Home » Hokkaido 2008  


Watch also...


The 2008 G-8 in Hokkaido, a Strategic Assessment

Bristol, Mayday, 2008


The authors of this document are a collection of activists, scholars, and
writers currently based in the United States and Western Europe who have
gotten to know and work with each other in the movement against capitalist
globalization. We’re writing this at the request of some members of No! G8
Action Japan, who asked us for a broad strategic analysis of the state of
struggle as we see it, and particularly, of the role of the G8, what it
represents, the dangers and opportunities that may lie hidden in the moment.
It is in no sense programmatic. Mainly, it is an attempt to develop tools
that we hope will be helpful for organizers, or for anyone engaged in the
struggle against global capital.

Bild: No G8 Action


It is our condition as human beings that we produce our lives in common.


Let us then try to see the world from the perspective of the planet’s
commoners, taking the word in that sense: those whose most essential
tradition is cooperation in the making and maintenance of human social life,
yet who have had to do so under conditions of suffering and separation;
deprived, ignored, devalued, divided into hierarchies, pitted against each
other for our very physical survival. In one sense we are all commoners. But
it’s equally true that just about everyone, at least in some ways, at some
points, plays the role of the rulers‹of those who expropriate, devalue and
divide‹or at the very least benefits from such divisions.

Obviously some do more than others. It is at the peak of this pyramid that
we encounter groups like the G8.


The G8’s perspective is that of the aristocrats, the rulers: those who
command and maintain that global machinery of violence that defends existing
borders and lines of separation: whether national borders with their
detention camps for migrants, or property regimes, with their prisons for
the poor. They live by constantly claiming title to the products of others
collective creativity and labour, and in thus doing they create the poor;
they create scarcity in the midst of plenty, and divide us on a daily basis;
they create financial districts that loot resources from across the world,
and in thus doing they turn the spirit of human creativity into a spiritual
desert; close or privatize parks, public water taps and libraries,
hospitals, youth centers, universities, schools, public swimming pools, and
instead endlessly build shopping malls that channels convivial life into a
means of commodity circulation; work toward turning global ecological
catastrophe into business opportunities.

These are the people who presume to speak in the name of the ‘international
community’ even as they hide in their gated communities or meet protected by
phalanxes of riot cops. It is critical to bear in mind that the ultimate aim
of their policies is never to create community but to introduce and maintain
divisions that set common people at each other’s throats. The neoliberal
project, which has been their main instrument for doing so for the last
three decades, is premised on a constant effort either to uproot or destroy
any communal or democratic system whereby ordinary people govern their own
affairs or maintain common resources for the common good, or, to reorganize
each tiny remaining commons as an isolated node in a market system in which
livelihood is never guaranteed, where the gain of one community must
necessarily be at the expense of others. Insofar as they are willing to
appeal to high-minded principles of common humanity, and encourage global
cooperation, only and exactly to the extent that is required to maintain
this system of universal competition.


At the present time, the G8‹the annual summit of the leaders of ‘industrial
democracies’‹is the key coordinative institution charged with the task of
maintaining this neoliberal project, or of reforming it, revising it,
adapting it to the changing condition of planetary class relations. The role
of the G8 has always been to define the broad strategic horizons through
which the next wave of planetary capital accumulation can occur. This means
that its main task is to answer the question of how 3Ž4 in the present
conditions of multiple crises and struggles 3Ž4 to subordinate social
relations among the producing commoners of the planet to capital’s supreme
value: profit.


Originally founded as the G7 in 1975 as a means of coordinating financial
strategies for dealing with the ‘70s energy crisis, then expanded after the
end of the Cold War to include Russia, its currently face a moment of
profound impasse in the governance of planetary class relations: the
greatest since the ‘70s energy crisis itself.


The ‘70s energy crisis represented the final death-pangs of what might be
termed the Cold War settlement, shattered by a quarter century of popular
struggle. It’s worth returning briefly to this history.

The geopolitical arrangements put in place after World War II were above all
designed to forestall the threat of revolution. In the immediate wake of the
war, not only did much of the world lie in ruins, most of world’s population
had abandoned any assumption about the inevitability of existing social
arrangements. The advent of the Cold War had the effect of boxing movements
for social change into a bipolar straightjacket. On the one hand, the former
Allied and Axis powers that were later to unite in the G7 (the US, Canada,
UK, France, Italy, Germany, Japan)‹the ‘industrialized democracies’, as they
like to call themselves‹engaged in a massive project of co-optation. Their
governments continued the process, begun in the ‘30s, of taking over social
welfare institutions that had originally been created by popular movements
(from insurance schemes to public libraries), even to expand them, on
condition that they now be managed by state-appointed bureaucracies rather
than by those who used them, buying off unions and the working classes more
generally with policies meant to guarantee high wages, job security and the
promise of educational advance‹all in exchange for political loyalty,
productivity increases and wage divisions within national and planetary
working class itself. The Sino-Soviet bloc‹which effectively became a kind
of junior partner within the overall power structure, and its allies
remained to trap revolutionary energies into the task of reproducing similar
bureaucracies elsewhere. Both the US and USSR secured their dominance after
the war by refusing to demobilize, instead locking the planet in a permanent
threat of nuclear annihilation, a terrible vision of absolute cosmic power.


Almost immediately, though, this arrangement was challenged by a series of
revolts from those whose work was required to maintain the system, but who
were, effectively, left outside the deal: first, peasants and the urban poor
in the colonies and former colonies of the Global South, next,
disenfranchised minorities in the home countries (in the US, the Civil
Rights movement, then Black Power), and finally and most significantly, by
the explosion of the women’s movement of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s‹the
revolt of that majority of humanity whose largely unremunerated labor made
the very existence ‘the economy’ possible. This appears to have been the
tipping point.


