Capitalism and mutualism beyond borders

Listening again to one of Zizek’s lectures, he makes a great point – that the Occupy movement’s major insight and motivation was that national democratic institutions are insufficient for controlling global finance and capital because the latter go, by definition, beyond borders.

It takes a prod like this to remind you why economic democracy is a good thing – it means that democratic control is structured around business and economies not around historically constituted geographic units.

So, one way to give the people some control of global finance is through co-operative and mutual structures that give people a democratic say and control over the businesses that affect their daily lives.

It’s not everything, it’s not sufficient on its own and there are big questions about size, scale, how it’s organised, local control …

But it’s a reminder of why economic democracy is a key element response to the control of capital that ignores borders.


We have had [in England], ever since 1876, a chronic state of stagnation in all dominant branches of industry. Neither will the full crash come; nor will the period of longed-for prosperity to which we used to be entitled before and after it. A dull depression, a chronic glut of all markets for all trades, that is what we have been living in for nearly ten years. How is this?

—Frederick Engels


‘Workers’ Opposition’, Chicago, first issue, early 1970’s. Not an official publication of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), ‘Workers’ Opposition’ was published by members of the IWW’s Metal and Machinery Workers Local 440 and Furniture Workers Local 420 to further understanding of the IWW’s ideas and principles.

Formal and radical democracy at work

There are so many ways of looking at democracy, but here are two (connected) ones in the workplace:

Formal democracy in the workplace provides employees with a way of expressing their ideas and passions, and venting their frustrations. They range from staff surveys and techniques of engagement right through to non-hierarchical decision making in worker co-operatives.

Without (and, in fact, with) formal democracy, you find an emergent or radical democracy where employees not given a say or any channels for expression make themselves heard and counted. This ranges from tiny acts or resistance like spending work time on Facebook to making collective demands of management.

In a way, democracy is inevitable. The question is whether it’s mainly through formal channels or through acts of democratic resistance.

We do not get to vote on who owns what, or on relations in factory and so on, for all this is deemed beyond the sphere of the political, and it is illusory to expect that one can actually change things by “extending” democracy to ple’s control. Radical changes in this domain should be made outside the sphere of legal “rights”, etcetera: no matter how radical our anti-capitalism, unless this is understood, the solution sought will involve applying democratic mechanisms (which, of course, can have a positive role to play)- mechanisms, one should never forget, which are themselves part of the apparatus of the “bourgeois” state that guarantees the undisturbed functioning of capitalist reproduction. In this precise sense, Badiou hit the mark with his apparently wired claim that “Today, the enemy is not called Empire or Capital. It’s called Democracy.” it is the “democratic illusion” the acceptance of democratic procedures as the sole framework for any possible change, that blocks any radical transformation of capitalist relations.

Slavoj Žižek, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (via choicewords)