The past and present atrocities committed by the advanced capitalist countries of UK, Europe and North America are now being matched, but not yet exceeded, by those of the militant Islamists in Syria and Iraq and the equally militant fundamentalist Zionists in Israel. Beheading, limb severing and mass annihilation from shells, missiles or shrapnel by the pro-capitalist warriors of the west and Israel is being imitated by the sword, the knife and rifle of the Islamic warriors of the former ISIL/ISIS of the east.
Whatever other motives may be involved, at the root of all these non-state atrocities are huge amounts of displaced (and misplaced) anger and discontent caused by increasing levels of individual and collective dispossession occuring across the world. Not surprisingly, a tsunami sized wave of militant discontent is occurring globally at the same time as the social and ecological decadence of the capitalist system of production is increasing exponentially.
The capitalist mode of production with its expansionary stages of market saturation, Colonial conquest, Imperialist expansion and Neo-liberal domination, has created previous historical periods and now new periods and regions of dispossession and discontent among the ordinary non-elite peoples of the world. For centuries, only the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie have consistently welcomed the domination of capital over the social and economic structures of communities and nations. The rest of the worlds populations of workers and peasants have reluctantly accepted this before (or after) resisting its imposition upon their way of life.
This bloody victory for capitalism has been via the destruction and dispossession of the many indigenous socio-economic resources and relationships encountered by its military agents. It has also resulted in the almost total exhaustion of the eco-systems upon which life itself depends. That process of bourgeois victory and global submission, however, has not removed the many levels of discontent and antipathy to the domination of capital. On the contrary, it has intensified them and this discontent has invariably sought an ideological framework to express it.
Ideology and opposition to capital.
Ideas are crucially important to human communities. Shared socio-economic conditions give rise to shared ideas which are necessary expressions of these conditions in order to ensure for the smooth functioning of economic and social life. These ideas become embodied in the cultural and, linguistic norms of particular communities. So when the economic, political and military agents of ‘capital’ set about the economic and political dispossession of communities, they not only create discontent, they also undermine or destroy the basis for the previously shared ideas. The replacement ideas, supplied by the bourgeoisie, are those rationalising the dispossession, exploitation and oppression of people by capital. For this reason they do not express the needs and interests of the majority of the worlds populations.
As a consequence, alternative ideas were needed and frequently sought by the oppressed; ideas which many thought might unite them in the effort to rid themselves of (or ease) the domination of capital. In the 20th century, working people were presented with three alternative forms of ideology, each of which promised to free them from all, or at least the worst, characteristics of the capitalist mode of production. The first two ideologies presented and embraced by many workers were Bolshevism and national socialism or Fascism. Both of these turned out to be elitist, authoritarian and hierarchical forms of government which continued the ruthless and unapologetic extraction of surplus-value from the working classes.
Both ideologies along with their anti-imperialist nationalist variants proved dead ends, for they sought to end the symptoms of exploitation whilst protecting the cause of this exploitation. The cause of all forms of economic and social oppression and exploitation is the dispossession of the means of production from those who work them – the working classes. The third ideological form offered to working people, promising at least the amelioration of the worst effects of capitalist domination was social democracy. This too turned out to overwhelmingly benefit capital over working people and its representatives have ‘guided’ the system to the current economic, financial and political crisis facing humanity.
All these ideas – condensed into ideologies – and put into practice by elites have proved absolutely disastrous to humanity. By instigating wars, genocide, further dispossessions, poverty and environmental exhaustion, Fascism, Stalinism, Maoism and neo-liberal social democracy, have proved divisive and counter-productive to the struggle for human rights. All four ideologies and their variants were capitalist or state-capitalist, patriarchal and sectarian.
Thus they produced practically nothing of lasting value to the majority of working people, women or non-white people. For a considerable period after the Second World War, there was therefore an almost complete absence (a vacuum) of aspirational ideas which could attract a majority of people. As a consequence of these predictable failures, in the late 20th and early 21st century discontent, for many people, was not channelled logically into anti-capitalism, but by a dialectical twist into nationalist and religious fundamentalist ideologies.
Religion filling the ideological vacuum.
In response to the many negative effects of capitalist domination, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and even Buddhism and Hinduism have all seen a rise in fundamentalist and militant tendencies. In the countries with significant Muslim populations, the struggle for existence against the capitalist mode of production – in all its varieties – has frequently taken the form of Islamic fundamentalism. The results of years of dispossession and discontent in the middle-east and North Africa has resulted in radical Islamic political parties and movements whose members are collectively resisting the domination of one neo-liberal, colonialist or Imperialist puppet regime or another. The latest, most extreme manifestation of this radicalisation process is the declaration of an Islamic Caliphate by the ISIS (former ISIL).
The growth and military success of this form of Islamic fundamentalist movement emanating from Syria (and elsewhere) is an indication that treating it as a small-scale terrorist outbreak is nonsense. This development, as with others, is an organised manifestation of widespread discontent with the capitalist mode of production as installed in the middle-east and elsewhere after the first and second world wars. For example, when a majority of the citizens of Gaza voted for Hamas it was not the case, that these voters were all sectarian fundamentalists. This was because all other methods of resistance to Zionist oppression had not removed it.
