**These are Bob’s notes from Alex Knight’s workshop at the University of Maryland – College Park during Radical Rush Week 2010.**
College Park Students for a Democratic Society hosted activist/writer Alex Knight and his workshop, The End of Capitalism(?) last week, and it was AWESOME. Alex writes a blog The End of Capitalism and is working a book with the same title. He’s a Philly-based teacher and a former organizer with the new SDS. Here’s a description of the workshop:
Alex’s workshop explored the End of Capitalism Theory. The theory goes that Global capitalism is “ramming up against limits to growth.” This ramming is causing “massive shocks” on the surface.
Where did capitalism start?
Alex starts with the feudal crises of primitive accumulation. He cites Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, which posits that the witch hunts of Europe in the 16th century were part of the state violence that was necessary to boost the capitalist system into existence. BUT there were other ways out of the crisis of feudalism, and people were fighting for these alternatives. Take the Hussite rebellion, for example: a liberation struggle in the area now called the Czech Republic. The Hussites were brutally put down by the Catholic church. Most of the Pope’s crusades were against Europeans, heretics. This violence created the enclosures of capitalism. Displacement as a result of the enclosures. The enclosures were fences or hedgerows constructed when Feudal lords took Peasant land. The results is many landless peasants left to be labor for emerging industrial factories and early forms of mass production. Landless working class (proletariat) and slave trade are important features of these changes.
Why were women attacked? Why were women burned at the stake? Women were leaders in their communities and in heretical communities. Women were able to reproduce. Capitalism cares about a lot of desperate people eager to work shitty jobs for not very much money. Attacking women was one way to control their reproduction. Patriarchy of the wage: women lost their roles, violently, and forced into the role of a housewife. Women were doing labor that help up the community but weren’t receiving any recognition or wage. Public festivals, orgies, etc . . . capitalism targeted and erased them because they existed in a non-productive space.
Capitalism is a system that depends on the violent exploitation of human life to turn a profit, and must do so at an increasing rate. Now there are new forms of violence that enclose people within capitalism.
Consider the Congo, for instance – there is a civil war going on. Why? Control of resources; militias fighting with the government over Coltan, a mineral found only in the Eastern part of DRC and used in many consumer electronics.
What is Capitalism?
Workshop participants brainstormed a sweet list of some of the characteristics of capitalism: profit, supply & demand, markets & distribution, alienation, private property, externalization, specialization, fluid, unequal distribution of wealth, suppression of alternatives, violence, and competition.
Brainstorming characteristics of capitalism
“Capitalism is kind of nasty business.”
Why are we in this crisis?
Here’s Alex’s suggestion: there ecological and social limits to capitalist growth. Limits to growth are a good thing.
Ecological limits are the inability for the earth to sustain the growth in the capitalist system. Capitalism demands an ever growing supply of resources.
Let’s talk about oil. Peak oil: the point at which the oil industry is producing the most oil that it ever has or ever will.
A few facts: peak oil is a real phenomenon, US oil production peaked in 1970. The discovery of oil reserves peaked three years ago, the production continues to increase. What about solar and wind? Great on a decentralized basis, but neither provide enough energy cheaply enough to replace oil.
How did we get to this place? Doesn’t capitalism offer solutions to crisis of energy? Sure, but we know that alternatives to oil would be super profitable, and we haven’t seen it yet. Remember that 40% of the energy the economy runs off of comes from oil.
Social limits are the limits imposed on the system by people, societies, and communities. Social movements are extraordinarily powerful. Ever since oppression has existed there have been people working against it. Pretty much all good things that have happened in the US have come from social movements.
Global Justice Movement – people getting together against the policies of the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Washington Consensus. The Global Justice Movement was called for by the Zapatistas to disrupt the spread of neo-liberal economic policies. The Global Justice Movement was remarkably successful: the WTO has failed, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was never born, the World Bank and IMF have been discredited in the Global South. Latin America has been transformed as a result of social movements – right-wing, US-backed dictators have been replaced by populist and leftist governments.
In the past year, the Chinese Labor Movement has been becoming increasingly militant and have embarked on scores of strikes demanding higher wages and benefits. These workers are a brake on global capitalism – challenging the exploitation of multinational companies and ever-increasing growth.
What comes after Capitalism?
Two roads: 1.) Fascism, nationalism, militarism 2.) Democracy, sustainability, justice
Breakout groups brainstormed answers to the following questions:
Q: What have you seen occurring that would indicate a movement towards fascism? Reasons to be afraid . . .
A: surveillance, corporate control of elections, restriction on travel and migration, racism & xenophobia, corporate media and propaganda, the Tea Party, private prisons, and police militarization.
Q: What have you seen occurring that would indicate a movement towards democracy? (This is a harder question. Why?) Reasons for hope; change we can actually believe in:
A: localization, access to information, drugz, gay rights, people working together, co-ops, radical spaces, “green” movement, the US Student Movement (March 4), positive masculinities, mining resistance movements, DIY culture.
Alex pointed towards a common-sense radicalism. Instead of looking for dogma, we must use our experiences to explain the world and the root of systems of oppression. We need a holistic approach to social change. There is no vanguard. We need to work inside the system. We need to work outside the system. We need to build alternatives to the system. All at the same time.
Alongside this sense of common-sense radicalism is, what Alex posed as, a politics of healing. The notion that the Revolution is about becoming whole people and whole communities and capitalism is a global system of abuse and control and violence that must to be named as such and broken.