Radical media, politics and culture.

Points of Clarification for The Globalization Movement


A great deal of nonsense has been written about the so-called
antiglobalization movement—particularly the more radical, direct action end
of it—and very little has been written by anyone who has spent any time
inside it. As Pierre Bourdieu recently noted, the neglect of the movement
by North American academics is nothing short of scandalous. Academics who
for years have published essays that sound like position papers for large
social movements that do not in fact exist seem seized with confusion or
worse, highminded contempt, now that real ones are everywhere emerging. As
an active participant in the movement as well as an anthropologist, I want
to provide some broad background for those intellectuals who might be
interested in taking up some of their historical responsibilities. This
essay is meant to clear away a few misconceptions.

The phrase "antiglobalization" movement was coined by the corporate media,
and people inside the movement, especially in the non-NGO, direct action
camp, have never felt comfortable with it. Essentially, this is a movement
against neoliberalism, and for creating new forms of global democracy.
Unfortunately, that statement is almost meaningless in the US, since the
media insist on framing such issues only in propagandistic terms ("free
trade," "free market") and the term neoliberalism is not in general use. As
a result, in meetings one often hears people using the expressions
"globalization movement" and "antiglobalization movement" interchangeably.

In fact, if one takes globalization to mean the effacement of borders and
the free movement of people, possessions and ideas, then it's pretty clear
that not only is the movement a product of globalization, but that most of
the groups involved in it— particularly the most radical ones—are in fact
far more supportive of globalization in general than supporters of the
International Monetary Fund or World Trade Organization. The real origins
of the movement, for example, lie in an international network called
People's Global Action (PGA). PGA emerged from a 1998 Zapatista encuentro
in Barcelona, and its founding members include not only anarchist groups in
Spain, Britain and Germany, but a Gandhian socialist peasant league in
India, the Argentinian teachers' union, indigenous groups such as the Maori
of New Zealand and Kuna of Ecuador, the Brazilian landless peasants’
movement and a network made up of communities founded by escaped slaves in
South and Central America. North America was for a long time one of the few
areas that was hardly represented (except for the Canadian Postal Workers
Union, which acted as PGA's main communications hub until it was largely
replaced by the internet). It was PGA that put out the first calls for days
of action such as J18 and N30—the latter, the original call for direct
action against the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle.

Internationalism is also reflected in the movement’s demands. Here one
need look only at the three great planks of the platform of the Italian
group Ya Basta! (appropriated, without acknowledgment, by Michael Hardt and
Tony Negri in their book Empire): a universally guaranteed "basic income,"
a principle of global citizenship that would guarantee free movement of
people across borders, and a principle of free access to new
technology—which in practice would mean extreme limits on patent rights
(themselves a very insidious form of protectionism). More and more,
protesters have been trying to draw attention to the fact that the
neoliberal vision of "globalization" is pretty much limited to the free
flow of commodities, and actually increases barriers against the flow of
people, information and ideas. As we [?] often point out, the size of the
US border guard has in fact almost tripled since signing of NAFTA. This is
not really surprising, since if it were not possible to effectively
imprison the majority of people in the world in impoverished enclaves where
even existing social guarantees could be gradually removed, there would be
no incentive for companies like Nike or The Gap to move production there to
begin with. The protests in Genoa, for example, were kicked off by a
50,000-strong march calling for free immigration in and out of Europe—a
fact that went completely unreported by the international press, which the
next day headlined claims by George Bush and Tony Blair that protesters
were calling for a "fortress Europe."

In striking contrast with past forms of internationalism, however, this
movement has not simply advocated exporting Western organizational models
to the rest of the world; if anything, the flow has been the other way
around. Most of the movement’s techniques (consensus process,
spokescouncils, even mass nonviolent civil disobedience itself) were first
developed in the global South. In the long run, this may well prove the
most radical thing about it.

