Reprinted from Beyond Electoral Politics: The Problem is the System!, from Root Force: Demolishing Colonialism at its Foundation.
You don’t have to look far to see that the world we live in is deeply wounded. Hundreds of thousands of civilians a year are killed in wars for oil and water; millions of nonhuman animals are tortured in laboratories and factory farms; indigenous communities are destroyed and small farmers dispossessed; workers are enslaved in fields and factories; and every living thing is being poisoned with chemicals and radiation. We are losing cultural and biological diversity at rates unheard of in the history of our species — and despite all our efforts, these rates are only accelerating.
From global warming to genocide, the crises that confront us are not accidental — as if politicians and business leaders were somehow independently deciding to murder union organizers, pollute the seas or strip the land. Rather, these atrocities flow from a global economic system that requires them in order to maintain its functioning.
What Is the System?
The way this system functions can be seen clearly in the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). By rewriting the Mexican Constitution to allow the dumping of cheap, subsidized US corn on the Mexican market, NAFTA has destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of indigenous and peasant (campesino and campesina) farmers. Forced to abandon their lands to the hands of agribusiness, logging or mining companies, these economic refugees have flooded into Mexican cities, driving down wages and exacerbating the whole nation’s unemployment problem. This has led directly to a surge in northward migration.
Anticipating this effect, the US government began militarizing its border in 1994, the same year that NAFTA went into effect. This militarization continues to force migrants into dangerous border crossing areas, leading to thousands of death, and has decimated the fragile desert ecologies of that region.
Meanwhile, NAFTA’s effect of forcing down Mexican wages has encouraged job flight from the high-wage US — corporations would rather situate their factories in places with low wages and relaxed labor standards than in a country that protects workers.
All these were deliberate, and are anticipated in internal government and industry documents. Even the migrant deaths are part of an explicit US Border Patrol Strategy.
It’s worked great. The wealthy elites in Canada, Mexico and the US have gotten a lot richer, while the plight of everyone else has worsened. According to Public Citizen, “Under NAFTA, the US trade deficit is up, manufacturing jobs are down, wages are stagnant, Mexican immigration is up, Mexican growth is down, and policy space has been seriously limited.” Similar negative effects have been seen in Canada.
This is how the system functions — corporations and governments work together to create the perfect climate for business. If that means murdering union organizers the way Coca-Cola has in Colombia, collaborating in genocide the way IBM did when it made computer systems for the Nazi death camps, or driving 50 species per day extinct, well, it’s all just the price of doing business.
Why Politicians Will Never Fix It
“The purpose of governments is to create the environment necessary for business to prosper.”
—US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, June 15, 2006
In any society where money corresponds to power, the rich will always be the most powerful. If money regulates access to food, for example, those without money are at the mercy of the rich for survival. This works with all resources — down to the fact that those with more money are in the best position to buy off politicians, or to pay people to enforce their wishes with violence. That’s why no politician will ever antagonize the rich enough to pose a serious challenge to the system. No matter what the laws might say, the wealthy are the ones who hold the power (that’s why most politicians come from the ranks of the wealthy; it keeps things simpler).
Will politicians ever actually allow us to vote on such basic premises as capitalism or industrial production? Of course not — they will never let us vote to take away their power! Even if we had such a vote, they could simply refuse to recognize it by employing their power over the police and military.
If you listen to what politicians say, you’ll be hard pressed to find one who is willing to admit the severity of the crisis that confronts life on this planet. You’ll hear lots of key phrases like “growth with environmental conservation.” You’ll almost never hear one admit that a certain industry is simply incompatible with continued life on Earth. And if they do, it’s inevitably to say that we must simply accept species extinction, air pollution, birth defects, cancers and a host of other ills if we are to “maintain our way of life.”
But this way of life comes at too high a cost — that’s why the system has got to go.
Taking Down the System
If we ever intend to do more than win a few scattered victories while our world dies around us, we must take the offensive against the system and bring it down.
No struggle — whether war or fistfight, physical or social — can be won by someone who is always on the defensive. Consider: Even if we save all of the world’s remaining wilderness, the chemical industry will still ultimately poison everything that lives. Communities around the world can throw back corporate invasion after corporate invasion, but another one will always be just around the corner.
Whatever we call this system — “neoliberalism,” “capitalism,” “the state” or even “civilization” — it must be destroyed. As residents of the First World, we have an important advantage in this task: the same privilege that shields us from the brunt of the system’s violence also provides us with access to its inner workings. That’s the purpose of the Root Force campaign — to seek out and exploit strategic weak points in the system, thus hastening its collapse.
Make no mistake — this is not about reform. This is not about making the system kinder and gentler; it’s about burying it forever.