless, diseased without nourishment, healthcare or education and social services. The promised wonderland of capitalist globalisation is a distant mirage for these millions of human beings.

In the metropolitan capitalist countries this structural unemployment has given rise to what the print media scribblers and broadcasting mouthpieces refer to as the ‘benefits culture’. As with social provision in general, the relationship which capital has with this so-called ‘culture’ is charged with contradiction and potential social explosion.

The established relationship between the state and the jobless has always been founded on the former’s capacity to fund the benefits system. The contradictions of this relation must intensify as the crisis of the capital system unfolds in which the fiscal crisis of the state will be a spur to axing benefits, to transfer revenue from the jobless and place it directly into the coffers of finance capital. This is where the ‘cuts’ in public provision are ending up. To finance a parasitic lifestyle of obscenely wealthy, useless, featherbedded idlers who receive the highest form of ‘benefits’ known as ‘dividends’ on capital. It is a form of superexploitation and appropriation worthy of the tax-farmers of the colonate of the late Roman Empire. Its ultimate source is the labour and pockets of millions of working people whose public services are under assault. Capital and its state has declared economic warfare on the proletariat and its public services.

Axing benefits is, however, a ‘cut’ for commercial capital like shops and utillities and, of course, for landlords. To defer cutting benefits would be to intensify the fiscal crisis of the capitalist state. The falling revenues resulting from capital’s crisis drives the capitalist state to pauperise the jobless regardless of non-payment of bills, rents, increase in criminality, etc. In the long term, as these measures against the unemployed work their way through the socio-economic landscape, it will make matters worse for the capital system. This is why, in the fight against cuts in social provision, the proletariat needs strategies of struggle and forms of organisation which can bring together the jobless and the employed. The trade unions, in their present structure and organisation, will not be adequate for this purpose and this will become more evident as capital’s crisis progressively unfolds.

Therefore, as the fiscal crisis of the state deepens there will be the most profound consequences for this so-called ‘benefits culture’. It is interesting to note here that both the English (1640’s) and French Revolutions (1789-1794) were animated by, and emerged against the background of, a worsening fiscal crisis of the respective absolutist states.

Sweeping cuts in benefits and allowances constitutes a re-alignment in the direct relation between this permanently unemployed stratum and the state itself, raising the possibility of the growth of opposition movements where a subservient dependency on state handouts can be pushed to breaking point which explodes into open hostility and conflict. Because there exists no arbitrating and mediating regulatory mechanism whatsoever between this stratum and the state (as there is, for example, between organised labour and the state in the form of the trade union bureaucracy), then any conflict would likely to be more untempered and directly charged with an open hostility.

Of course, this social stratum is not ‘structurally antagonistic’ in the sense that Marx identified in the proletariat of his time because in the 19th century the unemployed were a quantitatively-varying reservoir of potential labour power for when production and circulation picked up. However, it is the direct, immediate relationship between this stratum and the capitalist state which is so potentially explosive. If 2 or 3 generations have never known what is euphemistically referred to by the capitalist media as the ‘work culture’ (in contrast to the ‘benefits culture’ of course), its ways, disciplines, rules and relations being absolutely alien to them, then what sort of tensions and hostilities will be created if they are forced to work for their benefits or lose them? Surely, it will generate resistance. Without such resistance, drudgery and slavery awaits.

If this so-called ‘benefits culture’ of indefinite unemployment is ‘beyond the pale’ as regards constituting an ‘industrial reserve army’ then where, historically, is it going? It is as if their backs are up against the brick wall of a historical dead end. They will have to move forward under fire or they will ultimately face the same fate as the Roman plebeian and die against that wall. The superfluity of this stratum for productive capital can only express itself in an increasing state-sponsored pauperisation and beggardom and this they must resist or they will perish. Such pauperisation, however, would undoubtedly have unpalatable consequences for the process of the reproduction of capital itself.

This social layer – whose number previously would have constituted a quantitatively-varying part of the ‘industrial reserve army’ – has become congealed into a determinate social stratum which has indeed become parasitic. This is not meant as a pejorative term but merely a description of the actual state of affairs. All benefits and allowances ultimately arise out of the surplus which workers are producing globally through their productive labour and are appropriated as revenue by the respective state bureaucracies. Out of this revenue the state pays benefits and allowances as well as the salaries of its employees like civil servants. This unemployed stratum is certainly superfluous for capital as direct sources of labour. However, they remain necessary for capital as sources for the sale of its commodities.They remain a component in the overall circulation process of capital. They are not labouring profit-producing proletarians but they are profit-realising through their purchases despite their parasitism.