Ever since Seattle, the international media have endlessly decried the
supposed violence of direct action. The US media invoke this term most
insistently, despite the fact that after two years of increasingly militant
protests in the US, it is still impossible to come up with a single example
of someone physically injured by a protester. I would say that what really
disturbs the powers-that-be is that they do not know how to deal with an
overtly revolutionary movement that refuses to fall into familiar patterns
of armed resistance.

Here there is often a very conscious effort to destroy existing paradigms.
Where once it seemed that the only alternatives to marching along with
signs were either Gandhian non-violent civil disobedience or outright
insurrection, groups like the Direct Action Network, Reclaim the Streets,
Black Blocs or Ya Basta! have all, in their own ways, been trying to map
out a completely new territory in between. They’re attempting to invent
what many call a "new language" of protest combining elements of what might
otherwise be considered street theater, festival and what can only be
called nonviolent warfare (nonviolent in the sense adopted by, say, Black
Bloc anarchists, of eschewing any direct physical harm to human beings). Ya
Basta! for example is famous for its tuti bianci or white overalls:
elaborate forms of padding, ranging from foam armor to inner tubes to
rubber-ducky flotation devices, helmets and their signature chemical-proof
white jumpsuits. As this nonviolent army pushes its way through police
barricades while protecting each other against injury or arrest, the
ridiculous gear seems to reduce human beings to cartoon
characters—misshapen, ungainly but almost impossible to damage. (The effect
is only increased when lines of costumed figures attack police with
balloons and water pistols or feather dusters.) Even the most militant—say,
eco-saboteurs like the Earth Liberation Front—scrupulously avoid anything
that would cause harm to human beings (or for that matter, animals). It's
this scrambling of conventional categories that so throws off the forces of
order and makes them desperate to bring things back to familiar territory
(simple violence): even to the point, as in Genoa, of encouraging fascist
hooligans to run riot as an excuse to use overwhelming force.

Actually, the Zapatistas, who inspired so much of the movement, could
themselves be considered a precedent here as well. They are about the least
violent "army" one can imagine (it is something of an open secret that, for
the last five years at least, they have not even been carrying real guns).
These new tactics are perfectly in accord with the general anarchistic
inspiration of the movement, which is less about seizing state power than
about exposing, delegitimizing and dismantling mechanisms of rule while
winning ever-larger spaces of autonomy from it. The critical thing, though,
is that all this is only possible in a general atmosphere of peace. In
fact, it seems to me that these are the ultimate stakes of struggle at the
moment: a moment that may well determine the overall direction of the 21st

It is hard to remember now that (as Eric Hobsbawm reminds us) during the
late-19th century, anarchism was the core of the revolutionary left —this
was a time when most Marxist parties were rapidly becoming reformist social
democrats. This stituation only really changed with World War I, and of
course the Russian revolution. It was the success of the latter, we are
usually told, that led to the decline of anarchism and catapulted Communism
everywhere to the fore. But it seems to me one could look at this another
way. In the late-19th century people honestly believed that war had been
made obsolete between industrialized powers; colonial adventures were a
constant, but a war between France and England on French or English soil
seemed as unthinkable as it would today. By 1900, even the use of passports
was considered an antiquated barbarism.

The 20th century (which appears to have begun in 1914 and ended sometime
around 1989 or '91) was by contrast the most violent in human history. It
was a century almost entirely preoccupied with either waging world wars or
preparing for them. Hardly surprising, then, as the ultimate measure of
political effectiveness became the ability to create and maintain huge
mechanized killing machines, that anarchism quickly came to seem
irrelevant. This is, after all, the one thing that anarchists can never, by
definition, be very good at. Neither is it surprising that Marxism (whose
parties were already organized on a command structure, and for whom the
organization of huge mechanized killing machines often proved the only
thing they were particularly good at) seemed eminently practical and
realistic in comparison. And could it really be a coincidence that the
moment the cold war ended and war between industrialized powers once again
seemed unimaginable, anarchism popped right back to where it had been at
the end of the 19th century, as an international movement at the very
center of the revolutionary left?

