Eric Laursen: What exactly is the “system” that we are fighting?

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The system is the state, a complex mechanism that includes government, capitalism, patriarchy and imperialism. It will not go away until we force it to.

Roar Magazine, June 5, 2021

This article is adapted from Eric Laursen’s new book, The Operating System: An Anarchist Theory of the State (AK Press).

The system” is back. And it is high time we talk about it again. Fifty years ago, in the days of the Vietnam War, the counterculture and widespread questioning of government, a lot of prominent writers, not to mention day-to-day activists, used this bit of shorthand to describe the power they were fighting against. Today, in the era of dark money, neoliberal capitalism, police impunity and US American forever wars, we still need a way to think coherently about these problems, about the forces that produce them and we need to figure out how to fight back — without lapsing into some left version of QAnon.

In Robert Reich’s new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, the system is essentially an oligopoly of rich capitalists and business owners who abuse democracy to protect and expand their interests. In economist Richard D. Wolff’s The Sickness Is the System, published late last year, it is capitalism itself, which he says is approaching a terminal crisis point.

Naomi Klein, promoting her new book for young activists, How to Change Everything, does not offer a specific definition, but she names it over and over. “It’s the system literally just continuing to do business as usual that brings us to collapse,” she says, referring to the climate crisis. “The system itself is a failure. The system itself needs to change.”

As the subtitle of Reich’s book implies, he does not think the system is necessarily something evil. It just does not work the way we want it to. And this can be fixed. Klein says the system is “a failure.” Then she says it can be changed. But can it? And if so, why would it want to be?

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