The relatively ‘privileged’ mode of life of the employed workers in the metropolitan capitalist countries – who certainly today have ‘more to lose than their chains’ – also exhibits certain parasitic characteristics in that their whole mode of life is subsidised by the mass transfer of exchange-value from the superexploited labour of workers in other parts of the globe. Without this most terrible exploitation, the mode of life of the employed proletariat in these major capitalist countries would be completely altered. A sort of unconscious complicity prevails.

Accordingly, if the state slashes benefits, it will also block off a source for the market realisation of the value produced by employed workers, i.e for the reaping of profit, which will only serve to deepen the crisis of the capital order by narrowing the ‘market space’ for the realisation of value.

All this must become expressed politically. In so far as the ‘benefits culture’ is a mediating component in the realisation of value, that is, in the transformation of surplus value into profit, and thus in the circulation of capital, it must, by virtue of this, be drawn into it as a necessary part of this whole process. To throw a spanner into this mechanism is going to cause a lot of damage because effectively the benefits system constitutes an indirect subsidy for capital from its state so that this benefits parasitism is partly serving to perpetuate the higher form of parasitism of the capital relation. A sort of dual parasitism prevails with the source of the surplus being the labour of the global proletariat just as the ruling patricians and sections of the plebeian class in ancient Rome lived off the proceeds of pillage, slavery and tribute. They are both living off this surplus and, although the fiscal position of the capitalist state may temporarily stabilise, capital’s crisis will worsen with cuts in benefits in the long run.

At the moment, the capitalist state is tentatively holding on to a ‘bread and circuses’ approach to those living on benefits. As already mentioned, in ancient Rome, sections of the plebeian freemen were subsidised by the state out of the proceeds of slavery and tribute which flowed to Rome from foreign conquest and appropriation. The whole Roman state subsisted on these relations of servility until they started to disintegrate at the end of the second century with the breakdown of slavery which had to be replaced by the colonate; a ‘sharecropping’ forerunner of the feudal mode of production. The third century was one of social and political chaos. In a certain sense, the Roman plebeian was in a privileged position. But even within this class there were discrepancies of wealth and social status just as the patricians had such differences based on a system of ‘orders’, e.g. senatorial and equestrian orders. But as soon as slavery started to collapse and empire started to reach its limits, it was the poorest sections of the plebeians who were left to rot and perish. Destitute and starving, many had to put out labour services to the patroni of the massive semi-autonomous agricultural estates of the time and become bonded coloni.

Of course, no strict historical parallels can be drawn here but what is quite remarkable is the way in which we can see a certain replication in the pattern of the relations we see today. The proletariat of the major capitalist countries is in a privileged position vis-a-vis the workers of the rest of the globe and certainly have ‘more to lose than their chains’. A section of this proletariat is directly subsidised by the state out of the proceeds of the global exploitation of labour. But, like in the plebeian class of ancient Rome, there are gradations in the proletariat itself today which makes some ‘more equal than others’ and which creates the most debilitating tensions within the class itself. For example, in some quarters, there is a real, tangible animosity directed at the unemployed from employed workers, etc, and this is whipped up and encouraged by the capitalist media. The general impression deliberately conveyed in the media is that the ‘benefits culture’ is a seething cesspit of shirkers, thieves, drug dealers, pimps, robbers, addicts, swindlers, etc, as opposed to the pristine respectability of the ‘contributing’ employed. In reality, this petty criminality is only a subsidiary aspect of the life of the structurally unemployed. Most are not part of it but rather survive in an almost fatalistic condition of poverty. Again, like the Roman plebeian of the empire period or the colonus of the agricultural estates of late antiquity.

As the structural crisis of capital deepens, this ‘benefits’ layer will increasingly face the prospect of pauperisation and beggardom. Sections may even move towards fascism. If it remains as it is, with its political inertia, under radically altering conditions, then utter degradation and slavery awaits it. We have witnessed how some of the migrant workers are being treated in Britain today and the degraded condition of workers in other parts of the globe. The position of these proletarians is a prefiguration of what awaits the ‘benefits culture’ if the proletariat as a whole cannot rise to the challenge and move onto the offensive road against capital and its state power.

They already constitute a permanent, millstone around the neck of capital and its state, surplus to its productive labour requirements. And yet they are a part of the process of the realisation of value and so, in a certain sense, necessary for capital. This contradiction faces the capitalist state. The so-called ‘safety net’ of the ‘benefits culture’ is being maintained for the present not out of any sense of humanistic or charitable endeavour but rather because the state cannot risk the socio-economic and political consequences of removing it, not only for itself as the organising centre for the rule of capital but for capital itself, for the realisation of a not insignificant part of its value in the circulation process.