If so, it becomes more clear what the ultimate stakes of the current
"anti-terrorist" mobilization are. In the short run, things look very
frightening for a movement that governments were desperately calling
terrorist even before September 11. There is little doubt that a lot of
good people are about to suffer terrible repression. But in the long run, a
return to 20th-century levels of violence is simply impossible. The spread
of nuclear weapons alone will ensure that larger and larger portions of the
globe are simply off-limits to conventional warfare. And if war is the
health of the state, the prospects for anarchist-style organizing can only
be improving.

I can't remember how many articles I've read in the left press asserting
that the globalization movement, while tactically brilliant, has no central
theme or coherent ideology. These complaints seem to be the left-wing
equivalent of the incessant claims in the corporate media that this is a
movement made up of dumb kids touting a bundle of completely unrelated
causes. Even worse are the claims—which one sees surprisingly frequently in
the work of academic social theorists who should know better, like Hardt
and Negri, or Slavoj Zizek—that the movement is plagued by a generic
opposition, rooted in bourgeois individualism, to all forms of structure or
organization. It's distressing that, two years after Seattle, I should even
have to write this, but someone obviously should: in North America
especially, this is a movement about reinventing democracy. It is not
opposed to organization; it is about creating new forms of organization. It
is not lacking in ideology; those new forms of organization are its
ideology. It is a movement about creating and enacting horizontal networks
instead of top-down (especially, state-like, corporate or party)
structures, networks based on principles of decentralized, nonhierarchical
consensus democracy.

Over the past 10 years in particular, activists in North America have been
putting enormous creative energy into reinventing their groups' own
internal processes to create a viable model of what functioning direct
democracy could look like, drawing particularly, as I've noted, on examples
from outside the Western tradition. The result is a rich and growing
panoply of organizational forms and instruments—affinity groups,
spokescouncils, facilitation tools, break-outs, fishbowls, blocking
concerns, vibes-watchers and so on—all aimed at creating forms of
democratic process that allow initiatives to rise from below and attain
maximum effective solidarity without stifling dissenting voices, creating
leadership positions or compelling people to do anything to which they have
not freely consented. It is very much a work in progress, and creating a
culture of democracy among people who have little experience of such things
is necessarily a painful and uneven business, but— as almost any police
chief who has faced protestors on the streets can attest—direct democracy
of this sort can be remarkably effective.

Here I want to stress the relation of theory and practice this
organizational model entails. Perhaps the best way to start thinking about
groups like the Direct Action Network (which I've been working with for the
past two years) is to see it as the diametrical opposite of the kind of
sectarian Marxist group that has so long characterized the revolutionary
left. Where the latter puts its emphasis on achieving a complete and
correct theoretical analysis, demands ideological uniformity and juxtaposes
a vision of an egalitarian future with extremely authoritarian forms of
organization in the present, DAN openly seeks diversity: its motto might as
well be, "if you are willing to act like an anarchist in the present, your
long-term vision is pretty much your own business." Its ideology, then, is
immanent in the antiauthoritarian principles that underlie its practice,
and one of its more explicit principles is that things should stay that

There is indeed something very new here, and something potentially
extremely important. Consensus process—in which one of the basic rules is
that one always treats others' arguments as fundamentally reasonable and
principled, whatever one thinks about the person making it—in particular
creates an extremely different style of debate and argument than the sort
encouraged by majority voting, one in which the incentives are all towards
compromise and creative synthesis rather than polarization, reduction and
treating minor points of difference like philosophical ruptures. I need
hardly point out how much our accustomed modes of academic discourse
resemble the latter—or even more, perhaps, the kind of sectarian reasoning
that leads to endless splits and fragmentation, which the “new new left”
(as it is sometimes called) has so far managed almost completely to avoid.
It seems to me that in many ways the activists are way ahead of the
theorists here, and that the most challenging problem for us will be to
create forms of intellectual practice more in tune with newly emerging
forms of democratic practice, rather than with the tiresome sectarian logic
those groups have finally managed to set aside.