The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) is not a political party. We welcome people with a wide range of political and religious views if they want to resist the war on the poor. Still, we insist on being known as an anti-capitalist organization. When we go up against a landlord or welfare office, when we challenge unjust governments, we keep it firmly in mind that these individuals and institutions didn't come from nowhere. They are the products of a whole system that is unjust and that creates the poverty and misery we fight back against every day.
Anti-capitalism for OCAP isn't some "radical" idea to tack onto our work. It is for the most practical reasons that we take this stand.
1. The Profit System is the Root of the Problem
Capitalist society is organized around the making of profits. Masses of people work for corporations who pay them in wages only a portion of the value that they create through their labour. The rest is pocketed in the form of profits. Not only does this mean exploitation in the workplace but also that the drive for profits shapes every aspect of society. What is produced and who can consume it has nothing to do with the real needs of people but only the enrichment of a few. The laws that govern and the way they are enforced are shaped by profits. If there's money in building condos instead of affordable housing, the homeless will stay on the streets, laws will be passed to arrest them and the most brutal thugs they can find will be given guns and badges to "serve and protect" the wealthy. If it's profitable to clear-cut forests or pollute rivers and streams, then laws to protect the environment will not get passed or will be weakly enforced. In ten thousand ways, each and every day, the needs of people are trampled into the ground so that more profits can be piled up.
The vast wealth of the handful of families who really control everything in this society was built up over generations, and was created out of our blood and sweat and that of those who came before us. Early capitalist society in Europe was set up by driving poor peasants off their land and passing laws that made it a hanging offence to be unemployed. The forerunners of today's corporations amassed their wealth through the African slave trade. They seized other countries as colonies and bled them dry. They forced people in India to grow opium for export to China and, when the Chinese banned the import of this drug, sent warships to bombard their cities until their "right" to carry on this profitable business was restored. They stole the North American continent from the original Indian population and murdered tens of millions of people in the process. They imported masses of immigrants to provide them with cheap labour (as they do to this day) and kept these people down by means of the most ugly and brutal racism. They fought with their rivals in other countries over who would get the biggest share of the profits and, whenever they did, working class people were sent off to kill their brothers and sisters in other countries. Always, they have kept a part of the population unemployed and living in extreme poverty so as to intimidate those who have jobs and prevent them from winning higher wages. For generations, they have operated a system that is designed to oppress and exploit the many in the interests of the few.
Despite the power that the capitalists have in their hands, people have always resisted them. After the Second World War, in the face of huge struggles that threatened their system's survival, capitalists granted independence to many of their colonies. They also were forced to recognize trade unions and put in place social programs like medicare, public housing and unemployment insurance. By the 1970s, however, these reforms were eating into their profits in a big way. The rate of return on their investments was in decline and this they could not stand for. From the mid-1970s on, capitalism has been working to take back these earlier improvements. An agenda that has become known as "globalization" has been developed to remove any and all barriers to the making of profits. Central to this strategy have been the infamous "free trade" deals that have led to the dismantling of social programs and other protections for working and poor people as so many barriers to "international competitiveness." This brand of globalization allows capital to move across borders, but not workers. This means that employers have the freedom to hunt the globe for the cheapest labour, but workers can't counterbalance this trend by relocating to improve their standard of living. Ontario Premier Mike Harris didn't cut welfare and cancel social housing construction just because he's a bag of dirt. He did it because the system he represents needs to get richer at our expense. Under capitalism, even the small gains we've previously enjoyed are under the gun.
3. Fight for the Impossible
Former British Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher used to tell those who criticized her government's cutbacks that "there is no alternative." She was right in the sense that there's no alternative under this system.
If we're to fight back against somebody like Mike Harris, we can't accept the limits this system imposes on us. If decent paying jobs, living income, adequate housing, health care and education are "impossible" under this system, then we have to look beyond capitalism.
This shapes how we fight because our eye is always on what we need and not on what they claim is possible. This is the most simple but also the most important reason why OCAP is an anti-capitalist organization.
OCAP's brand of anti-capitalism is based on taking action and has nothing to do with trying to talk the system to death. At present, we are fighting one of its attack dogs - Mike Harris - but we fully understand that this fight won't end until working and poor people take society and its resources into their own hands. Democracy can and must be about more than voting every four years on which gang of pirates you want to be robbed by. It must mean the mass of people actually running things and, especially, taking control of the production of society's wealth. OCAP never begs for crumbs. While we may have to defend our crust of bread today, we're working for the moment when we take over the bakery.
From They Call it Struggle for a Reason, an occasional zine produced by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. Posted on rabble.ca with permission.
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