As capital’s crisis deepens, how much longer can this state of affairs last? The Tory government already has plans to cut so-called “benefits cheats” adrift from the system for at least 3 years.  And how are they going to survive, without work, without support, if government actually acts on such barbaric soundbites? A punitive forced labour for the state handout? The sick and incapacitated are already being forced off sickness benefits and onto the dole queue in order to make them ‘available’ for work. How long will it be before the state power of capital points the baton and barks : all must work for their handout or lose it? The 21st century workhouse and the charity of the soup kitchen awaits.

Privatisation is the Withdrawal and Destruction of Public Provision

The handing over of public provision into the moneygrubbing grasp of private capital means that no service will be provided unless a profit can be turned on it. And that must mean the withdrawal of many services which are currently provided and their subsequent ‘asset stripping’ or, at best, consignment to capital’s lumber room. It would give ‘downsizing’ and ‘streamlining’ a whole new field of operation and meaning. For example, you may need an expensive drug to keep you alive or maintain or improve the quality of your life. But if its prescription and dispensation means a loss for capital then you will not get it unless, of course, you can afford to pay for it. The number of treatments available and the quality of healthcare would sink to the level where profit is maximised. And that would mean a massive onslaught against health provision as we currently know it.

Capital itself ceases to be capital if it cannot augment its own value through its circulation in the social metabolism. Profit is therefore its most sacred objective and anything that hinders that must be steamrollered. The return of the capital advanced together with the holy increment is its raison d’etre. Without it there could be no accumulation of capital or a charmed lifestyle for the idling parasitic bloodsuckers who live a life of sybaritic luxury through their ownership of the whole exploitative process. The politicians of the capital order are peddling a outright lie when they say that private capital running the public services will not affect the nature of that provision. On the contrary, it will profoundly alter it to the detriment of many millions and, to a certain extent, is already doing so as many are already experiencing.

The toothless bark of the Labour Party leaders and the TUC that the privatisation of public provision is merely ‘ideological’ is a smokescreen to cover for their own abject subservience to capital. Blair and his successors (Blairite Thatcherism) have followed the same course as Thatcher and hers and Milliband will do more or less the same as Cameron if elected. The main parties are all parties of capital. They defend the capital order and its state power. If Brown or either of the Millibands were in office now, they would be following the same basic path as the current government despite all the Keynesian cant, platitudes, humbug and hypocritical bluster about cuts being “too much, too fast”, etc.

The historical truth of the matter is that capital has entered the period of its structural crisis on a global scale. And it is this crisis which drives it into areas formerly out of bounds. It necessitates the complete appropriation of all public provision for exploitation and profit. This is the simple truth of the matter and hence the agenda of capitalist governments – of whatever hue – to transfer all public provision into the hands of the financiers and transnationals. No amount of mealymouthed evasion or mendacity can hide that simple historical truth. The ideological aspect is merely the justificatory gloss employed to consummate this predatory process. Where was ‘ideology’ when Blair, Brown and their rogues gallery of warmongers refused to repeal the anti-trade union laws? And where is the pledge by Milliband (the son of the Marxist academic Ralph Milliband who wrote a book entitled ‘The Capitalist State’) to repeal these laws which shackle the trade union movement and which actually outlaw general strikes?

The main weapon of trade unionised workers has always been the strike; the right to withdraw one’s labour and suspend the monotonous process of daily exploitation as a weapon to fight for better conditions and wages against the employing class. Alongside and complementing the strike, the right to free expression, assembly, march and demonstrate are rights which date back to Cromwell and the English Revolution in the 17th century. Prior to this, anybody could be arrested for sedition and treason for demonstration or openly criticising the Monarch or state. They could be tortured and executed by authority of the King. Many of the rights we tentatively hold today were not handed down benevolently by the state but had to be fought for and were most bitterly won over the struggles, battles, blood and corpses of our courageous ancestors. The ‘official’ version of English history is a propagated fabric of lies and ignorance conveyed in the manner of an agreed civilised bargain between ‘Englishmen whose word is their bond’, between a grateful and respectful people and a beneficient and just state. The unadorned historical truth is indescribably bloodier, founded upon forced exploitation and expropriation, land theft, robbery, pillage, violence in various forms and intimidation, state mass murder and execution, dispossession and extermination and every known act of barbarism and sin under the sun. An unending river of blood flows through the violent landscape of English history. A professor David Starkey narrative, it is not.