The problem was that the Cold War settlement was never meant to include
everyone. It by definition couldn’t. Once matters reached tipping point,
then, the rulers scotched the settlement. All deals were off. The oil shock
was first edge of the counter-offensive, breaking the back of existing
working class organizations, driving home the message that there was nothing
guaranteed about prosperity. Under the aegis of the newly hatched G7, this
counter-offensive involved a series of interwoven strategies that were later
to give rise to what is known as neoliberalism.


These strategies resulted in what came to be known as ‘Structural
Adjustment’ both in the North and in the South, accompanied by trade and
financial liberalization. This, in turn, made possible crucial structural
changes in our planetary production in common extending the role of the
market to discipline our lives and divide us into more and more polarized
wage hierarchy. This involved:

• In the immediate wake of ‘70s oil shock, petrodollars were recycled
from OPEC into Northern banks that then lent them, at extortionate rates of
interest, to developing countries of the Global South. This was the origin
of the famous ‘Third World Debt Crisis.’ The existence of this debt allowed
institutions like the IMF to impose its monetarist orthodoxy on most of the
planet for roughly twenty years, in the process, stripping away most of even
those modest social protections that had been won by the world’s poor‹large
numbers of whom were plunged into a situation of absolute desperation.

• It also opened a period of new enclosures through the capitalist
imposition of structural adjustment policies, manipulation of environmental
and social catastrophes like war, or for that matter through the
authoritarian dictates of ‘socialist’ regimes. Through such means, large
sections of the world’s population have over the past thirty years been
dispossessed from resources previously held in common, either by dint of
long traditions, or as the fruits of past struggles and past settlements.

• Through financial deregulation and trade liberalization, neoliberal
capital, which emerged from the G7 strategies to deal with the 1970s crisis
aimed thus at turning the ‘class war’ in communities, factories, offices,
streets and fields against the engine of competition, into a planetary
‘civil war’, pitting each community of commoners against every other
community of commoners.

• Neoliberal capital has done this by imposing an ethos of ‘efficiency’
and rhetoric of ‘lowering the costs of production’ applied so broadly that
mechanisms of competition have come to pervade every sphere of life. In fact
these terms are euphemisms, for a more fundamental demand: that capital be
exempt from taking any reduction in profit to finance the costs of
reproduction of human bodies and their social and natural environments
(which it does not count as costs) and which are, effectively, ‘exernalized’
onto communities and nature.

• The enclosure of resources and entitlements won in previous
generations of struggles both in the North and the South, in turn, created
the conditions for increasing the wage hierarchies (both global and local),
by which commoners work for capital‹wage hierarchies reproduced economically
through pervasive competition, but culturally, through male dominance,
xenophobia and racism. These wage gaps, in turn, made it possible to reduce
the value of Northern workers’ labour power, by introducing commodities that
enter in their wage basket at a fraction of what their cost might otherwise
have been. The planetary expansion of sweatshops means that American workers
(for example) can buy cargo pants or lawn-mowers made in Cambodia at
Walmart, or buy tomatoes grown by undocumented Mexican workers in
California, or even, in many cases, hire Jamaican or Filipina nurses to take
care of children and aged grandparents at such low prices, that their
employers have been able to lower real wages without pushing most of them
into penury. In the South, meanwhile, this situation has made it possible to
discipline new masses of workers into factories and assembly lines, fields
and offices, thus extending enormously capital’s reach in defining the
terms‹the what, the how, the how much‹of social production.

• These different forms of enclosures, both North and South, mean that
commoners have become increasingly dependent on the market to reproduce
their livelihoods, with less power to resist the violence and arrogance of
those whose priorities is only to seek profit, less power to set a limit to
the market discipline running their lives, more prone to turn against one
another in wars with other commoners who share the same pressures of having
to run the same competitive race, but not the same rights and the same
access to the wage. All this has meant a generalized state of precarity,
where nothing can be taken for granted.


In turn, this manipulation of currency and commodity flows constituting
neoliberal globalization became the basis for the creation of the planet’s
first genuine global bureaucracy.

• This was multi-tiered, with finance capital at the peak, then the
ever-expanding trade bureaucracies (IMF, WTO, EU, World Bank, etc), then
transnational corporations, and finally, the endless varieties of NGOs that
proliferated throughout the period‹almost all of which shared the same
neoliberal orthodoxy, even as they substituted themselves for social welfare
functions once reserved for states.

• The existence of this overarching apparatus, in turn, allowed poorer
countries previously under the control of authoritarian regimes beholden to
one or another side in the Cold War to adopt ‘democratic’ forms of
government. This did allow a restoration of formal civil liberties, but very
little that could really merit the name of democracy (the rule of the
‘demos’, i.e., of the commoners). They were in fact constitutional
republics, and the overwhelming trend during the period was to strip
legislatures, that branch of government most open to popular pressure, of
most of their powers, which were increasingly shifted to the executive and
judicial branches, even as these latter, in turn, largely ended up enacting
policies developed overseas, by global bureaucrats.

• This entire bureaucratic arrangement was justified, paradoxically
enough, by an ideology of extreme individualism. On the level of ideas,
neoliberalism relied on a systematic cooptation of the themes of popular
struggle of the ‘60s: autonomy, pleasure, personal liberation, the rejection
of all forms of bureaucratic control and authority. All these were
repackaged as the very essence of capitalism, and the market reframed as a
revolutionary force of liberation.

