London, July 11, 2005: an explosion of bombs in the Tube and on a bus. Terrorism seeks out neither the nerve centers of the capitalist state, nor strategic targets. No, it focuses on the “arteries” of the developed world, and it insidiously propagates the idea that the life of each person is in jeopardy, and can be abruptly terminated in a subway, a bus, in Madrid or in London. In the “democracies,” the state demands that each of us collaborate in the struggle to eradicate terrorism. One discovers that one is filmed, that each of us can be tracked thanks to video cameras; in short, that one is caught in the web of the state. The forces of repression, now strengthened, become omnipresent, the cops decked out in fluorescent yellow vests. Money flows from the state into the pipelines of repression, and the police now have the authorization to draw a bead on anyone whose behavior they suspect.
Summer 2005: the blockage of commodities imported from China in European custom-houses. The means of disinformation inundate us with images of piles of shirts, shoes, bras, and jeans “made in China.” The image of disciplined Chinese workers, in uniform, being harangued by their boss when there is poor quality work, ready to give their all to earn their wage, contrasts with the image of European workers out on the street, following the closure of luxury shoe factories in France. We are then urged to support nationalistic protectionism to protect the interests of “our” workers.
August 19, 2005: Hurricane Katrina breaches the levees on Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans is under water, tens of thousands have lost their homes, their jobs, their families, their near and dear. An unforeseeable “natural catastrophe”? No! We learn that the catastrophic scenario had been foreseen with great precision, and that the predictions were fulfilled with an exactitude that would be the envy of any scientist. The American government had decided not to allocate the resources needed to preventatively shore up the dikes. After the most powerful state in the world showed that it could leave the incredulous victims to fend without food or the bare necessities, President Bush, with his habitual air of the true believer, made an appeal to the feelings of solidarity amongst the population at large.
What underlying logic links these three recent occurrences that have generated the feeling that “nothing will ever be the same again”? And what role does the capitalist state play in all this? Capitalism, which shapes and directs the economy of the whole planet, finds itself in a unique moment of its historical trajectory: a vertiginous development of the productive forces that goes hand in hand with an exacerbated global competition, and with a growing level of destruction (see the articles on the decadence of capitalism in this issue of IP).
We are held hostage by the fear of terrorism, which can only increase in the future (see « The Reality of the « First War of the 21th Century » in IP 39, December 2002).The anti-terrorist campaigns of the state are not aimed at protecting the lives of workers. On the contrary! They seek to make workers accept the stepped-up level of repression: expanding the powers of the police and the militarization of society. The powers of surveillance over the life of each person aims not to protect lives but to control life and to prevent insubordination.
We are held prisoner by the gigantic economic upheavals in the works: the rise in the price of oil, the attacks on the social “safety net,” economic competition with China. The reaction of the European Community in the face of the flood of Chinese commodities onto its market is not aimed at protecting “our” workers, but simply the interests of capital. The economic development of China rests on the fact that it is becoming the workshop of the world, but first and foremost a hell for workers. In order to assure its profitability, capital moves European factories to China, but it does the same thing there: labor in Shanghai is already too costly, and so enterprises are moved towards poorer regions, more backward, further West. Pensions, social benefits, the right to housing, have been overturned in China. Side by side with the development of a middle class having access to consumer goods, the cost of labor-power has been slashed to the bare bones. While there are increases in consumption (parking lots, paid vacations, individual vacations), social dislocation also increases: millions of workers have lost their jobs, tens of millions of peasants have been displaced, and left with nothing. Capitalist production is now global: stopping Chinese commodities at the frontier puts the jobs of Western workers in jeopardy; those whose labor consists in finishing and assembling the components made in Asia. We live on the edge of a volcano, and we do not know when it will erupt. There is no opposition between the interests of Western and Asian workers, but instead a community of interests against capital, which enslaves them both.
We are increasingly subject to so-called “natural” disasters. Katrina was not a natural disaster, but the inevitable outcome of the operation of the law of value and the degradation of the eco-system that it brings about. The savagery of hurricanes and the destruction of the natural protections against them (barrier islands, wetlands) are directly linked to the trajectory of capital in the course of the twentieth century. It is worth asking why the American government didn’t act in time, when the scenario was clear and the resources to prevent the debacle were available. That failure cannot be explained by a purely utilitarian logic: the cost of rebuilding the Gulf coast will be far greater than the cost of preventing the catastrophe. The only thing that the experts could not predict was exactly when the catastrophe would occur. Each president, each political leader, could therefore hope that it wouldn’t occur on his watch, and that he would therefore be freed from having to expend the needed resources that could have been used for other political purposes. Why didn’t Bush devote the resources to protect New Orleans? Who would have thanked him? The poor blacks who make up two-thirds of that city’s population? The pace at which aid was sent, the delay in evacuating those without means of transportation, the disproportion between whites and blacks evacuated, demonstrates the lack of concern of the American government for those strata of the population.
The situation in New Orleans shows how the mission of the capitalist state is not to protect the lives of workers. What counts are the economic interests of capital and the intentions of potential voters. It is not just the politicians, bankers, and entrepreneurs, who are only interested in short-term profits. The capitalist class as a whole is incapable of envisaging solutions for the contradictions engendered by its own system (e.g. climate change, pollution). It turns its back on the future, and fixates its rapacious eyes on the present, leaving the future to the gods. Its blindness blocks even its own interests, and those of the rest of the world. Increasingly, man is “fateless” (to recall the title of the novel by Imre Kertesz, the Hungarian Jew who has related his experiences in Nazi concentration camps), a being whose life can at any time be shattered by the implacable, in-human, laws of competition, the thirst for profit, or the occurrence of so-called “natural” disasters; a surplus-being, whose labor is super-exploited or who is left to fend for himself, unemployed. He is a being whose future will be even more bleak still, when millions of young workers hit the job market, when the products of Asian factories will encounter still more limits to their markets (just as, in the concentration camps, the fate of man, of the prisoners, depended on the contingent arrival of other prisoners, for whom they had to make way). But, given the technological means created, insofar as the condition of dis-humanity worsens, the development of consciousness on the part of humanity is also possible. One facts merits emphasis: 60% of Americans believe that the money devoted to the war in Iraq should go to the rebuilding of New Orleans. The relation between war and survival is clear here. The intellectual and material resources to protect life against natural disasters exist; these resources are utilized by capital for the purpose of exterminating other populations on the planet, to create other disasters.
The reaction against capital does not proceed through anti-terrorism, or through the defense of “our” economic interests, “our” jobs, against the Chinese. It proceeds through the development of a consciousness of the global character of the problem: no company, no country, can escape the debacle. Nor will any domain of human life be spared: not the economy, ecology, nourishment, education, hospitals or health care. There is no paradise, no protected zone. There is a world to be re-made, and we have the means to do it.
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