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(en) US, Connecticut Global Action Network - CT RESISTANCE | the anti-globalization edition II (2/2)

From ctresistance@hotmail.com
Date Sat, 2 Dec 2000 09:26:35 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

2.Revolutionary Potential of the Anti-Globalization Movement

by Chaia Heller

International systems of power are bursting out of the single-issue
framework. Confronted by the exponential expansion and integration of new
markets, technologies, regulatory bodies, and ecological crises, activists
are turning to "globalization" as a way to talk about the increasingly
totalizing dimensions of capitalist and state power. Globalization-talk
reflects a nascent and potentially growing popular awareness of the complex
and transnational character of social and political systems, signaling a
shift in the way people have been talking about societal transformation for
the past twenty-five years.

The new social movements that began in the sixties were followed by an era
of the particular: an era in which the causes of and solutions to social and
political problems were largely framed in single-issue terms. The sixties
widened the revolutionary lens, broadening the political agenda beyond
questions of economics and labor to include a wide range of transclass
social and cultural issues, including ecology, feminism, and identity-based
movements in general. Yet, while rightly illustrating the subjective and
social dimensions of oppression, these movements rarely generalized beyond
the particular, failing to offer a panoramic vision of a new world that
would be free of state and capitalist domination.

The emergence of globalization-talk signals a crucial historical opening.
The idea of globalization, as a way to point to international systems of
power and their accompanying cultural disruptions, carries within it the
seed of a more universal analysis and critique. The growing concern with
global systemic problems, rather than just particular nation-bound episodal
problems, reflects a move toward a more comprehensive and integrated
analysis of the sociopolitical order. For instance, popular outrage against
regarding the global implications of international institutions such as the
WTO, or transnational corporations such as Monsanto, reflects a concern with
increasingly universal systems of capitalist and state power.

A vital question, however, confronts us: Will the movement against
globalization remain embedded within the social movement tradition of
single-issue protest, alternatives, and reform=8Bor will it offer a coherent
and holistic analysis of global systems of power that will open the way for
a revolutionary vision and movement?

There is an undeniable tendency toward the former. Rightfully disenchanted
with a revolutionary tradition associated with authoritarianism and
centralization, activists have largely abandoned the revolutionary question,
turning instead to a particularistic focus on social protest, reform, and
socioeconomic alternatives. The cold war and the failure of the communist
revolutions, as well as the demonstrated irrationality of the supposedly
"modern civilization" that created the Holocaust and other horrors, have all
contributed to a collective sense of revolutionary despair. In turn, the
postmodernist mood that pervades academia trivializes any theoretical
coherence as "totalizing." All of these factors leave activists trapped
within a paralyzing paradox: confronted by an identifiable and integrated
global system of power that must be transcended, activists today are unable
to create a theory or movement coherent and comprehensive enough to analyze
and remake the current global system.

Skirting the revolution question, anti-globalization activists rarely assert
the need to abolish and transcend systems of state and capitalist power=8Bth=
very systems they describe as "globalizing" themselves. Instead, activists
tend to focus on particular issues such as the WTO, international labor, and
environmental laws, or on regulating or banning new technologies such as
agricultural biotechnology.

The movement against globalization will only fulfill its revolutionary
potential when it challenges root causes: the universal logic of domination,
hierarchy, and class exploitation that guides statist and capitalist
institutions that continue to elaborate themselves on a global scale. But
more than merely challenging such institutions, this movement must propose a
vision and means of achieving a good society; one that is universal enough
to be coherent and principled, yet diverse and open-ended enough to be truly
organic and democratic. Such a vision must inform and inspire, making the
world comprehensible and remakable. A truly humane movement against
globalization gives hope for the future as well as the knowledge and means
to build a future worth fighting for.

Anti-Globalization Traps

As activists contemplate the current globalization problem, they often fall
into a few analytical traps. In the reformist trap, activists often confuse
radical critique with a radical reconstructive vision and program. In this
trap, spokespeople for the new movement=8Branging from leaders of
environmental and citizen-oriented NGOs to consumer advocates=8Bcouple a
crucial radical critique of capitalism and state power with a reformist
approach to social and political change. While advancing an important
radical critique of corporations and the WTO, for instance, these
individuals often offer nothing more than reform as a reconstructive vision.
As we saw in Seattle, pragmatic anti-globalization "realists" took up
considerable space in a potentially critical and revolutionary movement.

