2 November 2006
Y’know, I’ve been at this for what seems like a bloody lifetime, my first electronic missive hit the ether about 1983 when I started up an occasional column called ‘New York Online’ which for my sins spawned an eight-year long electronic journal of the same name running on my first Mac using a system most of you have probably never even heard of called FidoNet (this was before the advent of the WWW).
Back in what is the digital equivalent of the Dark Ages, only socially inadequate teenagers used what were then called BBS’s and ‘New York Online’, avowedly political in content stood out like a sore thumb. Worse still, my leftie compadres for the most part, thought I was more than a little weird for spending a good deal of my waking hours networking ‘alternative’ (like we live an alternate universe?) news and information around the planet. After all, who the hell used computers aside from the military, corporates and geeks, and lefties were too busy fighting the good fight to be bothered with such elitist activities. And anyway, who read the stuff? Very few owned computers, they were assumed to be far too expensive and difficult to operate (my first PC cost me $200).
But ironically, years before progressives in the so-called developed world cottoned on to what was happening, comrades in Central America, Africa and the Middle East were quick to exploit the potential of the computer to assist in their liberation struggles. Email enabled the exchange of information almost in real time, and desktop publishing software put the creation of print publications, from flyers to magazines to newspapers in the hands of people without either the financial or technical resources to use the traditional publishing tools.
But the fact that people and organisations in the so-called under-developed world were years ahead of the ‘left’ in the developed world, revealed a much deeper schism between the two worlds, one that only really manifested itself with the advent of what we now call globalisation.
The information technology revolution—in reality, yet another revolution in capitalist production—made the process we now call globalisation, possible. But it was in the financial services sector, banking, investment, and of course speculation in currencies and shares where the IT revolution first manifested itself, long before the WWW came along.
Communications satellites and leased lines made the entire global circuit of capital in real time possible, yet in another irony, it was the personal computer, itself the fortuitous spin-off of the military-industrial complex, that opened up the possibility for liberation movements to communicate information to the rest of the world.
Thus the two events, at virtual opposite ends of the IT revolution, set in motion a process that we now call the World Wide Web, the implications of which it took the ‘left’ the better part of two decades to recognise and (kinda) accept and even now when ‘globalisation’ in its latest incarnation is wreaking havoc on the planet, it’s not at all clear that the ‘left’ have yet ‘got it’.
The failure of the ‘left’ to recognise the fundamental changes taking place was (and is) indicative of a much deeper malaise that even the collapse of the Soviet Union didn’t reveal, namely the processes described by Marx so eloquently more than a century earlier—industrial capitalism— had entered a new and even more virulent phase that the IT revolution had made possible.
The globally integrated production and distribution that accompanied the global, electronically facilitated circuit of capital, enabled capitalism to begin a new phase of capital accumulation, only this time, without either the Soviet Union and then China to act as barriers to these unexploited markets, it was able to mount a frontal attack on those countries which had, following decolonisation, embarked on a route that followed to a greater or lesser degree, state-regulated development and most importantly, maintained the common ownership of basic resources such as water, land and raw materials as well as public ownership of essential infrastructure.
We had, with great fanfare, entered what was called the ‘end of history’, unbridled capitalism was we were told, the future. Socialism was dead and assigned to the ‘dustbin of history.’
However, just as with the industrial revolution of the 19th century, the latest revolution in production has unleashed new social and political relations, the difference being that they are manifesting themselves within the new global network of relations, an event that the ‘left’, still stuck in, at best, the 20th century, have simply not comprehended nor figured out how to deal with.
In part this is due to the fact that we still live and act inside nation states (the WWW notwithstanding), although all the indications are that the world is moving toward large blocs which reflect the concentration of economic power into a few giant corporations with their centres of control residing either in the US or the EU and the necessity for countries to form blocs in order to compete with and defend themselves against these two, giant economic and political formations.
Thus I think it’s true to say that we are in the middle of a process which on the one hand promises the emergence of a new global movement for political and economic change but on the other, still finds itself trapped inside the boundaries of the nation state, and especially of one, the US, which acts globally but still within the confines and needs of the nation state.
