THE BATTLE LINES:
DEMOCRACY VS. CAPITALISM
By Dave Stratman
They came from every corner of the globe: French sheet metal workers and Belgian farmers, Japanese fishermen and American Teamsters, students from California and Germany and Italy and Korea, environmental activists from Canada and the U.S., all of them united in their opposition to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its wholesale attack on any semblance of popular democratic control of our societies. Longshoremen shut down every port on the West Coast. Nearly 75,000 workers, students, and activists from all walks of life marched, sang, linked arms, spoke out, exchanged ideas and hopes and fears and addresses, and filled the streets of Seattle. They endured the provocations and clubs and teargas and rubber bullets of the police. They tenaciously blocked the way of the WTO delegates and kept them from going about their rapacious business. They brought to the whole world their message, that the cabal of powerful individuals and corporations who dominate the world threatens everything we care about most: our families, our work, our environment, our societies, our lives. This anti-democratic power, they declared, cannot be allowed to stand.
SEATTLE IN PERSPECTIVE
The demonstrators knew that they were making history. The demonstration brought together a truly global movement with constituencies from every area of life, opposing a system of elite power that has distorted life in every corner of the globe.
The demonstration was focused not on this or that government policy but on the system of elite power itself. The World Trade Organization is simply the latest organizational form for the exercise of capitalist domination of the globe. It represents not the government but the unelected and shadowy powers that stand behind governments and tell their front-men what to do. The WTO, like NAFTA before it, represents nothing new, but simply the rule by the wealthy which has been enshrined in our Constitution since the beginning.
The Battle of Seattle marks a fitting end of the old century and beginning of the new. The 20th century began with war and revolution—the First World War and the Russian Revolution, which went tragically wrong and began Communism’s long process of discrediting the very idea of a revolutionary alternative to capitalism. Communism played its counterrevolutionary role throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Marxism had its last gasp as a revolutionary theory in the 1960s, when popular revolutionary movements in France and China and Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and elsewhere were either co-opted by Communist parties or crushed by Soviet or Chinese tanks.
Since the 1960s it has been obvious that the great thing missing from the world is a revolutionary alternative to capitalism and communism. The popular movements in Poland and China and Central America and Eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s were trapped between capitalism and communism. In the absence of a viable alternative to capitalism, in the 1970s the movement in the U.S. splintered into so many single-issue groups, each of them perhaps worthy in itself, but always weak, usually on the defensive, and not daring to raise a challenge to the real source of the problems: capitalism and elite rule itself. The movement lost its faith that a new world was possible, and so had to content itself with minor adjustments of the old.
NAMING THE ENEMY
But the past two decades of sustained elite attack on working people around the world by corporate capitalists and their Communist partners in China and ex-Communist partners in Russia have made it inescapable that the real problem in the world is the system of elite power itself. Even a top AFL-CIO leader announced to a cheering crowd of union members in Seattle: "We refuse to be marketized. We have to name the system" that tolerates sweatshops and child labor, "and that system is corporate capitalism." (New Democracy has been saying for years that we have to "name the enemy" to be able to fight it. Little did we think that an AFL-CIO leader would take our advice.)
Something fundamental has changed. The pressure of reality has once again brought us face to face with the fundamental problem that confronts the human race: how can we overthrow elite rule and create a society that fulfills our best values and aspirations as human beings. The enemy has been named—capitalism and elite rule whatever form it takes. Revolution—the creation of a democratic alternative to capitalism and communism—is once again on the agenda.
A WHOLE GREATER THAN ITS PARTS
The many groups and individuals in Seattle coalesced, if even just momentarily, into a whole much greater than their parts. How can we sustain and build on what was accomplished there?
Let’s start with what was so inspiring about it. What brought people together was their belief that they share the same fundamental problem and the same solution. What they discovered was that they also share the same fundamental values.
The way to build on this commonality is not to abandon our particular issues, whatever they may be, but to link them with the real source of the problem and to begin to discuss the real solution. If your particular issue is the environment, deepen your analysis to challenge capitalism and a system that puts economic development before all other values. Begin discussions in your group of democratic revolution as the real solution, and talk about what a sustainable society could be like if conducted on truly democratic principles and how we could make it work. If your issue is education, show analytically that the elite must suppress human development to stay in power; show that truly democratic education will require a truly democratic society. If you’re a union activist, expose the unions as allies of the corporations and help build a worker-to-worker network to unite working people outside union control.
No matter what your issue, concentrate in your discussions on the values that took you to Seattle, the values that motivated people there, the values that unite working people the world over, no matter how governments and politicians and corporations and unions try to divide us. These are the foundations of the movement: our shared belief in the anti-capitalist, anti-elite values of equality and solidarity and democracy. These are the values that will enable us to create a new world.
THE SOURCE OF A NEW WORLD
Our theme in New Democracy has always been that the revolutionary movement already exists in our lives and in our society, even if it is usually beneath the surface and hidden from view.
Marxists used to talk about the new world being born from the lap of the old. What they meant by this was their belief that the source of a new society was in the economic development and huge material forces brought forth by capitalism. But the Marxists were wrong: a new world is being brought forth from the womb of the old, but not as economic forces or the creation of wealth. The real source of a new world lies in the values and social relations of ordinary people. The Seattle demonstrators represent a whole world of people.
Why are we able to make a revolution and create a new society? Because most people are already engaged in the loving, anti-capitalist acts on which a new world will be based. What will the new world consist of? It will consist of the very best of what we do now in our lives, our most self-confident, unselfish, committed relationships and values taken to shape a whole culture and all the institutions of society.
This is the problem: elite rule. This is the solution: real democracy. Transforming the society to create real democracy is the struggle which will define the new century.
Originally published in New Democracy Newsletter, January-February 2000.