Second, in the state sovereignty trap, activists call for a kinder, more
citizen-friendly "socialist" state to act as a buffer between transnational
capital and civil society. For instance, when critiquing international trade
apparatuses such as the WTO, many anti-globalizationists merely propose that
we reform, democratize, or abolish the power of the WTO, while maintaining
and even reinforcing state power. Holding a liberal or radical=8Brather than=
revolutionary position=8Bthey never question the legitimacy of the state
itself as a political institution, missing the vital opportunity to
transcend the state's authoritarian and hierarchical logic and structure.

In the anticorporate trap, activists adopt an anti-corporate rather than an
explicitly anticapitalist stance. Citing multinational corporations, instead
of the capitalist system itself, as the cause of social and ecological
injustice, they seek to turn the "capitalist clock" backward to return to a
kinder and gentler form of capitalism. Their critique also fails to
recognize the need to move beyond a market economy that was born out of a
logic of unlimited growth, accumulation, profit, and domination.

As history has always shown, high noon will always, eventually, turn into
midnight. There is a logic to a clock: its gears, springs, or silicon chips
modulate its movements in particular ways. Like a clock, capitalism and the
state are constituted to move in a particular direction: toward ever greater
levels of centralization, domination, exploitation, and hierarchy. When we
look historically at the modern nation-state, we see that it rose in tandem
with, and out of the same logic of domination and exploitation as,

Rather than simply attempt to turn the clock of domination and exploitation
backward, we must develop a new sense of time and history. Ours will not be
built out of the dustbin of capital- and state-driven events but out of the
potential within the human spirit and the revolutionary impulse itself. We
can think beyond what is immediately before us, drawing from the logic of a
different "clock," which has been beating in the heart of humanity since the
beginning of time.

Redefining Power: Social vs. Political

This new logic is bubbling just below the surface of the movement against
globalization. In the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle, a critique of
state and capitalist power was nascent as the question of revolution was on
the tip of everyone's tongue. Amid the sea of signs that floated above the
crowd were calls for democracy and an end to the abuses of the capitalist

Yet, still embedded in the logic of social movements, activists in Seattle
could not translate the dream for democracy into a concrete political or
institutional form. Marching still to the particularistic beat of social
movements, they had not yet begun to reach for the most general expression
of power. It is time to seize the general power to determine each and every
feature of our social and everyday lives, ranging from the production and
distribution of the common good, to education, health care, and housing.

In social movements, we have been fighting for decades for social power: for
particular social freedoms such as sexual or cultural liberation, or for
freedom from such social ills as poverty, prison, or ecological degradation.
Today, we must begin to fight for political power: for the political
preconditions of our own freedom in general. In order to be free in the most
profound and general sense, we must be free as political beings. We must
have the political decision-making power to govern ourselves in a way that
is creative, meaningful, and responsible. Refusing to accommodate to a
system we know to be foul, we must instead demand the power to create a
society based on a new understanding of human creativity and potentiality.

It is the beginning of a new century. If we are going to commit ourselves to
the long-term struggle for real freedom, why should we take a pragmatic or
reformist approach? It is time to stop compromising and "negotiating" with
those invested in maintaining the current system. It is time to go for all
of what we really want.

Creating new forms of collective self-government, we may move beyond the
logic of domination and exploitation on which the current "democracy" is
built. Transcending a "representative democracy" with its political
authorities and centralized state power, we may reach for a form of
democracy defined as direct political power. The revolutionary potential of
the anti-globalization movement emerges from a logic of human freedom. We
must recapture the original meaning of politics developed by the Athenians
centuries ago: the power to assemble as citizens to govern our own
communities. According to social ecologist Murray Bookchin, the political
life of free citizens cannot be reduced to "statecraft," nor to the
managerial and authoritarian practices of the state that are so often
confused with authentic politics. For Bookchin, true political power is the
power of citizens to make decisions in general about their lives. It is the
power to gather as general members of communities to discuss, decide, and
determine the public policies that will shape how we work, produce, and live
together. Until we have this power, we will be left only to stand on the
sidelines of society, fighting for rights, choices, alternatives, and
improvements within a system we know to be tyrannizing most of humanity and
destroying the natural world.

>From Economic Power to Political Power

We are so identified with the capitalist system that we can only see
ourselves in economic terms. We confuse general political power with
particular economic power: the power to consume, produce, boycott, or create
episodic economic alternatives. Yet as the last several decades have shown,
we cannot create a new society simply by seizing and recasting economic
power. Indeed, it has proved insufficient to simply fight corporations,
waging individual campaigns against WalMart or Monsanto, trying to keep
chain stores out of our communities or ban genetically engineered food from
our supermarkets.

