Rethinking Anarchism

Notes on Capitalist Development and Our Tasks
April 4, 2010, 7:43 pm
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , , ,

I recently went on a road trip around the Midwest of the United States. I was impressed not by the differences between states and cities in this region, but by their similarities. Driving across the prairie into the urban centers, I felt like I was taking a core sample of capitalist development. Although each state and city in the Midwest originated in slightly different circumstances and around slightly different industries or sectors of industry, most states in the Midwest are structurally identical. The capitalist economy of scale has produced a world of cookie-cutter development. This means that the problems and tasks facing the working class in one region are most likely faced by workers in other regions as well. It follows that any innovation in tactics or strategy in one city can be replicated in another, with the proper level of organization. If we can make a breakthrough in one area, it could be relatively easily replicated in the same sector in other areas. This is a serious weakness of capitalist power.

It is important to understand the composition or capitalist industry in order to get an idea of the different ways that different groups of workers experience capitalism, so that we can reach out to and organize these workers.

Capitalism in the US consists primarily of only a handful industries, each monopolized by a handful of corporations. Here are the primary sectors:

1. Agribusiness- large industrial farms owned by Monsanto, Cargill, or ADM

2. Retail, Food, Service, and Distribution- shopping malls, strip malls, and big box stores, supplied by large warehouses and food processing plants centered in semi-rural areas outside cities and meatpacking plants in rural areas. Trucking, rail, and ultimately intermodal transit and shipping tie all the sectors of this industry together. This is the sector of the economy with the largest potential for growth in concrete numerical terms. It is also the poorest and most exploited sector in the US.

3. Healthcare- Large hospitals

4. Education- K-12 and higher education

5. Corporate Administration- corporate headquarters and the services they outsource (information technology, etc.)

6. Manufacturing- auto, steel, plastics, etc. This sector has been largely outsourced to China, although there are signs that plants are reopening in low-wage, non-union areas of the US.

7. Construction- residential and commercial construction is proceeding primarily through “green field” development on the outskirts of major urban areas. The economic crisis has brought construction to a halt, putting millions of construction workers out of work.

8. Military Industrial Complex- we cannot overlook the millions of people who work as professional soldiers for a living, as well as those who work in the arms plants that supply the military. This is an enormous sector of the economy with a high potential for struggle. It also is directly connected to other sectors, as many workers have family members in the military.

The structure of the current phase of capitalist development is clear. Growth of the capitalist economy occurs primarily as the expansion of urban areas through the construction of new suburban subdivisions, each containing new commercial areas. There has also been some redevelopment of urban core areas (Times Square, for example), but the major growth takes place on the outskirts. Growth of capitalism results in a geographic expansion of capitalist urban areas.

Capital seeks to expand not only through new construction, but through increasing consumption- of education, healthcare, food, retail, and services. The result is that capitalism builds a consumer-oriented “way of life” into its development. While previously, capital sought to increase high wages in order to increases consumption, the current strategy seems to be to keep wages low through expanding largely low-skill service sector employment, while making credit easily available, forcing workers into debt, which is then turned into a tradable asset by the financial system. The other solution to stagnant profits was to globalize the capitalist way of life, increasing consumption in some third world countries, while using others as a pool of cheap labor. This is an arrangement that began in the 1970s as a result to the last crisis of capitalist profits. Now, this rearrangement itself has gone into crisis.

It is unclear how the capitalists will rearrange the system to launch another wave of development. So far, there are no new ideas. They are merely propping up the old system through massive infusions of state funding, while forcing cutbacks on the working class. This situation is highly unstable and is clearly not preferred by capitalist elites, otherwise they wouldn’t call it a “crisis.”

What does this mean for us as revolutionary organizers? I would argue that since the sectors of capital I outlined above seem to be stable, and with the exception of manufacturing, seem likely to grow or at least remain in the US, we should focus organizing efforts in each of these sectors. The crisis has merely intensified antagonisms in each sector. It seems that the trends of the last 40 years in terms of capitalist development will continue, unless the system merely slips deeper into recession. In that case, the tensions in the system will only be greater. Our task remain in any case the same. Revolutionaries must build a base in any of these sectors capable of leading struggles against the bosses. This should be our goal.

It is also important to look beyond the US and begin to map the global supply chain. We need to build an organization of cadre organizers that extends beyond North America, and connects seamlessly with organizers and workers in Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe. The struggle must be as global as capital, or nationalism will remain a dangerous temptation for angry workers.

We should see the emergence of this new structure of production the same way that the old IWW and CIO saw the emergence of mass industry. And like them, we should find a form of organization appropriate to organizing it. Unlike the CIO, we should make sure that our efforts are not co-opted by a bureaucracy, but remain autonomous from capitalism and antagonistic.