• The entire arrangement, in turn, was made possible by a preemptive
attitude towards popular struggle. The breaking of unions and retreat of
mass social movements from the late ‘70s onwards was only made possible by a
massive shift of state resources into the machinery of violence: armies,
prisons and police (secret and otherwise) and an endless variety of private
‘security services’, all with their attendant propaganda machines, which
tended to increase even as other forms of social spending were cut back,
among other things absorbing increasing portions of the former proletariat,
making the security apparatus an increasingly large proportion of total
social spending. This approach has been very successful in holding back mass
opposition to capital in much of the world (especially West Europe and North
America), and above all, in making it possible to argue there are no viable
alternatives. But in doing so, has created strains on the system so profound
it threatens to undermine it entirely


The latter point deserves elaboration. The element of force is, on any
number of levels, the weak point of the system. This is not only on the
constitutional level, where the question of how to integrate the emerging
global bureaucratic apparatus, and existing military arrangements, has never
been resolved. It is above all an economic problem. It is quite clear that
the maintenance of elaborate security machinery is an absolute imperative of
neoliberalism. One need only observe what happened with the collapse of the
Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe: where one might have expected the Cold War
victors to demand the dismantling of the army, secret police and secret
prisons, and to maintain and develop the existing industrial base, in fact,
what they did was absolutely the opposite: in fact, the only part of the
industrial base that has managed fully to maintain itself has been the parts
required to maintained the security apparatus itself! Critical too is the
element of preemption: the governing classes in North America, for example,
are willing to go to almost unimaginable lengths to ensure social movements
never feel they are accomplishing anything. The current Gulf War is an
excellent example: US military operations appear to be organized first and
foremost to be protest-proof, to ensure that what happened in Vietnam (mass
mobilization at home, widespread revolt within the army overseas) could
never be repeated. This means above all that US casualties must always be
kept to a minimum. The result are rules of engagement, and practices like
the use of air power within cities ostensibly already controlled by
occupation forces, so obviously guaranteed to maximize the killing of
innocents and galvanizing hatred against the occupiers that they ensure the
war itself cannot be won. Yet this approach can be taken as the very
paradigm for neoliberal security regimes. Consider security arrangements
around trade summits, where police are so determined prevent protestors from
achieving tactical victories that they are often willing to effectively shut
down the summits themselves. So too in overall strategy. In North America,
such enormous resources are poured into the apparatus of repression,
militarization, and propaganda that class struggle, labor action, mass
movements seem to disappear entirely. It is thus possible to claim we have
entered a new age where old conflicts are irrelevant. This is tremendously
demoralizing of course for opponents of the system; but those running the
system seem to find that demoralization so essential they don’t seem to care
that the resultant apparatus (police, prisons, military, etc) is,
effectively, sinking the entire US economy under its dead weight.


The current crisis is not primarily geopolitical in nature. It is a crisis
of neoliberalism itself. But it takes place against the backdrop of profound
geopolitical realignments. The decline of North American power, both
economic and geopolitical has been accompanied by the rise of Northeast Asia
(and to a increasing extent, South Asia as well). While the Northeast Asian
region is still divided by painful Cold War cleavages‹the fortified lines
across the Taiwan straits and at the 38th parallel in KoreaŠ‹the sheer
realities of economic entanglement can be expected to lead to a gradual
easing of tensions and a rise to global hegemony, as the region becomes the
new center of gravity of the global economy, of the creation of new science
and technology, ultimately, of political and military power. This may, quite
likely, be a gradual and lengthy process. But in the meantime, very old
patterns are rapidly reemerging: China reestablishing relations with ancient
tributary states from Korea to Vietnam, radical Islamists attempting to
reestablish their ancient role as the guardians of finance and piety at the
in the Central Asian caravan routes and across Indian Ocean, every sort of
Medieval trade diaspora reemerging… In the process, old political models
remerge as well: the Chinese principle of the state transcending law, the
Islamic principle of a legal order transcending any state. Everywhere, we
see the revival too of ancient forms of exploitation‹feudalism, slavery,
debt peonage‹often entangled in the newest forms of technology, but still
echoing all the worst abuses of the Middle Ages. A scramble for resources
has begun, with US occupation of Iraq and saber-rattling throughout the
surrounding region clearly meant (at least in part) to place a potential
stranglehold the energy supply of China; Chinese attempts to outflank with
its own scramble for Africa, with increasing forays into South America and
even Eastern Europe. The Chinese invasion into Africa (not as of yet at
least a military invasion, but already involving the movement of hundreds of
thousands of people), is changing the world in ways that will probably be
felt for centuries. Meanwhile, the nations of South America, the first
victims of the ‘Washington consensus’ have managed to largely wriggle free
from the US colonial orbit, while the US, its forces tied down in the Middle
East, has for the moment at least abandoned it, is desperately struggling to
keep its grip Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean‹its own ‘near


In another age all this might have led to war‹that is, not just colonial
occupations, police actions, or proxy wars (which are obviously already
taking place), but direct military confrontations between the armies of
major powers. It still could; accidents happen; but there is reason to
believe that, when it comes to moments of critical decision, the loyalties
of the global elites are increasingly to each other, and not to the national
entities for whom they claim to speak. There is some compelling evidence for

Take for example when the US elites panicked at the prospect of the massive
budget surpluses of the late 1990s. As Alan Greenspan, head of the Federal
Reserve at the time warned, if these were allowed to stand they would have
flooded government coffers with so many trillions of dollars that it could
only have lead to some form of creeping socialism, even, he predicted, to
the government acquiring ‘equity stakes’ in key US corporations. The more
excitable of capitalism’s managers actually began contemplating scenarios
where the capitalist system itself would be imperiled. The only possible
solution was massive tax cuts; these were duly enacted, and did indeed
manage to turn surpluses into enormous deficits, financed by the sale of
treasury bonds to Japan and China. Conditions have thus now reached a point
where it is beginning to look as if the most likely long term outcome for
the US (its technological and industrial base decaying, sinking under the
burden of its enormous security spending) will be to end up serve as junior
partner and military enforcer for East Asia capital. Its rulers, or at least
a significant proportion of them, would prefer to hand global hegemony to
the rulers of China (provided the latter abandon Communism) than to return
to any sort of New Deal compromise with their ‘own’ working classes.

