An essential element in interlinking and circulating our struggles is recognizing the existence of a common enemy. Over the last decade or so this has been amply demonstrated in the ability of the alter-globalization movement to organize opposition and protest against the policies that capitalist institutions have been seeking to impose everywhere in the world. Since the first Zapatista encounters in the Spring and Summer of 1996 "Against Neo-liberalism and For Humanity" discussion among grassroots activists all over the world has resulted in a common recognition that what in Latin America has being called "neo-liberalism" is the same as the "free-market", anti-working class policies being imposed elsewhere. The results have included both coordinated, simultaneous actions against such policies in many separate countries and the gathering of hundreds of thousands of protestors from around the world to beseige organizations central to the promulgation of those policies, e.g., the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the G8. Discussions within and around such mobilizations have also, increasingly, identified not just "neoliberal" policies as the problem, but capitalism itself. The alter-globalization movement has been evolving into an anti-capitalist movement.
With the changing understanding of the nature of enemy - of the need to abolish and get beyond not just "neoliberalism" but capitalist itself - has come a very necessary, renewed examination of the question of what it means to "get beyond" capitalism. Some have provided an old, familiar answer to that question: socialism - and I am referring here not just to Marxist-Leninists but to prominent politicians such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Others have sought to provide new answers. One example can be found in the pronouncements of the spokespersons for the Zapatista movement. They evoke a post-capitalist "world where many worlds fit" that rejects the vision of replacing the capitalist system with a unified "socialist" one.
Any understanding of what must be involved in getting beyond capitalism requires an understanding of the nature of capitalism itself. The concept of socialism - although it has been reformulated repeatedly - has generally been based on an understanding that there are forces within capitalism that tend to homogenize social differences among people by imposing common conditions of life, by forcing them into an exploited working class which rebels. It is on the basis of this commonality of experience that it has long seemed reasonable to many to argue for the possibility and desireability of a revolutionary transformation into a new kind of commonality in which people are in command of their destiny rather than having their lives controlled and exploited by others.
The Zapatista concept of a post-capitalist "world where many worlds fit", on the other hand, is clearly rooted in the long history of the struggles of indigenous peoples in Mexico against their forcible homogenization and for self-determination in the evolution of their many different ways of organizing their social life. Indeed, their concept is not just a vision of the future but an expression of how they have already organized themselves. The indigenous of Chiapas speak many different languages and have many different cultural traditions; yet they have figured out how to organize together against a common enemy while drawing upon those traditions. (Within the struggle some of those traditions, e.g., patriarchy, have also been challenged and, to some degree, transformed.)
Common both to those who envision a socialist alternative and to those who envision a world of worlds is an understanding of capitalism as a vicious regime characterized by the exploitation of some by others. Exploitation, in turn, is understood primarily in terms of the way some are compelled to work beyond what is required for their own needs so as to produce a surplus that is appropriated by capitalists for their own purposes in the form of profit. In Marxist terms, profit is, of course, surplus labor or surplus value.
But why do capitalists exploit? What are "their own purposes" for profit, surplus labor or surplus value? The traditional answers are usually formulated in either the terms of personal motivation or the pressures of competition. That is to say, either 1) capitalists seek profits to get rich and to obtain what high income and wealth makes possible, i.e., levels of consumption, of standards of living and of power that are greater than those of most people, so that even the investment of surplus is aimed at greater profits, income, wealth and power in the future, or 2) regardless of their personal motivations, capitalists are compelled by the competition of other capitalists to seek profits, investment and growth, because any failure to focus on and realize profits would mean losing the competitive battle and being run out of business or being taken over and absorbed by the more successful. There can be no doubt that both of these motivations exist. But do they provide a sufficiently satisfying explanation of exploitation and the associated realization of profits?