At this point, the way forward would involve making a critical assessment of the capacities of the Left to organize workers, as well as the potential to radicalize part of the existing labor movement. We need a new proletarian political organization of revolutionaries that that can begin building mass organization and starting fights in each of these sectors.

As revolutionaries, we should advance the following principles in the struggle:

1) Rank-and-File control. All decisions made by the workers themselves. No bureaucracy above the struggle. Few paid staff, if any.

2) Direct Action. Dependence on tactics that build and keep power in the hands of the workers. No deference to politicians. Build our own power rather than build client-patron relationships.

3) Class Solidarity. Attempt to circulate/expand struggle to others in the same industry/sector and other sectors. Organize across national borders. Organize across racial, gender, sexual divisions in the class in an egalitarian manner.

If we can build organizations that are based on these principles in one sector in one city, we can build them anywhere with the proper amount of commitment and skill by dedicated revolutionaries. The task would then be to expand to every sector. Likely, the relationships between workers in different sectors would spread the struggle with minimal effort on the part of conscious revolutionaries.

This expansion of the struggle would severely destabilize capitalism, likely leading to  a capital strike (lockouts), increased authoritarianism, and possibly an attempted fascist coup. At that point, the only remaining question would be the timing of the workers revolution.


7 Comments so far
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It is worth mentioning that in many areas suburbanization is dying. Urban growth boundaries are effectively limiting development in many areas. Re-urbanization has been in effect, but the collapse of real estate and the need for new sources of capital will likely accelerate this process. I predict long term we’re going to see an evacuation of the suburbs, resettlement of dense urban cores with mass transit, and gentrification of urban poor to former suburbs. Ultimately I think there have been steps towards revitalizing production. Local agricultural production, green energy, and manufacturing are likely to become the driving forces behind the economy if we emerge from this recession.

Comment by todd

hmmm… that is definitely one of the ‘solutions’ that is being proposed by a particular sector of capital. it seems to me that ‘green capitalism’ is unlikely to ever really go into effect or take off, just judging by how van jones got pushed out of the obama administration, and the lack of consensus amongst elites about a way forward. the green capitalist solution lacks what the globalization and automation solutions lacked- it does not reduce production cost. it’s a purely political intervention against the basic tendencies of capitalism to lay waste to the environment by externalizing costs and seeking the cheapest possible inouts. i don’t think the capitalist class has the political will to implement green capitalism in the sense of overhauling the entire system. it seems likely that new state-funded projects will be “green,” but i don’t think this will fundamentally alter the structure of the US economy. but maybe i’ll be wrong, we’ll see…

Comment by erik

i meant-
“the green capitalist solution lacks what the globalization and automation solutions provided- it does not reduce production costs”

Comment by erik

Interesting discussion and I like those three principles a lot, you should expand on those dude.

about suburbanization, I dunno any figures on this but anecdotally Chicago has been restructuring its public housing in what was/is I beleive a national pilot project. In brief, the prices of public housing real estate went way up leading to displacement. This has probly changed w/ the financial collapse but I’d bet the underlying dynamic remains — ie, the crisis probly put it on pause but did not halt it. The result was pushing public housing residents out of concentrated locations, which often meant pushing them out of the city altogether and into the suburbs. This fits with Todd’s speculation that the former suburbs may become homes for more marginalized populations. In the Chicago case it also meant being further from service providers. I dunno what it means in terms access to jobs, and I don’t yet fully understand what poverty deconcentration means except that I have a hunch that the urge to have less poor people in one location was an impulse to disperse resistance.

Comment by Nate

One other thought – I think our current de facto approach disperses us early on (branches in various cities, various industries). There are benefits to this, but in the short term I think it slows us down and sets the bar higher, whereas a more single industry or single small geographic area would allow us to make a bigger short term impact through the concentration of resources/forces. Know what I mean? (I thinking here in part of your post on syndicalism where you say, rightly, that *where* the fights are is less important than having them in order to develop people.)

Comment by Nate

yeah, i think you’re totally right, nate. we need industrial *concentration* not just industrialization. the interesting thing with the internet is that it is possible to overcome the fragmentation of the dispersal of revolutionaries in different cities/sectors. it would be great if we could get a bunch of people to move in together, but it seems like our second best option is to do a better job networking the people who are active.

Comment by rethinkinganarchism

It is also important to look beyond the US and begin to map the global supply chain.

I’ve come up with a few ideas for reverse engineering supply chains, posted here.

Comment by Lori

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