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I have a right to express my anti-capitalist views, said a schoolboy arrested in the anti-WTO, anti-Railtrack fracas at London’s Euston station. Thanks to the audacity of thousands of diverse activists like him, being ‘anti-capitalist’ is back on the mainstream agenda again. Newscasters no longer say it with a sneer. What is needed now is practical thinking about alternatives, starting with a form of democracy that resists being co-opted and corrupted by capitalism.
It was revealing to see the grotesque paramilitary-style effort to keep the World Trade Organisation completely sealed off from public access, symbolising dramatically the extent to which governmental institutions have become separated from the people they are supposed to represent. While on the other hand we have witnessed the persistence of popular support for Ken Livingstone against some of the most determined manoeuvres this government has ever engaged in. This proves that ordinary people are doggedly determined to win back some power for themselves. That these two events coincided served as a vivid reminder that it is no longer enough to ‘think global and act local.’ We need to both think and act at both levels simultaneously.
Social movements are doing that already. The Brazilian landless movement occupies local land, marches on the federal capital and sends a mass delegation to international summits to block further deregulation of trade. The Exodus collective organises locally while also hosting activists from around the world at its Luton farm. But what about governmental and parliamentary institutions – the institutions of representative democracy, as distinct from the participatory democracy of DIY social activists? Do we even want or need such institutions? After Seattle, one is tempted to agree with the anarchists that state institutions have so thoroughly discredited themselves that we can no longer rely on them for anything.
One problem unresolved by anarchism is distribution. We need government institutions of some kind, both globally and nationally, because they are necessary for a massive redistribution of wealth if the majority of the world’s people are to enjoy real autonomy and self-determination. For example, a massive transfer of resources is the only way to unite the legitimate concerns of US trade unionists over child labour and the immediate needs of poor families in India and Africa.
Official OECD aid, for instance, has declined in recent years from 0.7% to 0.3% of GDP; merely raising it to the modest Development Decade target of 1% could provide families in the South with a basic income, in exchange for which they would promise to send their children to school – as has already been done in the Brazilian cities governed by the Workers Party. In the EU, a very significant move towards transnational redistribution was taking place; shamefully, the British government is forcing a compromise. The original European tax plan shows the way to what is needed globally.
But institutions with the power to redistribute on the sort of scale that is necessary will need to be strong; how can they be kept genuinely democratic and accountable? How do we avoid having state institutions that claim to act for the people but exclude us from effective control? This is where participatory democracy is so important. We need co-government, a sharing of decision-making and responsibility between representative and direct democracy.
Experiences across the world show that where radical social movements converge with left parties – or sections of left parties – with a foothold in power, a new effective democratic government is possible. Democratic institutions with a participatory base can have the necessary moral authority to call concentrations of wealth and power to account, and the necessary administrative capacity and political clout to carry out redistributive reforms of real scope and bite. Such sharing of power between parliamentary and direct democracy locally and globally is surely one alternative for ‘anti-capitalists’ to explore.
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright