Editorial from the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
On 26 September the latest in a series of events under the banner of anti-capitalism took place. This one was in Prague, and it followed similar events over the past two years in Seattle, Washington, London, Melbourne and elsewhere. The term "event" is used loosely to cover various forms of protest. According to the UK Prague edition of People's Global Action (PGA), protests include:
Strikes - demonstrations - critical mass bike rides - carnivals - street parties - reclaiming streets, government land or office buildings - music - dancing - speeches - handing out flyers - banner hangings - distributing community-controlled newspapers - street theatre - guerrilla gardening - handing out food - mock trade fairs - offering no-interest loans outside major banks
Faced with such a multi-faceted onslaught, it might be thought that capitalism would have felt shaken to the core. In the event it turned out to be what the New Statesman of 8 May said of the London carnival: "Just a pinprick for capitalism." It could not have been otherwise. PGA describes itself as "not an organisation but aims to support and strengthen the many growing grassroots struggles across the globe." Struggles against capitalism? Well, yes, as a declared aim.
In practice, all groups like PGA are doomed to fail to achieve their stated aims because those aims are entirely negative. They say they oppose capitalism, they are going to get rid of it, but they do nothing to put something fundamentally different in its place. So they end up at best with a slightly modified version of the system they "oppose". At worst, the time and energy wasted on reforms enables those who run capitalism to brush aside, to patronise, and even laugh at the protestors.
What do the capitalist media think of anti-capitalism protests? Of course they don't like the associated violence. The protestors "besmirch the Czechs proud history of peace", complains the Daily Telegraph (27 September). The Independent (28 September) notes that the approach of the IMF and the World Bank towards the opposition has been to debate with it. The head of the IMF said that "he welcomed the protests because they have made the IMF aware of poverty". Really? It just hadn't noticed it before, was that the problem?
The reaction of the Trotskyist press to the protestors is unsurprisingly two-faced. Rightly they recognise that the forces gathered for mass action in Prague were a very mixed bag: "insurgent youth mixed anti-authoritarianism, utopianism, and idealist third-worldism with liberal, single-issue reformism . . . a default political identification for dissident youth is 'anarchism', which can mean anything from vegetarian lifestylism to syndicalist trade unionism". (1917, Journal of the International Bolshevik Tendency, September).
But in that same issue the "deformed" workers' states of China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea are to be defended against "imperialist aggression".
We repeat what we said in a leaflet Against Capitalism?, produced and distributed in response to the London May protests:
"For a revolution to be any good, you have to be FOR something, besides being AGAINST capitalism. Any fool can be against capitalism. Some people are just against BIG capitalism (WTO, IMF, World Bank, GATT, etc) as if somehow 'small' national capitalism is a completely different thing, and perfectly nice. It's not. They're the same . . .Capitalism is commodity production for sale on a market. Instead of that you could have co-operative production for use and free distribution on the basis of need. This would involve no markets, no money, no commodities, no private property, no rich class and poor class, no Third World and First World, no profit-led profligacy of any description, and amazingly, no ecological destruction, no famine, virtually no crime, and no war."