A second example lies in the origins of what has been called the current
‘Bretton Woods II’ system of currency arrangements, which underline a close
working together of some ‘surplus’ and ‘deficit’ countries within global
circuits. The macroeconomic manifestation of the planetary restructuring
outlined in XIX underlines both the huge US trade deficit that so much seem
to worry many commentators, and the possibility to continually generate new
debt instruments like the one that has recently resulted in the sub-prime
crisis. The ongoing recycling of accumulated surplus of countries exporting
to the USA such as China and oil producing countries is what has allowed
financiers to create new credit instruments in the USA. Hence, the ‘deal’
offered by the masters in the United States to its commoners has been this:
‘you, give us a relative social peace and accept capitalist markets as the
main means through which you reproduce your own livelihoods, and we will
give you access to cheaper consumption goods, access to credit for buying
cars and homes, and access to education, health, pensions and social
security through the speculative means of stock markets and housing prices.’
Similar compromises were reached in all the G8 countries.

Meanwhile, there is the problem of maintaining any sort of social peace with
the hundreds of millions of unemployed, underemployed, dispossessed
commoners currently swelling the shanty-towns of Asia, Africa, and Latin
America as a result of ongoing enclosures (which have speeded up within
China and India in particular, even as ‘structural adjustment policies’ in
Africa and Latin America have been derailed). Any prospect of maintaining
peace in these circumstances would ordinarily require either extremely high
rates of economic growth‹which globally have not been forthcoming, since
outside of China, growth rates in the developing world have been much lower
than they were in the ‘50s, ‘60s, or even ‘70s‹or extremely high levels of
repression, lest matters descend into rebellion or generalized civil war.
The latter has of course occurred in many parts of the world currently
neglected by capital, but in favored regions, such as the coastal provinces
of China, or ‘free trade’ zones of India, Egypt, or Mexico, commoners are
being offered a different sort of deal: industrial employment at wages that,
while very low by international standards, are still substantially higher
than anything currently obtainable in the impoverished countryside; and
above all the promise, through the intervention of Western markets and
(privatized) knowledge, of gradually improving conditions of living. While
over the least few years wages in many such areas seem to be growing, thanks
to the intensification of popular struggles, such gains are inherently
vulnerable: the effect of recent food inflation has been to cut real wages
back dramatically‹and threaten millions with starvation.

What we really want to stress here, though, is that the long-term promise
being offered to the South is just as untenable as the idea that US or
European consumers can indefinitely expand their conditions of life through
the use of mortgages and credit cards.

What’s being offered the new dispossessed is a transposition of the American
dream. The idea is that the lifestyle and consumption patterns of existing
Chinese, Indian, or Brazilian or Zambian urban middle classes (already
modeled on Northern ones) will eventually become available to the children
of today’s miners, maquila or plantation laborers, until, ultimately,
everyone on earth is brought up to roughly the same level of consumption.
Put in these terms, the argument is absurd. The idea that all six billion of
us can become ‘middle class’ is obviously impossible. First of all there is
a simple problem of resources. It doesn’t matter how many bottles we recycle
or how energy efficient are the light bulbs we use, there’s just no way the
earth’s ecosystem can accommodate six billion people driving in private cars
to work in air-conditioned cubicles before periodically flying off to
vacation in Acapulco or Tahiti. To maintain the style of living and
producing in common we now identify with ‘middle classness’ on a planetary
scale would require several additional planets.

This much has been pointed out repeatedly. But the second point is no less
important. What this vision of betterment ultimately proposes is that it
would be possible to build universal prosperity and human dignity on a
system of wage labor. This is fantasy. Historically, wages are always the
contractual face for system of command and degradation, and a means of
disguising exploitation: expressing value for work only on condition of
stealing value without work‹ and there is no reason to believe they could
ever be anything else. This is why, as history has also shown, human beings
will always avoid working for wages if they have any other viable option.
For a system based on wage labor to come into being, such options must
therefore be made unavailable. This in turn means that such systems are
always premised on structures of exclusion: on the prior existence of
borders and property regimes maintained by violence. Finally, historically,
it has always proved impossible to maintain any sizeable class of
wage-earners in relative prosperity without basing that prosperity, directly
or indirectly, on the unwaged labor of others‹on slave-labor, women’s
domestic labor, the forced labor of colonial subjects, the work of women and
men in peasant communities halfway around the world‹by people who are even
more systematically exploited, degraded, and immiserated. For that reason,
such systems have always depended not only on setting wage-earners against
each other by inciting bigotry, prejudice, hostility, resentment, violence,
but also by inciting the same between men and women, between the people of
different continents (“race”), between the generations.

From the perspective of the whole, then, the dream of universal middle class
‘betterment’ must necessarily be an illusion constructed in between the
Scylla of ecological disaster, and the Charybdis of poverty, detritus, and
hatred: precisely, the two pillars of today’s strategic impasse faced by the


How then do we describe the current impasse of capitalist governance?

To a large degree, it is the effect of a sudden and extremely effective
upswing of popular resistance‹one all the more extraordinary considering the
huge resources that had been invested in preventing such movements from
breaking out.

On the one hand, the turn of the millennium saw a vast and sudden flowering
of new anti-capitalist movements, a veritable planetary uprising against
neoliberalism by commoners in Latin America, India, Africa, Asia, across the
North Atlantic world’s former colonies and ultimately, within the cities of
the former colonial powers themselves. As a result, the neoliberal project
lies shattered. What came to be called the ‘anti-globalization’ movement
took aim at the trade bureaucracies‹the obvious weak link in the emerging
institutions of global administration‹but it was merely the most visible
aspect of this uprising. It was however an extraordinarily successful one.
Not only was the WTO halted in its tracks, but all major trade initiatives
(MAI, FTAAŠ) scuttled. The World Bank was hobbled and the power of the IMF
over most of the world’s population, effectively, destroyed. The latter,
once the terror of the Global South, is now a shattered remnant of its
former self, reduced to selling off its gold reserves and desperately
searching for a new global mission.