To my mind, they do not. And the primary reason they do not lies in the one-sidedness of the analysis. In both cases the focus is on the capitalists and the explanations are formulated in terms of their motivations and of the forces that are at work among them. The rest of us appear only in the background as victims of exploitation. Yet the "rest of us" constitute the vast bulk of humanity and in Marxist theory our agency, our actions as subjects constitute the fundamental source of movement and change in the world. Capitalism is merely one particularly vicious way of organizing and channeling our life energy into modes that produce and reproduce the peculiar social relations characteristic of capitalism. And what are those "peculiar social relations"? The division of society into classes? Yes. The exploitation of one class by another through the imposition of work? Yes.
But what you will find argued in this book is that the exploitation and the extraction of a surplus for the benefit of a capitalist ruling class is not just the latest in a long sordid history that includes earlier forms of exploitation such as those of ancient slavery or feudalism. You will find, instead, an analysis that argues that capitalism is not just characterized by exploitation, but by the tendency to subordinate of all of life to work, endlessly. Marx's labor theory of value is not just a theory designed to explain exploitation - the existence of some extra labor we are forced to do for others - but a theory that focuses our attention on the fundamental mechanism of the capitalist organization of life and therefore the fundamental nexus of class conflict within capitalism and therefore the fundamental mode of social organization that has to be transcended to get beyond capitalism. Capitalism would have us living to work; we, on the other hand, fight to only work to live. The labor theory of value isnot a theory of the value of labor in the abstract, to humans in general; it is a theory of the value of labor to capital: its means of organizing society, its primary vehicle of social control.
In Capital, as you progress from chapter 1 on value to chapter 7 that introduces surplus value, it becomes apparent that we can only really understand value by understanding surplus value. But the reverse is also true, we can only really understand surplus value, or exploitation, if we understand value. Yes, capitalists exploit, they do everything they can to get their hands on as much surplus value as possible (usually, but not always, in the form of money profits) either to "get rich" or to invest. But while Marx had little interest in greed, he was very much preoccupied by investment. His whole analysis of expanded reproduction, or accumulation, is about the investment of surplus value. And what does investment involve? (I am talking here about what economists call "real" investment - in expanding productive capacity - not the buying and selling of paper assets.) In Marxist terms, investment involves using surplus value to mobilize more labor power and more means of production and combining them to expand capitalist operations. But in social terms, from our point of view, "combining them" means putting us to work on the capitalist-owned means of production. Investment is about imposing more work, about reproducing the subordination of our lives to work on an expanded scale. The history of capitalism is a history of its subordination of more and more human lives to work and one of the conversion of more and more dimensions of those lives into work, sometimes waged work, sometimes unwaged. It has been precisely against such subordination that we have struggled for so long. The struggle for the shorter working day (or week, or year, or life-cycle) has not just been a struggle against surplus labor, but against the subordination of life to work and for the conversion of work into a means of life rather than its entire content.
Therefore, getting beyond capitalism must involve the subordination of work to our lives, rather than of our lives to work. Any proposal, whether of socialism, communism or of a "world where many worlds fit" that does not recognize, accept and discuss how to realize this transformation fails to see beyond capitalism. Intepretations of the labor theory of value that see only a celebration of labor, a vendication of the value of what workers do, indeed a definition of what it means to be human (homo faber) remain trapped within a capitalist understanding of the world. "Taking over" the means of production is not the goal, but a means to the goal of transforming work into just one of many forms of our self-realization. As Marx argued in the Grundrisse, beyond our current capitalist-imposed life of work, the labor theory of value becomes irrelevant and we are free to elaborate our own "values". Marx wrote of an open-ended "disposable time" as one such value. Certainly there are others and certainly there is no reason to expect or desire everyone, everywhere to embrace the same set of values. Humanity has always been a varigated species that has developed many different ways of living together. A basic objection to capitalism has been its efforts to reduce all such differences to mere variations of its own logic - in which differences, whether of ethnicity, of language, of race, of gender, of religion or of sexual orientation are used to divide, conquer and control us all.
