A decade after the self-collapse of bureaucratic socialism in the USSR and eastern Europe the world's big bankers and the pampered representatives of global capital meet over September 26-28. It is the IMF-World Bank's 55th annual conference and is being held in Prague with much fanfare - not least in order to mark the acceptance of the Czech Republic by the 'international community'.

A decade after the self-collapse of bureaucratic socialism in the USSR and eastern Europe the world's big bankers and the pampered representatives of global capital meet over September 26-28. It is the IMF-World Bank's 55th annual conference and is being held in Prague with much fanfare - not least in order to mark the acceptance of the Czech Republic by the 'international community'.

Yet, while Prague undoubtedly symbolises the triumph of capitalism, it will surely also symbolise the growing rejection of capitalism, as an uncontrollable system that puts profits for the sake of profit above human needs and wants. Demonstrations on September 23 and September 26 are expected to be huge.

Every press release issued by the World Bank carries the philanthropic overhead: 'Our dream is a world free of poverty'. Actually the World Bank group and IMF board of governors adhere to hard-headed aims that are altogether base. What they actually want is a further freeing - ie, opening-up - of world trade so as to sustain economic growth in the advanced capitalist countries and thereby augment the already vast profits enjoyed by their bloated transnational corporations. Of course, that adds to, not lessens, world poverty.

The results of Prague and IMF-World Bank management of the global economy are predictable. In the so-called 'third world' the much vaunted 'structural adjustment programmes' represent a new, cheaper, form of colonialism. That is what 'debt relief' amounts to. Ninety countries nowadays languish under its crippling diktats. Visiting IMF bureaucrats behave as arrogant proconsuls. Prescribed IMF-World Bank economics will see millions more peasant farmers forced off the land and crammed into teeming and squalid shanty towns as marginal labour. None can possibility compete with the highly capitalised American argro-business - the USA is by far the world's biggest and most efficient food exporter.

In Russia, east Asia and Latin America IMF-World Bank medicine has already produced absolute poverty. Life expectancy and living standards have fallen precipitously. Not that the working class in the advanced capitalist countries benefits. Capital constantly expands at the expense of living labour. That means more job losses, more speed-ups, more austerity cuts in social budgets and more ravaging of the environment and natural resources.

Unsurprisingly, over the last couple of years those objecting to the institutions of high capitalism have mushroomed. In November-December 1999 demonstrators managed to close down the World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle. Every gathering of the IMF, World Bank, Gatt, WTO, G7, etc, now attracts mass protests. Anti-capitalism is the latest buzz word. Thanks to the triumphalism of Thatcher and Reagan, people know the name of the beast.

Opposition to the globalisation of capital unites a wide, and unlikely range of forces, organisations and individuals. From the green parties to the elitist anarchist grouplets, from charity-mongers such as Jubilee 2000 to leftwing revolutionaries, from the AFL-CIO trade union bureaucracy in the USA to the remnants of 'official communism', from 'concerned' capitalists like Anita Roddick to 'eco-warriors', we hear forthright condemnation of the appalling consequences of neo-liberal capitalism. Excellent. But - and it cannot be emphasised too strongly - anti-capitalism is not enough.

Anti-capitalists must be a clear about what we want, what our alternative to capitalism is. Only then can we construct a viable strategy which maps the way forward. Either that or the protests will decline into a routine of set-piece confrontations and eventually peter out.

That was the fate of the movement against nuclear weapons both in the 1960s and 1980s. Ominously the anti-capitalist umbrella group in Prague goes under a totally negative title - Initiative Against Economic Globalisation.

The touchy-feely pleas for 'fair' trading and ethical practices must inevitably come to nothing. Capitalism and morality are antithetical. Moreover such pious nostrums presented by sentimental anti-capitalism are easily appropriated by the more clever PR and advertising departments. The system is thereby strengthened by donning a humane mask. Benetton, BP-Amoco and Glaxo have all adopted a green pigmentation to one degree or another.

On the other hand ritualistically trashing McDonalds, spraying graffiti over war memorials, breaking shop windows and lobbing bottles at riot police provoke a predictable chorus of condemnation in the mainstream media. However, such essentially trivial actions can only but lead to a dead end by repelling mass support. Equally germane, for the system itself such gesture politics is no more than a minor nuisance. Dramatic pictures of riots appear on TV, but the accumulation of capital proceeds uninterruptedly.

Naturally we communists favour self-defence. Eleven thousand nervous police are on duty in Prague backed by 1,600 soldiers held in reserve. But our prime concern is mobilising the only force that can end capitalism - the working class.

Real anti-capitalism must begin by knowing capitalism and its dialectical negation. Due to capitalism the world has been joined into a single metabolism. Capital's need for unlimited expansion sends it hunting far and wide. No country, no person remains untouched. Raw materials come back to the metropoles of North America, western Europe and Japan in enormous quantities from the most distant places. Commodities are produced across frontiers and sold to a world consumer. Coca-Cola, Panasonic, Boeing, BT, Microsoft, etc. However, as a consequence of globalisation humanity becomes interdependent. Exploitation links workers everywhere. They still speak national languages, but mutual conditions - their radical chains - make them a world-class.