In many ways though spectacular street actions were merely the most visible
aspects of much broader changes: the resurgence of labor unions, in certain
parts of the world, the flowering of economic and social alternatives on the
grassroots levels in every part of the world, from new forms of direct
democracy of indigenous communities like El Alto in Bolivia or self-managed
factories in Paraguay, to township movements in South Africa, farming
cooperatives in India, squatters’ movements in Korea, experiments in
permaculture in Europe or ‘Islamic economics’ among the urban poor in the
Middle East. We have seen the development of thousands of forms of mutual
aid association, most of which have not even made it onto the radar of the
global media, often have almost no ideological unity and which may not even
be aware of each other’s existence, but nonetheless share a common desire to
mark a practical break with capitalism, and which, most importantly, hold
out the prospect of creating new forms of planetary commons that can‹and in
some cases are‹beginning to knit together to provide the outlines of genuine
alternative vision of what a non-capitalist future might look like.

The reaction of the world’s rulers was predictable. The planetary uprising
had occurred during a time when the global security apparatus was beginning
to look like it lacked a purpose, when the world threatened to return to a
state of peace. The response‹aided of course, by the intervention of some of
the US’ former Cold War allies, reorganized now under the name of Al
Qaeda‹was a return to global warfare. But this too failed. The ‘war on
terror’‹as an attempt to impose US military power as the ultimate enforcer
of the neoliberal model‹has collapsed as well in the face of almost
universal popular resistance. This is the nature of their ‘impasse’.

At the same time, the top-heavy, inefficient US model of military
capitalism‹a model created in large part to prevent the dangers of social
movements, but which the US has also sought to export to some degree simply
because of its profligacy and inefficiency, to prevent the rest of the world
from too rapidly overtaking them‹has proved so wasteful of resources that it
threatens to plunge the entire planet into ecological and social crisis.
Drought, disaster, famines, combine with endless campaigns of enclosure,
foreclosure, to cast the very means of survival‹food, water, shelter‹into
question for the bulk of the world’s population.


In the rulers’ language the crisis understood, first and foremost, as a
problem of regulating cash flows, of reestablishing, as they like to put it,
a new ‘financial architecture’. Obviously they are aware of the broader
problems. Their promotional literature has always been full of it. From the
earliest days of the G7, through to the days after the Cold War, when Russia
was added as a reward for embracing capitalism, they have always claimed
that their chief concerns include

• the reduction of global poverty

• sustainable environmental policies

• sustainable global energy policies

• stable financial institutions governing global trade and currency

If one were to take such claims seriously, it’s hard to see their overall
performance as anything but a catastrophic failure. At the present moment,
all of these are in crisis mode: there are food riots, global warming, peak
oil, and the threat of financial meltdown, bursting of credit bubbles,
currency crises, a global credit crunch. [**Failure on this scale however,
opens opportunities for the G8 themselves, as summit of the global
bureaucracy, to reconfigure the strategic horizon. Therefore, it’s always
with the last of these that they are especially concerned. ]The real
problem, from the perspective of the G8, is one of reinvestment:
particularly, of the profits of the energy sector, but also, now, of
emerging industrial powers outside the circle of the G8 itself. The
neoliberal solution in the ‘70s had been to recycle OPEC’s petrodollars into
banks that would use it much of the world into debt bondage, imposing
regimes of fiscal austerity that, for the most part, stopped development
(and hence, the emergence potential rivals) in its tracks. By the ‘90s,
however, much East Asia in particular had broken free of this regime.
Attempts to reimpose IMF-style discipline during the Asian financial crisis
of 1997 largely backfired. So a new compromise was found, the so-called
Bretton Woods II: to recycle the profits from the rapidly expanding
industrial economies of East Asia into US treasury debt, artificially
supporting the value of the dollar and allowing a continual stream of cheap
exports that, aided by the US housing bubble, kept North Atlantic economies
afloat and buy off workers there with cheap oil and even cheaper consumer
goods even as real wages shrank. This solution however soon proved a
temporary expedient. Bush regime’s attempt to lock it in by the invasion of
Iraq, which was meant to lead to the forced privatization of Iraqi oil
fields, and, ultimately, of the global oil industry as a whole, collapsed in
the face of massive popular resistance (just as Saddam Hussein’s attempt to
introduce neoliberal reforms in Iraq had failed when he was still acting as
American deputy in the ‘90s). Instead, the simultaneous demand for petroleum
for both Chinese manufacturers and American consumers caused a dramatic
spike in the price of oil. What’s more, rents from oil and gas production
are now being used to pay off the old debts from the ‘80s (especially in
Asia and Latin America, which have by now paid back their IMF debts
entirely), and‹increasingly‹to create state-managed Sovereign Wealth Funds
that have largely replaced institutions like the IMF as the institutions
capable of making long-term strategic investments. The IMF, purposeless,
tottering on the brink of insolvency, has been reduced to trying to come up
with ‘best practices’ guidelines for fund managers working for governments
in Singapore, Seoul, and Abu Dhabi.

There can be no question this time around of freezing out countries like
China, India, or even Brazil. The question for capital’s planners, rather,
is how to channel these new concentrations of capital in such a way that
they reinforce the logic of the system instead of undermining it.


How can this be done? This is where appeals to universal human values, to
common membership in an ‘international community’ come in to play. ‘We all
must pull together for the good of the planet,’ we will be told. The money
must be reinvested ‘to save the earth.’

To some degree this was always the G8 line: this is a group has been making
an issue of climate change since 1983. Doing so was in one sense a response
to the environmental movements of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The resultant emphasis
on biofuels and ‘green energy’ was from their point of view, the perfect
strategy, seizing on an issue that seemed to transcend class, appropriating
ideas and issues that emerged from social movements (and hence coopting and
undermining especially their radical wings), and finally, ensuring such
initiatives are pursued not through any form of democratic self-organization
but ‘market mechanisms’‹to effective make the sense of public interest
productive for capitalism.