This analysis makes clear, I think, one reason why the Zapatista vision of a "world where many worlds fit" is interesting and appealing. That vision and the self-organization that has occurred to realize it has not required any homogenization of ways of being, or doing, or thinking, but has embraced differences and elaborated new forms of politics to both celebrate and negotiate them. This accomplishment stands out in juxtaposition to such horrors as the way ethnic differences have been used to divide and conquer the peoples of the Balkans, of those lands that once made up Yugoslavia and have now been broken into several distinct, very capitalist, nationstates. Although early on, in reaction to the Zapatista uprising in January of 1994, the Mexican government accused them of seeking secession, of being part of a pan-Mayan movement to dismember Mexico and create an independent Mayan nationstate, this was never the case. Although the emergence of a pan-Mayan movement would be understandable - given the artificial division of Mayan peoples created by the European colonizers of Central America - the Zapatistas have sought, instead, an autonomy defined not in terms of nationstates but in terms of the acceptance of self-determination of indigenous peoples, of their right to govern themselves according to their different traditions.
Now clearly the peoples of Anatolia have, historically, been subjected to many of the same impositions as the Maya in Central America. Nationstates have been created and the boundaries separating them have been drawn by colonial powers quite independently of the will of the peoples inhabiting the region. As the Maya in Mexico were separated from the Maya in Guatemala by the nationstate boundry between the two countries, so too, for example, have the Kurds been separated by nationstate boundries between Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. Unlike the Zapatistas, however, many Kurds have long sought, and fought for, an independent Kurdistan that would reunite the Kurdish regions of each of those five countries. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Kurds of northern Iraq have created a semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. The Zapatistas have fought for autonomy; the Kurds have fought for autonomy. Yet the meaning of autonomy seems to have differed and perhaps is still very much to be determined. When the Zapatistas created regional governments, or Caracoles, their purpose was to achieve a greater equality in the distribution of resources among their communities. As they have consulted with grassroots movements in other parts of Mexico they have presented their position as explicitly anti-capitalist - although exactly what they mean by capitalism is unclear. Their "other campaign", launched in 2006 has been explicitly devoted to discussing current grassroots struggles against capitalism and the possibilities of moving beyond it. In Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, on the other hand, advertises its "investment law" as "one of the most friendly to foreign [capitalist] investors in the entire Middle East." In Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which long fought quite violently for an independent Kurdish state seems to have shifted its demands to some kind of autonomy within Turkey. Although the PKK is said to have roots in Marxism-Leninism neither its current position on capitalism, nor its understanding of what capitalism amounts to nor whether it seeks to move beyond it are clear to me.
In both of these cases - that of the Zapatista movement in Mexico and that of Kurdish movements in Turkey, Iraq and beyond - the ability to break out of isolation, to link up with struggles elsewhere is essential. The ability to do that, in turn, depends on the ability to find commonalities with those in struggle elsewhere. The Zapatistas have demonstrated remarkable success in such efforts through their analyses of neoliberalism and their identification of capitalism as a common enemy. Hundreds of thousands have repeatedly mobilized in support of their demands and against Mexican government efforts to suppress their movement - both in Mexico and in over forty countries around the world. My impression - and it is only an impression because I claim no great understanding of the struggles in the area - is that the Kurdish movements have been much less successful and remain largely grounded in the rhetoric and programs of "national liberation." To what degree and with what success has the Kurdish movement reached out to others, especially non-Kurds in Turkey and beyond? I raise this question because this book will now be read in Turkey, but it is a question relevant to a great many struggles around the world. We must share our experiences and find ever more effective ways of linking up if we are to succeed in our efforts to get beyond capitalism and the subordination of our lives to endless work.
The translation and publication of this book, therefore, should be taken as one more moment in a necessary global conversation about what we are fighting against and about the possibilities of crafting real alternatives. My thanks to those who have done the translation and organized the publication of this text. I look forward to responses to it and to future exchanges about these issues.