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Stephanie McMillan

NGOs Are Cages: How Capitalists Control Mass Movements

By Stephanie McMillan - CounterPunch, September 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

We really need to understand the methods used by NGOs* to undermine radical political organizing efforts and divert us into political dead ends. The People’s Climate March is a good case study because it’s so blatant.

In South Florida, we saw the exact same process after the BP oil spill. Once the NGOs came in to the organizing meetings and were given the floor, all potential resistance was blocked, strangled, and left for dead. NGOs will descend on any organizing effort and try to take it over, dilute it, and bring it eventually to the Democratic Party. We can also see an identical set-up with the established labor unions and many other organizations.

If organizers are being paid, usually they are trapped in this dynamic, whether or not they want to be. While combining a job with organizing to challenge the system sounds very tempting and full of potential, it’s overwhelmingly not possible. They are two fundamentally incompatible aims, and those funding the job definitely do not have the aim of allowing its employees to undermine the system — the very system that allows the funders to exist, that they feed off of. Capitalists aren’t stupid, and they know how to keep their employees chained to a post, even if the leash feels long. With NGOs, capitalism has set up a great mechanism for itself both to generate revenue, and to pacify people who might otherwise be fighting to break the framework. “The unity of the chicken and the roach happens in the belly of the chicken.”

Another problem is that the rest of us attending an activity or a demonstration have to wonder: when organizers are being paid to say whatever it is they’re saying, how do we know whether or not they believe it? They follow a script, and can’t reveal their true feelings. They attempt to promote their cause in a convincing way, but if their funding was cut off, would they still be involved? Would their orientation still be the same? It’s hard to believe anything said by a paid spokespuppet – it’s like interacting with an embodied list of talking points. There can be no real trust, that the person could be relied upon when the money is no longer there.

Of course people need jobs, and NGOs provide them. I’m not blaming those who work for NGOs any more than who work for any other capitalist institution. We’re all trapped in the enemy’s economy. Instead, what I’m arguing for is to be aware of the nature of it, its severe limitations, and to do real political work outside the framework provided by the job.

We should attend demonstrations like the climate march, because a lot of sincere people will be there who want to make a difference. But we should remain autonomous within them, bringing our own message targeting capitalism as the root of the problem, exposing the uselessness of working within the political frameworks it sets up for us, and building our own organizations with the people we meet.

To challenge, weaken and ultimately destroy capitalism, we need to build a strong, organized, broad, combative mass movement outside the influence of capitalist interests.

Why Environmentalists Must Support Workers’ Struggles

By Stephanie McMillan - December 18, 2013

This is to specifically address class struggle as it relates to the ecological crisis. It will not address all the other (many!) reasons that working class struggle must be waged and supported.

First, we must recognize the fact that global capitalism is driving ecocide.

The problem reaches much farther back than capitalism itself. The combination of an early gendered division of labor with the adoption of agriculture and corresponding formation of permanent settlements set the stage for class divisions and the private accumulation of surplus wealth. Maintaining this arrangement required the development of states with armies, social oppression and repression to weaken internal opposition, and ideologies to make it all seem normal and pre-ordained. And as land was degraded and resources used up faster than they naturally replenished themselves, expansion became imperative, leading to conquest and forced unequal trade.

These intertwined and matured over time into an ever-more complex tangle, culminating in late-stage capitalism: the all-encompassing, all-devouring, spectacular horror that is our current global social living arrangement. The environmental crisis, specifically climate change, is the most urgent problem we collectively face. It is a simple fact that if our planet no longer supports life, then all human pursuits, including social justice, will also come to a screaming halt.

But attempts to solve the environmental crisis head-on, without addressing the underlying structural causes, will ultimately fail. Approaching it directly (for example by blocking a pipeline to prevent tar sands oil from reaching a refinery) can not overturn the socio-economic system that makes resource extraction a non-negotiable necessity. Capital is relentless, and will flow around any obstacle—or smash through it. Throughout history, it has demonstrated the willingness and capacity to wipe out anyone—including entire populations—who attempt to resist.

Historically only one class has been able to challenge capital and offer an alternative to it: the working class. This is not because of any sort of moral superiority, nor is it a matter of suffering the most. In fact, there are many others who are deprived of any means of survival altogether, which is an even worse situation than being exploited as a worker.

The reason that the working class has this capacity is that it is strategically placed. Workers have the most direct relationship with capital: they produce it. Even capitalists themselves merely manage and accumulate it, which they accomplish through the exploitation of workers in the production of commodities. Commodities embody surplus value in the form of unpaid labor, combined with natural materials (which capitalists simply claim ownership of through legal or other violent means). This surplus value, when it’s realized as profit and re-invested, becomes new capital.

Capitalism runs on exploitation, by paying the aggregate of workers less than the total value of their products (the rest becomes profit). So in order to sell all the surplus commodities that can’t be profitably consumed within a social formation, capitalism is structurally required to “expand or die.” The problem with this economic model on a finite planet is obvious.

Capitalism Must Die (Stephanie McMillan)

By Stephanie McMillan - Open Source, November 16, 2013

The purpose of this project is to contribute to a collective process of analyzing our objective conditions and clarifying concepts in service to the struggle to defeat capitalism. It rests on, and elaborates, several basic premises. Premises:

  • The capitalist system is evil and omnicidal. It needs to stop.
  • It will not disappear or collapse by itself. If allowed to continue, it will devour all life on Earth.
  • Capitalism can only be eliminated by overthrowing it in a collective revolutionary process. It can not be reformed out of existence, escaped, or replaced from within.
  • Capitalism is a continuously expanding mode of production. Capital struggles for its own self-reproduction. Capitalists accumulate surplus value, which is converted into more capital, through the exploitation of workers as they convert the natural world into commodities.
  • The fundamental contradiction of capitalism is capital vs. labor. Its manifestation is the social relationship of domination of one class (workers) by another (capitalists). Its expression is class struggle.
  • The working class, or proletariat, is in an antagonistic and strategic position in relation to capital. In liberating itself, it liberates all the dominated classes.
  • The proletariat is the only class able to offer an alternative to capitalism. All other classes will tend to reproduce it or some other form of class society.
  • In the current crisis of global capitalism, objective conditions are ripening for revolution, but subjectivity (ideology, or consciousness) is lagging, weakening popular mass struggles.
  • In order to fulfill its historical mission, the proletariat must become class conscious and appropriate its own theory, which is the synthesized knowledge gained from its own struggles.
  • Theory is collectively constructed in the process of class struggle. It can’t develop separate from practice. In the dialectical relationship between theory and practice, practice is primary and determinate. Theory is for the purpose of practice, to transform social relations.

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