What we can expect now is a two-pronged attack. On the one hand, they will
use the crisis to attempt to reverse the gains of past social movements: to
put nuclear energy back on the table to deal with the energy crisis and
global warming, or genetically modified foods to deal with the food crisis.
Prime Minister Fukuda, the host of the current summit, for example, is
already proposing the nuclear power is the ‘solution’ to the global warming
crisis, even as the German delegation resists. On the other, and even more
insidiously, they will try once again to co-opt the ideas and solutions that
have emerged from our struggles as a way of ultimately undermining them.
Appropriating such ideas is simply what rulers do: the bosses brain is
always under the workers’ hat. But the ultimate aim is to answer the
intensification of class struggle, of the danger of new forms of democracy,
with another wave of enclosures, to restore a situation where commoners’
attempts to create broader regimes of cooperation are stymied, and people
are plunged back into mutual competition.

We can already see the outlines of how this might be done. There are already
suggestions that Sovereign Wealth Funds put aside a certain (miniscule)
proportion of their money for food aid, but only as tied to a larger project
of global financial restructuring. The World Bank, largely bereft of its
earlier role organizing dams and pipe-lines across the world, has been
funding development in China’s poorer provinces, freeing the Chinese
government to carry out similar projects in Southeast Asia, Africa, and even
Latin America (where, of course, they cannot effectively be held to any sort
of labor or environmental standards). There is the possibility of a new
class deal in China itself, whose workers can be allowed higher standards of
living if new low wage zones are created elsewhere‹for instance, Africa (the
continent where struggles over maintaining the commons have been most
intense in current decades)‹with the help of Chinese infrastructural
projects. Above of all, money will be channeled into addressing climate
change, into the development of alternative energy, which will require
enormous investments, in such a way as to ensure that whatever energy
resources do become important in this millennium, they can never be
democratized‹that the emerging notion of a petroleum commons, that energy
resources are to some degree a common patrimony meant primarily to serve the
community as a whole, that is beginning to develop in parts of the Middle
East and South America‹not be reproduced in whatever comes next.

Since this will ultimately have to be backed up by the threat of violence,
the G8 will inevitably have to struggle with how to (yet again) rethink
enforcement mechanisms. The latest move , now that the US ‘war on terror’
paradigm has obviously failed, would appear to be a return to NATO, part of
a reinvention of the ‘European security architecture’ being proposed at the
upcoming G8 meetings in Italy in 2009 on the 60th anniversary of NATO’s
foundation‹but part of a much broader movement of the militarization of
social conflict, projecting potential resource wars, demographic upheavals
resulting from climate change, and radical social movements as potential
military problems to be resolved by military means. Opposition to this new
project is already shaping up as the major new European mobilization for the
year following the current G-8.


While the G-8 sit at the pinnacle of a system of violence, their preferred
idiom is monetary. Their impulse whenever possible is to translate all
problems into money, financial structures, currency flows‹a substance whose
movements they carefully monitor and control.

Money, on might say, is their poetry‹a poetry whose letters are written in
our blood. It is their highest and most abstract form of expression, their
way of making statements about the ultimate truth of the world, even if it
operates in large part by making things disappear. How else could it be
possible to argue‹no, to assume as a matter of common sense‹that the love,
care, and concern of a person who tends to the needs of children, teaching,
minding, helping them to become decent , thoughtful, human beings, or who
grows and prepares food, is worth ten thousand times less than someone who
spends the same time designing a brand logo, moving abstract blips across a
globe, or denying others health care.

The role of money however has changed profoundly since 1971 when the dollar
was delinked from gold. This has created a profound realignment of temporal
horizons. Once money could be said to be primarily congealed results of past
profit and exploitation. As capital, it was dead labor. Millions of
indigenous Americans and Africans had their lives pillaged and destroyed in
the gold mines in order to be rendered into value. The logic of finance
capital, of credit structures, certainly always existed as well (it is at
least as old as industrial capital; possibly older), but in recent decades
these logic of financial capital has come to echo and re-echo on every level
of our lives. In the UK 97% of money in circulation is debt, in the US, 98%.
Governments run on deficit financing, wealthy economies on consumer debt,
the poor are enticed with microcredit schemes, debts are packaged and
repackaged in complex financial derivatives and traded back and forth. Debt
however is simply a promise, the expectation of future profit; capital thus
increasingly brings the future into the present‹a future that, it insists,
must always be the same in nature, even if must also be greater in
magnitude, since of course the entire system is premised on continual
growth. Where once financiers calculated and traded in the precise measure
of our degradation, having taken everything from us and turned it into
money, now money has flipped, to become the measure of our future
degradation‹at the same time as it binds us to endlessly working in the

The result is a strange moral paradox. Love, loyalty, honor, commitment‹to
our families, for example, which means to our shared homes, which means to
the payment of monthly mortgage debts‹becomes a matter of maintaining
loyalty to a system which ultimately tells us that such commitments are not
a value in themselves. This organization of imaginative horizons, which
ultimately come down to a colonization of the very principle of hope, has
come to supplement the traditional evocation of fear (of penury,
homelessness, joblessness, disease and death). This colonization paralyzes
any thought of opposition to a system that almost everyone ultimately knows
is not only an insult to everything they really cherish, but a travesty of
genuine hope, since, because no system can really expand forever on a finite
planet, everyone is aware on some level that in the final analysis they are
dealing with a kind of global pyramid scheme, what we are ultimately buying
and selling is the real promise of global social and environmental


Finally then we come to the really difficult, strategic questions. Where are
the vulnerabilities? Where is hope? Obviously we have no certain answers
here. No one could. But perhaps the proceeding analysis opens up some
possibilities that anti-capitalist organizers might find useful to explore.