Perhaps the impending climate catastrophe as well as the genocidal actions of the US will force us to finally start thinking and acting ‘outside of the box’ but without a clear idea of where we are heading or how to get there, currently the situation looks dire.
One thing is abundantly clear, the ‘war on terror’ (WOT) is a strategy designed specifically to deal with a world which has responded to these new circumstances but unlike the challenge presented by socialism which had a ‘centre’ and at least theoretically progressive objectives, resistance has until very recently been fragmented and often reactionary in character, a response that the capitalist world has been quick to exploit, drawing on its history of racism to coopt its citizens in its ‘us against them’ strategy.
Thus the ‘WOT’ is a ‘catch-all’ strategy that can be applied to virtually any situation, indeed one of its fundamental aspects is the idea that under the banner of the ‘WOT’ it can intervene anywhere, whether the country is a ‘friend’ or ‘foe’. Thus whilst we still think and act as citizens of nations, the leading gangster state, the US, ignores national boundaries, national governments, national laws, in fact it ignores anything that gets in its way, enforcing its rule with the threat and use of, overwhelming force.
Some on the ‘left’, argue therefore that it is now more imperative than ever that we reinforce the nation state’s power, yet the reality is that no nation state is by itself, strong enough to resist (with the possible exception of China, but even China recognises that economic and military alliances are necessary), this is the reason regional blocs are being formed.
Yet it is also a reality that we live and act within nation states even if we have little or no control over them, so what is the solution? The slogan ‘think globally, act locally’ has a certain resonance with many millions of people both in the developed and developing world, it is obvious therefore that perhaps as never before, a ‘planetary consciousness’ is emerging albeit in faltering and very uneven steps. However, understandably, when push comes to shove, without a unifying objective, parochial needs invariably outweigh the larger issues.
There is however one other aspect that the ‘left’ and progressive forces have under-estimated and that is the fact that the ruling elites have lost much of their legitimacy to rule, hence the resort to the use of force and the construction of what is turning into a global, police ‘state’ that hinges on the use of propaganda, population control and repression, indeed the processes have converged as a result of the global information network. This is a formidable enemy, it has at its disposal immense resources, both financial and technical even if it lacks legitimacy. Indeed, its lack of legitimacy makes it an even more dangerous enemy.
Ranged against this is the emergence of an entirely new kind of opposition that depends on the distribution of news and information, which also exploits the global information network to inform and organise resistance. It is however, one thing to take on the power of the state and big business on the information front and quite another to transform this into action that can have an impact on events.
Given the parlous state of affairs especially that of climate change which even significant sections of the ruling elites now accept as being a reality that can no longer be avoided, I contend that it’s an ‘all or nothing’ struggle, the outcome of which hinges the future of humanity.
As the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change can only be averted by abandoning the capitalist ‘expand or die’ approach (and even now it maybe too late), it is surely obvious that without being forced into taking drastic action now, the major capitalist states are caught in a bind, for it is surely unthinkable that they will voluntarily abandon capitalism.
It would seem then that there are two major themes we need to adopt at this critical juncture:
1. The linking and exposure of the capitalist mode of production to the impending climate catastrophe and the parallel development of an alternative
The current capitalist propaganda offensive is indicative of the approach they are taking namely, to pass the responsibility to the individual. We are being asked to ‘tighten our belts’, consume less energy whilst at the same time, maintaining a consumer-based economy, an impossibility given how dependent the developed economies are on personal consumption as a means of extracting surplus value. Exposing the contradictions of this approach is vital.
2. Attacking and exposing the true nature of the ‘war on terror’ as a vehicle for maintaining imperialist rule.
It should surely be obvious that the WOT runs utterly counter to the idea of a global approach to tackling the major issues that confront us; poverty and under-development and the disastrous consequences that climate change will have on 2/3rds of the planet’s population. The idea of waging war on the planet, which is after all what the ‘war on terror’ is all about, is so monstrous a construction that linking it to tackling the climate crisis is imperative.
Yet the WOT continues unabated with ever more repressive measures being taken by the most powerful capitalist states even as we slide toward disaster. I am not sure how but it is surely imperative that we link arms with our brothers and sisters across the planet who as ever, find themselves on the frontline now confronting not one but two catastrophes.