However, the strike weapon has now, taken by itself, become insufficient to defend public provision against the assault by the state power of capital. Under the deepening crisis of the capital order, a strike would, in certain circumstances, offer the state the opportunity and excuse to close services or tender them out to private capital. There is now a real need to employ the strike weapon intelligently, strategically, selectively and politically to advance the interests of the proletariat in its struggle against the state power of capital. This is not to deny the central importance of the strike weapon but to re-appraise its role and employment under changing conditions.

We are now facing a wholesale assault on public provision. Closures, ‘downsizing’, ‘streamlining’ and the transfer of assets into the clutches of private capital. Already much of the infrastructure is actually owned by private capital. The prospect of ‘asset stripping’ is a real possibility as capital seeks to grab all the assets of the public services, etc. What we are now witnessing is only the beginning of an agenda to completely ‘privatise’ all the public services, excepting none.

Under certain conditions, strikes to oppose privatisation would not always be the appropriate response by workers and their communities. Under other conditions, the strike would be the best weapon. We need to discern the best times and conditions in which to use or not use the strike weapon. Consider the following scenario. An NHS trust wishes to close a hospital and transfer facilities to another hospital which will mean a direct attack on health provision for local people. Would a strike at the threatened hospital be the best response? It is threatened with actual closure because the trust is on a privatisation trajectory and wants to ‘economise’ services. Surely here a better response by workers and the local community would be the widespread organisation of an occupation followed by actual community appropriation : ‘This hospital has been saved from closure and is now communal property’. Appropriation would mean taking hold of all infrastructural and medical assets, including land and financial assets. The repudiation of the financial liabilities and debts of the hospital would be open to debate and action. Small businesses would be exempt from the repudiation of debt but the banks certainly would not. This would raise the question of re-organising and re-structuring how the hospital is run, turfing out the bureaucrats and establishing democratic bodies and committees to administer the affairs of the hospital.

An example where a strike or a ‘work to rule’ would be productive is, for example, where civil servants are refusing to impose draconian measures on unemployed workers like slashing benefits or subjecting the jobless to a even harsher regime of punitive measures than already exists at the moment. A strike or refusal to implement such measures would stop them in their tracks. Here a strike would be more appropriate than an occupation. The refusal by civil servants to implement such measures against the jobless would serve a strategic and political purpose in facilitating the disruption of the operation of the state power of capital against unemployed workers. 

Likewise the threatened closures of schools, care homes and libraries might be opposed by the ‘occupation and appropriation’ tactic. We would need, therefore, to develop the tactic of the selective or strategic strike to oppose the plans of the state power of capital to destroy our public provision. Needless to say, a general strike – which is now illegal in Britain on the basis of the anti-trade union legislation – is a direct political challenge to the rule of capital’s state power. But even such a strike does not fundamentally pose the question of what sort of society do we want now and for the future generations.

A strategic strike would further the interests of the proletariat as a whole by undermining the capacity of the state power to function and impose its will and rule on the community and the ‘commonwealth’. To occupy and appropriate is to begin to make inroads into the basis of the rule of this state power by starting to re-organise and re-structure the whole social metabolism in favour of human need against capitalist private profit. It is to undermine the rule of the capital relation itself. It is a question of control : who owns, runs and organises for the future, the social and economic infrastructure and metabolism? How can it be re-organised and re-structured to meet human need? How can the exploitative and dehumanising capital relation be eliminated from the social metabolism?

It is not simply a question of fighting for better conditions and wages which has been the traditional role of trade unions. The change in conditions with capital’s deepening structural crisis means we need to address the question of who owns and runs the whole social metabolism and for what purpose and not just for a bigger paypacket or better working conditions. We need to fight for a different society, for ourselves and for future generations. We have a responsibility to and for them as well as to and for our forebears stretching back many generations. It is also in their memory since many fought and died for what we still tentatively hold today. In this year – the 140th anniversary of the establishment and subsequent bloody massacres and defeat of the Paris Commune (30,000 were executed in cold blood by the Versailles forces) – we need to remember the past struggles of our class and the lessons they have taught us in order to move forward in struggle into the future.

Shaun May

March 2011


[1] Meszaros, Istvan., The Uncontrollability and Destructiveness of Globalizing Capital in The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time. Socialism in the Twenty First Century. Monthly Review Press, 2008. p. 61

[2] Meszaros, Istvan., Beyond Capital. Merlin Press, 1995. (approx 1000pp)

[3] See also Meszaros, I., The Structural Crisis of Capital, Monthly Review Press, 2010

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