One thing that might be helpful is to rethink our initial terms. Consider
communism. We are used to thinking of it as a total system that perhaps
existed long ago, and to the desire to bring about an analogous system at
some point in the future‹usually, at whatever cost. It seems to us that
dreams of communist futures were never purely fantasies; they were simply
projections of existing forms of cooperation, of commoning, by which we
already make the world in the present. Communism in this sense is already
the basis of almost everything, what brings people and societies into being,
what maintains them, the elemental ground of all human thought and action.
There is absolutely nothing utopian here. What is utopian, really, is the
notion that any form of social organization, especially capitalism, could
ever exist that was not entirely premised on the prior existence of
communism. If this is true, the most pressing question is simply how to make
that power visible, to burst forth, to become the basis for strategic
visions, in the face of a tremendous and antagonistic power committed to
destroying it‹but at the same time, ensuring that despite the challenge they
face, they never again become entangled with forms of violence of their own
that make them the basis for yet another tawdry elite. After all, the
solidarity we extend to one another, is it not itself a form of communism?
And is it not so above because it is not coerced?

Another thing that might be helpful is to rethink our notion of crisis.
There was a time when simply describing the fact that capitalism was in a
state of crisis, driven by irreconcilable contradictions, was taken to
suggest that it was heading for a cliff. By now, it seems abundantly clear
that this is not the case. Capitalism is always in a crisis. The crisis
never goes away. Financial markets are always producing bubbles of one sort
or another; those bubbles always burst, sometimes catastrophically; often
entire national economies collapse, sometimes the global markets system
itself begins to come apart. But every time the structure is reassembled.
Slowly, painfully, dutifully, the pieces always end up being put back
together once again.

Perhaps we should be asking: why?

In searching for an answer, it seems to us, we might also do well to put
aside another familiar habit of radical thought: the tendency to sort the
world into separate levels‹material realities, the domain of ideas or
‘consciousness’, the level of technologies and organizations of
violence‹treating these as if these were separate domains that each work
according to separate logics, and then arguing which ‘determines’ which. In
fact they cannot be disentangled. A factory may be a physical thing, but the
ownership of a factory is a social relation, a legal fantasy that is based
partly on the belief that law exists, and partly on the existence of armies
and police. Armies and police on the other hand exist partly because of
factories providing them with guns, vehicles, and equipment, but also,
because those carrying the guns and riding in the vehicles believe they are
working for an abstract entity they call ‘the government’, which they love,
fear, and ultimately, whose existence they take for granted by a kind of
faith, since historically, those armed organizations tend to melt away
immediately the moment they lose faith that the government actually exists.
Obviously exactly the same can be said of money. It’s value is constantly
being produced by eminently material practices involving time clocks, bank
machines, mints, and transatlantic computer cables, not to mention love,
greed, and fear, but at the same time, all this too rests on a kind of faith
that all these things will continue to interact in more or less the same
way. It is all very material, but it also reflects a certain assumption of
eternity: the reason that the machine can always be placed back together is,
simply, because everyone assumes it must. This is because they cannot
realistically imagine plausible alternatives; they cannot imagine plausible
alternatives because of the extraordinarily sophisticated machinery of
preemptive violence that ensure any such alternatives are uprooted or
contained (even if that violence is itself organized around a fear that
itself rests on a similar form of faith.) One cannot even say it’s circular.
It’s more a kind of endless, unstable spiral. To subvert the system is then,
to intervene in such a way that the whole apparatus begins to spin apart.


It appears to us that one key element here‹one often neglected in
revolutionary strategy‹is the role of the global middle classes. This is a
class that, much though it varies from country (in places like the US and
Japan, overwhelming majorities consider themselves middle class; in, say,
Cambodia or Zambia, only very small percentages), almost everywhere provides
the key constituency of the G8 outside of the ruling elite themselves. It
has become a truism, an article of faith in itself in global policy circles,
that national middle class is everywhere the necessary basis for democracy.
In fact, middle classes are rarely much interested in democracy in any
meaningful sense of that word (that is, of the self-organization or
self-governance of communities). They tend to be quite suspicious of it.
Historically, middle classes have tended to encourage the establishment of
constitutional republics with only limited democratic elements (sometimes,
none at all). This is because their real passion is for a ‘betterment’, for
the prosperity and advance of conditions of life for their children‹and this
betterment, since it is as noted above entirely premised on structures of
exclusion, requires ‘security’. Actually the middle classes depend on
security on every level: personal security, social security (various forms
of government support, which even when it is withdrawn from the poor tends
to be maintained for the middle classes), security against any sudden or
dramatic changes in the nature of existing institutions. Thus, politically,
the middle classes are attached not to democracy (which, especially in its
radical forms, might disrupt all this), but to the rule of law. In the
political sense, then, being ‘middle class’ means existing outside the
notorious ‘state of exception’ to which the majority of the world’s people
are relegated. It means being able to see a policeman and feel safer, not
even more insecure. This would help explain why within the richest
countries, the overwhelming majority of the population will claim to be
‘middle class’ when speaking in the abstract, even if most will also
instantly switch back to calling themselves ‘working class’ when talking
about their relation to their boss.

That rule of law, in turn, allows them to live in that temporal horizon
where the market and other existing institutions (schools, governments, law
firms, real estate brokeragesŠ) can be imagined as lasting forever in more
or less the same form. The middle classes can thus be defined as those who
live in the eternity of capitalism. (The elites don’t; they live in history,
they don’t assume things will always be the same. The disenfranchized don’t;
they don’t have the luxury; they live in a state of precarity where little
or nothing can safely be assumed.) Their entire lives are based on assuming
that the institutional forms they are accustomed to will always be the same,
for themselves and their grandchildren, and their ‘betterment’ will be
proportional to the increase in the level of monetary wealth and
consumption. This is why every time global capital enters one of its
periodic crises, every time banks collapse, factories close, and markets
prove unworkable, or even, when the world collapses in war, the managers and
dentists will tend to support any program that guarantees the fragments will
be dutifully pieced back together in roughly the same form‹even if all are,
at the same time, burdened by at least a vague sense that the whole system
is unfair and probably heading for catastrophe.