Many voted for Hamas because, among other things, they offered the most resolute opponents of the illegal occupation by Zionist Israel. All other political groups had compromised and failed. The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and ISIS etc., are movements of opposition to the direct and indirect effects of domination by the capitalist west and its puppet regimes. This is why people vote for such party’s or join their military wings. As movements of resistance to colonialist occupation or capitalist dispossession, these ideas and movements cannot be bombed out of existence as the bourgeois leaderships in Israel, the USA and Europe seem to think.
Indeed, the late 20th and 21st century political and military interventions by the neo-liberal west has created even higher levels of anger and resistance. Further oppression in the form of yet more bombing, shelling, drone-assassination, death lists without due process and genocidal brutality will only further entrench people in their existing views. What they previously characterised as the Evil Empire of the west will now be seen as reaching new depths of depravity. If previous atrocities and invasions have already motivated thousands to join religious militias, further atrocities will only motivate yet more to join these reactionary movements of opposition. Entrenched views and ideas can only be changed by experience and by ideas which more accurately express the changing reality and experience of people and communities.
And here is another element of the dialectic: These movements of radical opposition to the west and their own self-appointed elites, are reactionary, and are successful primarily because there is no real acceptable revolutionary alternative. Patriarchal religions and their fundamentalist affiliates, have become a pole of attraction for resistance to capitalism and its numerous effects, because they ‘appear’ to be a better alternative to accepting what is dolled out to them by the ‘Christianised’ capitalist west and their puppet allies. Reactionary movements against the western model of socio-economic communities, also appear to be an attractive pole of attraction because the other forms of anti-capitalism are split into warring, disrespectful sects with their own set forms of patriarchy and dogma.
For disillusioned, discontented young people in the east (as well as the west) faced with joining a sterile anti-capitalist sect to fight against capitalist imperialism, or going on armed jihad to confront their imperial agents, their choice is becoming obvious. It is to be expected that if there is no other set of ideas which offer a more acceptable perspective on the present and future than those currently on offer, then reactionary choices will be the default position for many. And it has surely become obvious to many that these reactionary religious fundamentalists are only fighting against the political and military agents of the capitalist west, but not the capitalist system itself. They attack the symptoms and not the cause. Furthermore they are fighting against all those who do not share their particular sectarian version of religion. Not only that but it is obvious that they are thoroughly and viciously patriarchal in their attitudes to women. What we are faced with, among other things in the 21st century, is a battle of ideas.
A new paradigm of ideas and practices are needed.
The religious fundamentalism of ISIS and those who have their own alternative version of fundamentalist religion, (Christian Zionists, Judaic Zionists, Islamists) have no ideas which will unite people of no religion, different religions, genders or sexual orientation. They offer only a distorted glimpse of the religious wars of the past, and offer nothing for the future of a mixed humanity except wars and terrorist discrimination. For some time to come, they will undoubtedly consume themselves and others in internecine mutual destruction, and unfortunately eliminate all those who get in their way.
Sooner or later, hopefully sooner, they will exhaust themselves and alienate most of their active supporters. Eventually, religious domination will be universally seen as a dead end – the relic of a gullible past. But meanwhile, what should also be obvious to all serious thinkers amid this global discontent with the current state of the world and its existing mode of production, is the following. A new anti-capitalist conceptual paradigm of non-sectarian resistance needs to be painstakingly constructed.
Ideas and concepts are essential to envisioning an alternative future to the current capitalist cul-de-sac of continuous and unlimited production and consumption. Ideas are also essential which envisions the elimination of the systemic economic and social divisions between those who command obscene levels of wealth and those who are submerged in absolute and relative poverty. These need to be a set of ideas which are not utopian, mystical, elitist or dogmatic, but are rooted in the present reality and resolve the glaring contradictions between the means of production and the mode of production.
The production of such non-sectarian and non-dogmatic ideas require a serious commitment and sustained actions which are consistent with and in harmony with the intended purpose. This would need to be a labour of revolutionary-humanist endeavour analogous to that essence of human labour undertaken by Marx and described by him as follows.
“We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose.” (Marx Capital Volume 1 Chapter 7.)
Ideas based upon the reality of the 21st century interconnected world are important as a conceptual focus for those who feel they cannot support the ideologies of capitalist exploitation of the entire world nor a return to the radicalised fundamentalism of patriarchal religions. This new paradigm of ideas need to also reject and transcend the previously noted supposedly anti-capitalist ideologies of patriarchal/elitist Bolshevism, Stalinism and Maoism or they will not attract any more than a tiny minority who will distribute themselves among the remaining atomised sects. The pieces are all there, very few things require invention. The task, therefore need not be idealistic or utopian, but a process of intellectual and practical labour which effects a change of existing form and requires activist exertions to be consistent with this revolutionary-humanist, anti-capitalist purpose.
Roy Ratcliffe. (August 2014.)