The real challenge to capitalism is to refuse its tendency to translate the
world into its own terms. We must free ourselves of "internalized
capitalism": the belief that capitalism is "natural," inevitable,
unstoppable, or a system that can only be reformed or complemented with
economic alternatives. Seized by internalized capitalism, we see ourselves
primarily as workers or consumers=8Bas producers of or resisters to economic
practice. The dissolution of the idea of citizen into the idea of consumer,
with the new notion of the "consumer-citizen," signals the final collapse of
humanity into homo economicus, or the economic animal.

But we are also, as Aristotle said, a zoon politikon, a political animal. We
are beings with the potential to think, discuss, decide, and determine all
aspects of our lives, including matters of economics. The fact is, we cannot
fight capitalism with economic power alone. We cannot abolish capitalism by
creating "economic" alternatives such as co-ops, just as we cannot boycott
our way to a noncapitalist society. We can only bring the capitalist system
to its knees when we can stand on our own feet, empowered politically. The
enormous dislocation of peoples, capital, and goods throughout the world can
only be countered by a global movement for a new kind of political locality
based on principles of cooperation, direct democracy, and confederalism.

This is What Democracy Looks Like!

If we are to retrieve the notion of citizenship from the category of
consumer and the category of the state as well, we have to ask ourselves
what kind of citizens, what kind of political life, do we want to retrieve?
Can we only resuscitate ourselves as citizens bound by national borders and
identities, passively represented by politicians and dominated by the
nation-state? Or may we reestablish ourselves as a new kind of free citizen
empowered to directly participate in the management of our everyday lives?
It is time that we begin to build a direct democracy: one in which citizens
meet directly, face to face, to democratically determine their own lives.
Unlike a representative democracy, which exists to serve the state, a direct
democracy is a form of government that serves humanity as a whole.

In the 1999 anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle, the spirit of direct
democracy was in the air. Direct confrontation with state military forces in
the form of police and the National Guard led to a five-day period of
radicalization among young activists, for many of whom this was their first
encounter with militaristic repression. On the streets, the real yet more
abstract fight against the WTO concretized itself into a struggle against
the nondemocratic character of the state and capital. Activists found
themselves beaten, injured by chemical weapons, jailed, tortured, and
deprived of their civil rights in a "progressive" First World city=8Bmerely
for engaging in peaceful protest and taking to the streets as citizens to
express their freedom of speech.

There were countless marches that week as courageous activists risked their
safety to take to the streets, rejecting the curfew and no-entry zones
dictated by the city of Seattle in conjunction with the federal government.
During one march, a chant arose, poetically and spontaneously, that captured
the imagination and passion of the other activists who were undergoing a
life-changing transformation. After days of collective, democratic decision
making and peaceful, intelligent protest, after days of seizing the right to
think, decide, and take public action, activists came to understand
democracy in a new way. They began to see democracy as a direct act, as the
movement of real people participating in determining their own lives in a
spirit of cooperation.

This chant, "This is What Democracy Looks Like," repeated passionately, over
and over, summoned a new way of thinking about political reconstruction.
When taken to its logical conclusion, this chant means not only that we must
take to the streets but that we must take to our communities, where we may
demand the power to rebuild a vital and passionate political life. This
chant inspires us to develop a new understanding of citizenship defined not
in relation to a state or nation but in opposition to nations and states. It
is time to redefine citizenship in relation to local communities and
regional, continental, and even global confederations.

As we think beyond the state, seeing ourselves as free citizens, we must
begin to ask what would be the local and translocal political institutions
that would empower citizens to establish a direct democracy? Indeed, as we
challenge the nondemocratic character of global capitalism and interstate
apparatuses such as the WTO, World Bank, or the IMF, we must propose new
political institutions that embody the principles of cooperation and direct

Marked by "internalized statism," we often find it hard to conceptualize
nonstatist forms of local and translocal self-government. Wanting to move
beyond the authoritarian logic of national borders, we summon the idea of
the "global" as the humanist counterpart to the "local." We appeal to the
local-global dyad in attempting to name the complementary units of political
organization that will constitute the new society. Yet, while the idea of
"thinking globally and acting locally" rightly asserts the need to rebuild
local communities within a humanist and internationalist context, the idea
must be elaborated in distinctly political terms.