The strategic question then is, how to shatter this sense of inevitability?
History provides one obvious suggestion. The last time the system really
neared self-destruction was in the 1930s, when what might have otherwise
been an ordinary turn of the boom-bust cycle turned into a depression so
profound that it took a world war to pull out of it. What was different? The
existence of an alternative: a Soviet economy that, whatever its obvious
brutalities, was expanding at breakneck pace at the very moment market
systems were undergoing collapse. Alternatives shatter the sense of
inevitability, that the system must, necessarily, be patched together in the
same form; this is why it becomes an absolute imperative of global
governance that even small viable experiments in other ways of organizing
communities be wiped out, or, if that is not possible, that no one knows
about them.

If nothing else, this explains the extraordinary importance attached to the
security services and preemption of popular struggle. Commoning, where it
already exists, must be made invisible. Alternatives‹ Zapatistas in Chiapas,
APPO in Oaxaca, worker-managed factories in Argentina or Paraguay,
community-run water systems in South Africa or Bolivia, living alternatives
of farming or fishing communities in India or Indonesia, or a thousand other
examples‹must be made to disappear, if not squelched or destroyed, then
marginalized to the point they seem irrelevant, ridiculous. If the managers
of the global system are so determined to do this they are willing to invest
such enormous resources into security apparatus that it threatens to sink
the system entirely, it is because they are aware that they are working with
a house of cards. That the principle of hope and expectation on which
capitalism rests would evaporate instantly if almost any other principle of
hope or expectation seemed viable.

The knowledge of alternatives, then, is itself a material force.

Without them, of course, the shattering of any sense of certainty has
exactly the opposite effect. It becomes pure precarity, an insecurity so
profound that it becomes impossible to project oneself in history in any
form, so that the one-time certainties of middle class life itself becomes a
kind of utopian horizon, a desperate dream, the only possible principle of
hope beyond which one cannot really imagine anything. At the moment, this
seems the favorite weapon of neoliberalism: whether promulgated through
economic violence, or the more direct, traditional kind.

One form of resistance that might prove quite useful here ­ and is already
being discussed in some quarters ­ are campaigns against debt itself. Not
demands for debt forgiveness, but campaigns of debt resistance.


In this sense the great slogan of the global justice movement, ‘another
world is possible’, represents the ultimate threat to existing power
structures. But in another sense we can even say we have already begun to
move beyond that. Another world is not merely possible. It is inevitable. On
the one hand, as we have pointed out, such a world is already in existence
in the innumerable circuits of social cooperation and production in common
based on different values than those of profit and accumulation through
which we already create our lives, and without which capitalism itself would
be impossible. On the other, a different world is inevitable because
capitalism‹a system based on infinite material expansion‹simply cannot
continue forever on a finite world. At some point, if humanity is to survive
at all, we will be living in a system that is not based on infinite material
expansion. That is, something other than capitalism.

The problem is there is no absolute guarantee that ‘something’ will be any
better. It’s pretty easy to imagine ‘other worlds’ that would be even worse.
We really don’t have any idea what might happen. To what extent will the new
world still organized around commoditization of life, profit, and pervasive
competition? Or a reemergence of even older forms of hierarchy and
degradation? How, if we do overcome capitalism directly, by the building and
interweaving of new forms of global commons, do we protect ourselves against
the reemergence of new forms of hierarchy and division that we might not now
even be able to imagine?

It seems to us that the decisive battles that will decide the contours of
this new world will necessarily be battles around values. First and foremost
are values of solidarity among commoners. Since after all, every rape of a
woman by a man or the racist murder of an African immigrant by a European
worker is worth a division in capital’s army.

Similarly, imagining our struggles as value struggles might allow us to see
current struggles over global energy policies and over the role of money and
finance today as just an opening salvo of an even larger social conflict to
come. For instance, there’s no need to demonize petroleum, for example, as a
thing in itself. Energy products have always tended to play the role of a
‘basic good’, in the sense that their production and distribution becomes
the physical basis for all other forms of human cooperation, at the same
time as its control tends to organize social and even international
relations. Forests and wood played such a role from the time of the Magna
Carta to the American Revolution, sugar did so during the rise of European
colonial empires in the 17th and 18th centuries, fossil fuels do so today.
There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about fossil fuel. Oil is simply
solar radiation, once processed by living beings, now stored in fossil form.
The question is of control and distribution. This is the real flaw in the
rhetoric over ‘peak oil’: the entire argument is premised on the assumption
that, for the next century at least, global markets will be the only means
of distribution. Otherwise the use of oil would depend on needs, which would
be impossible to predict precisely because they depend on the form of
production in common we adopt. The question thus should be: how does the
anti-capitalist movement peak the oil? How does it become the crisis for a
system of unlimited expansion?

It is the view of the authors of this text that the most radical planetary
movements that have emerged to challenge the G8 are those that direct us
towards exactly these kind of questions. Those which go beyond merely asking
how to explode the role money plays in framing our horizons, or even
challenging the assumption of the endless expansion of ‘the economy’, to ask
why we assume something called ‘the economy’ even exists, and what other
ways we can begin imagining our material relations with one another. The
planetary women’s movement, in its many manifestations, has and continues to
play perhaps the most important role of all here, in calling for us to
reimagine our most basic assumptions about work, to remember that the basic
business of human life is not actually the production of communities but the
production, the mutual shaping of human beings. The most inspiring of these
movements are those that call for us to move beyond a mere challenge to the
role of money to reimagine value: to ask ourselves how can we best create a
situation where everyone is secure enough in their basic needs to be able to
pursue those forms of value they decide are ultimately important to them. To
move beyond a mere challenge to the tyranny of debt to ask ourselves what we
ultimately owe to one another and to our environment. That recognize that
none this needs to invented from whole cloth. It’s all already there,
immanent in the way everyone, as commoners, create the world together on a
daily basis. And that asking these questions is never, and can never be, an
abstract exercise, but is necessarily part of a process by which we are
already beginning to knit these forms of commons together into new forms of
global commons that will allow entirely new conceptions of our place in

It is to those already engaged in such a project that we offer these initial
thoughts on our current strategic situation.

Source: email