Socialist Worker

Plan for change

by Helen Shooter
Issue No. 1845

'THE WORLD is becoming a more frightening place.' Few would disagree with Alex Callinicos's assertion in his new book, An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto (Polity, £12.50). And the challenge he poses: 'What do we do about it?' is a question that will have been asked by everyone in the anti-war movement and the anti-capitalist movement from which it grew.

Many establishment figures argued, and hoped, that the 11 September attacks and the US-led wars that have followed would kill off the anti-capitalist movement. That movement burst into life at the Seattle protest in late 1999 and has been marked since by the great demonstrations in cities from Barcelona to Genoa and Porto Alegre.

Far from killing off the movement, opposition to war has deepened it. The brutal reality of 'armed globalisation' has united anti-capitalist protesters with many, many more people in the giant anti-war marches that have swept the globe.

The resistance began as protests directed against multinational corporations and institutions like the World Trade Organisation, World Bank and IMF, whose neo-liberal economic policies have devastated people's lives. As that resistance has developed new ideas, and old ones too, have emerged in a welter of debate.

Alex takes this as his starting point, outlining and surveying the main strands of opinion thrown up within the global movement. He looks at the strengths and weaknesses in these ideas. Throughout he argues the relevance of a distinctive, socialist, outlook. He argues that the enemy is not merely the corporations and institutions like the IMF.

'It is capitalism itself and the logic that governs it - a logic of exploitation and competitive accumulation - that is the problem,' he writes. He uses ideas first put forward by Karl Marx to detail how that system operates, why it creates vast profits for the few and deep poverty for millions. But, as is evident every night on our TV screens, the case against capitalism is not simply an economic one. War is the most brutal face of the global system.

Military conflict Alex argues that the roots of war lie in the competition between different states inside capitalism, competition which can explode in military conflict. Globalisation has not lessened those rivalries, but sharpened them. 'Capitalism thus is also imperialism,' says Alex. 'It comes armed to the teeth against external rivals and domestic rivals.'

But still, after the analysis, stands Alex's question, 'What do we do about it?' In answering this Alex takes head on one of the charges often laid against the movement: 'You know what you are against, but not what are you for.'

In 'Imagining Other Worlds', the book's powerful final chapter, he puts the case for socialism, a society based on democratic planning. He uses four tests as the measure of whether an alternative to capitalism is worth fighting for, and could work.

Justice and democracy That society must be based on justice and democracy, and it must be efficient and sustainable.

Alex argues that the market mechanism central to capitalism, even if 'reformed' in some way, cannot satisfy any of these criteria. Alex spells out in some detail how a democratically planned socialism could work, and why to do so it must be an international system.

But how do we get there? Alex argues strongly that while millions of people from all walks of life will and must challenge the system if it is to be beaten, it is the global working class which is the key to bringing about fundamental change.

These are the people on whose daily labour in factories and offices, in the great urban centres of the globalised world, the entire system depends for its functioning.

They have the capacity to break that system, despite all its seeming power, and through their work and collective organisation the ability to lay the basis for a different world. It is not a question, insists Alex, of waiting until such a challenge to capitalism erupts.

Instead it means the movement organising around immediate remedies to pressing problems - remedies worth fighting for and that if implemented would challenge the whole system.

Alex lists some: cancelling Third World debt, reducing the working week, ending privatisation, cutting arms expenditure, abolishing immigration controls. Anyone horrified by what capitalism and its wars are doing to the world and its people, and who has echoed the slogan 'Another world is possible', will be aided in their struggles by this book.


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Sat 5 Apr 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1845
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