Though these developments are objectively progressive, they utterly confound and fatally undermine anti-capitalist programmes within, through or over a single national class state. Much to the chagrin of our national socialists - be they British, South African, Swedish or Russian - neither a Stalin-type command economy nor the social democratic state any longer represent a coherent alternative to capitalism. Neither does individualistic life-style anarchism or daft plans for a return to small-scale agriculture and manufacturing - that would throw humanity back into the dark ages and require something like a four-fifths reduction of the world's population.

Within neo-liberal establishment circles 'globalisation' is more than the latest doctrine. It serves as an ideological drug to lull workers into acceptance of permanent wage-slavery. In a world where capital is supposed to be stateless and comprehensively mobile wage claims and demands on governments for improved conditions are patronisingly and poisonously attacked as self-defeating. Higher subsistence levels, or so the story goes, will simply see capital packing its bags and moving off to where labour power is dirt cheap. Burma, Mexico, Indonesia. Hence, the apologists of capital insist, ideas of launching a socialist challenge to the system and its logic are a chimera.

We do not, for one moment, accept the new-old 'iron law of wages' theory peddled by the academic whores of capital - like the nonsense about complete automation and artificial intelligence it is a fiction invented in order to sustain the socially constructed image of a capitalism without history and without end. Through class struggle, gains can undoubtedly be won. Capital cannot locate just anywhere. Even amongst the transnationals production and sales rely predominantly on the home country. Moreover supplies of skilled workers and a sophisticated infrastructure is vital.

The self-serving economic determinism of the neo-liberals is not only contemptible - morally and intellectually. It also makes a soft target for those wanting to rescue either the flailing national socialist project or anarchist plans for localist self-sufficiency. By setting up and duly knocking down absurd and crude formulations the opponents of international socialism hope to give the kiss of life to their narrow programmes.

The neo-liberals maintain that the state is powerless. That transnational companies exist in mid-air, detached from country. Needless to say, Ford is rooted in the US, BMW in Germany and Toyota in Japan. There are few if any actual multinationals. The state has a long and very effective record of ruthlessly defending their transnationals at home and abroad. Chrysler would certainly have gone bust without state intervention in the 1980s. The same is true of the US hedge funds in the 1990s. Nor is there a supra-national capitalist class. Most boards of transnationals are mono-national. Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Silvio Berlusconi are respectively British, American and Italian.

There is, however, as the noted Marxist thinker István Mészáros suggests, a "mismatch" between capital's material reproductive structures and its state (I Mészáros Beyond capital London 1995, p65). National capital is by definition tied up with the national state. Global capital has no state formations proper. Nevertheless global capital exerts itself, albeit in an extremely contradictory form.

Capital exists as a single world metabolism, but within a system of national states. Capital by its own logic demands the unlimited exploitation of labour. The national state cannot do this - neither economically nor politically. Therefore other solutions are sought out ... at enormous cost in terms of human suffering. The sorry 20th century witnessed two world wars, the rise, decline and rise again of imperialist parasitism, the capitalist national socialism of Adolf Hitler, and the post-capitalist national socialism of JV Stalin.

By imposing authoritarian restrictions on capital - or even by abolishing capital negatively - the isolated revolutionary regime might well survive for some considerable time. However, in so doing it inevitably and very quickly becomes its opposite - a freak society like Stalin's USSR, Mao's China or Pol Pot's Kampuchea. Year zero marks not the dawn of real civilisation, but descent into horrendous barbarism. No single country - not even the richest - has within it the means necessary to positively supersede capital. Individual capitalists can be expropriated through a political revolution. But creating a sustainable and dynamic alternative mode of production is a universal task.

A fundamental mistake made by many anti-capitalists is that capital is a thing - money, mines, factories, food, jewels - in the grip of a class of very wealthy individuals. But capital is no mere thing - like land or chattels - but a "social relationship" whereby alienated, dead, labour dominates and feeds off living labour.

Capital is in essence subjectless. It is its own cause. Its determination runs from capital to the capitalist, not the other way round. The individual owner is no more than the personification of an exploitative relationship; a relationship that can be assumed by anonymous fund managers, a friendly cooperative or the state. In this subjectless system capital's objective requirement for unlimited self-expansion must overcome the subjective wishes of any of its personifications. Thereby control is alienated from everyone. The personification is in actual fact controlled by the system.

Capital has to be superseded in its totality and replaced by an open-ended communist totality. Without the positive supersession of both capitalist society's division of labour and the domination of living labour by dead labour the power of capital will reassert itself. That is why for Marxists, though the workers' revolution starts politically on the terrain of the national state, the content of our project is to bring the product of humanity back to humanity.

What decides the matter is control. Does control over the worker continue to be the unlimited self-expansion of dead labour? Or do the associated producers control the products of work and thereby stop being workers?

Jack Conrad