Challenging the Power of Capital, What Forms of Mass Action?

One Year After the G20 Protests – Published on Global Research.ca, by Clarice Kuhling, August 29, 2011.

In June 2010, leaders of the G20 countries gathering in Toronto were met with a large protest march organized by union officials as well as by a series of actions organized by community-based activists. Police arrests of activists began before the march. Many hundreds of arrests followed, in the wake of attacks on property in downtown Toronto by some protestors … //

… From Anger to Action:

We need to have honest, open, respectful discussions that begin to grapple with the level of anger that the intensification of neoliberal capitalism has generated, and that begin to strategize about how we can begin to translate anger into a resistance movement actually capable of turning the tide – without self-righteous name calling or accusations. Unless we contend with the reality that some young activists will turn to particular forms of direct action as a substitute for any other kind of power, then we will continue to have militant breakaway marches and smashed windows. As long as a servile, passive politics takes the place of (indeed ‘substitutes’ for) active militant resistance, then we will continue to see part of the public expressing their frustration in ways that are not easily contained.

As long as a servile, passive politics takes the place of (indeed ‘substitutes’ for) active militant resistance, then we will continue to see part of the public expressing their frustration in ways that are not easily contained. And yet, an analysis of strategies and tactics is desperately needed.

And yet, an analysis of strategies and tactics is desperately needed. The unfortunate reality is that smashing a window, even many windows, does not challenge the power of capital in any fundamental way, let alone overthrow the power of capital. Profits are not impeded when insurance can cover the cost of replacing windows, and capitalism does not grind to a halt – or even turn tail and run – when specific meetings are shut down or interrupted or when the ‘symbols of capitalism’ (the windows of Starbucks and Adidas, for example) are smashed. Changing the world would be so much easier if this were the case!

Rather, the inequality inherent in capitalist production derives from the fact that the value of the work we perform is more than what we are paid in wages, and that difference (the profit) goes to the employer, not us. Disrupting this social relation means getting at the core of what makes capitalism function as an economic system. Because the profit taken from us relies on our continuing to work, effectively challenging capital would require disrupting this chain of profit acquisition through stopping work. And going from challenging capital to ultimately overthrowing capital would involve seizing control of, and paralyzing the production of profits in, these very workplaces.

This dauntingly far-reaching task of seizing control – collectively and democratically – of our workplaces and other institutions will thus obviously require large mobilizations. But it will also require large numbers of us actively working together, self-organizing – in stark contrast to more passive forms of political engagement (such as electoral politics) undertaken by isolated individuals. And this mass self-activity must be capable of disrupting the immobilization, powerlessness and cynicism that we often feel, so that we begin to experience our world in new ways – as makers of history capable of changing our world rather than bystanders watching our world make or break us. Tactics like an occupation, blockade, militant strike, or sit-in, for example, are some of the methods that better enable us to begin to take power with our own hands. These three elements – mobilizing a lot of people, in ways where we ourselves are active and not passive, and in ways that enable us to experience and wield our power collectively – are key ingredients in building our counter-power. (full long text).

(Clarice Kuhling is a member of Toronto New Socialists. This article first appeared on the New Socialist Webzine. See also The Socialist Project Canada).

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