While the term "local" could be translated into the political institutions
of the city council, town meeting, or neighborhood assembly, the idea of the
"global" remains an abstraction until we translate it into a concrete
political structure. In this spirit, we may translate the "global" into the
confederation, the next valid and complementary level of political
organization that lies beyond the local level. A more meaningful way to
politically and institutionally counter globalization is to counter "the
global" (global capitalism, transnational governmental structures) with
municipal and confederal forms of direct democracy.

This approach to the question of political reconstruction is called
libertarian municipalism. Developed by theorist Murray Bookchin, libertarian
municipalism is a way of thinking about political transformation that
proposes a way to counter globalization by establishing self-governing local
towns, cities, and villages, linking them together to form confederations.
Within libertarian municipalism, members of communities reclaim existing
local political forums, such as city and neighborhood councils, gradually
transforming them into citizens' assemblies. Creating local electoral
campaigns as a way to educate the public about direct democracy, libertarian
municipalism proposes that citizens begin to popularize the demand for
direct political power. Such campaigns initiate a long-term revolutionary
process in which citizens gradually wrest decision-making power from states,
corporations, and metastates such as the WTO, politically reempowering
themselves in the process. As members of municipalities form local groups
engaged in the process of political transformation, they may confederate
with other free cities, towns, and villages to establish a situation of dual
power: a united and coordinated counterpower to the state and capital.

Talking about a New Revolution

What would it take to leave the "era of the particular," to regain our
revolutionary nerve? We would have to rethink the revolutionary project,
creating a new kind of universal theory and movement. In reapproaching the
revolutionary question, however, we must transcend the limits of the marxist
and anarchist revolutionary movements of the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries, drawing the best that these traditions have to offer. Indeed, we
may move beyond deterministic, hierarchical, individualistic, and culturally
biased approaches to questions of social and political transformation. A new
revolutionary vision must grow out of a logic of open-ended potentiality
rather than crude determinism; nonhierarchy rather than hierarchy;
solidarity and organization rather than rigid individualism; and a complex
appreciation of the principled yet diverse institutional and cultural forms
out of which we may forge a new idea of freedom.

First, we have inherited the revolutionary model of marxists who saw the
revolution as a determined, linear, inherently progressive process with one
single end. In contrast, we may move toward an open-ended view of revolution
that sees the good society as multiple, ever evolving, and a product of
human potential and creativity. Indeed, we may see the revolution as an
unfolding of human potential for cooperation, sociality, and
creativity=8Brather than the unfolding of a deterministic law of history.

Second, we have inherited the nineteenth-century view that authoritarianism,
centralization, and hierarchy are necessary and inevitable features of the
revolutionary process. In contrast, the new revolution may draw from the
left libertarian tradition that demands that the revolutionary process
itself be based on the same ethical principles as the good society for which
we fight. Within this tradition, the revolutionary process represents an
educational, transformational process that forms the free citizen who will
manage the new society.

Third, we must draw from the best of the left libertarian tradition. While
the anarchist tradition offers a crucial critique of state power and
capital, rightly calling for a more cooperative society, it also inherited
an individualistic tendency from classical liberal theory. Notions of the
autonomous individual, expressed through individual confrontations with
authority, often end up reinforcing a sense of powerlessness and nihilism,
rather than a sense of collective empowerment and a meaningful
reconstructive vision. By contrast, we need to create a structured movement
that empowers the individual within a greater collectivity. Such a
revolutionary movement must have a sense of direction and political purpose
with a respect for ideas as well as action.

Finally, the new revolution understands that we are not fighting to create
one single universal model of the good society. Leaving the twentieth
century, we see "the good society" as a unity in diversity: a confederation
of diverse cultures and societies unified by a general, yet coherent set of
ethical principles, such as nonhierarchy, decentralization, abolition of
classes, and direct democracy. Such principles will always be general enough
to permit a wide horizon of cultural interpretation and application, yet
particular enough to allow for degrees of coherence and unity. "The good
society" is the unified yet diverse expression of the human potential for
freedom in all of its cultural forms.

It is vital to talk of humanity's potentialities in an age in which a
despotic minority of humanity dominates the majority. Yet we must work
toward a new kind of humanism, one that is not based on an abstract
universal understanding of national unity or a parochial ethnic
understanding of "diversity." Instead, we may recover a humanism grounded on
the idea of the stateless citizen, a member of a free community that stands
in confederation with other communities. This new expression of humanism
binds individuals and communities together through a general, common
constitution based on such principles as solidarity, self-determination, and
direct democracy. The spirit of this new global humanism will find its
concrete expression through a common, confederal constitution that can be
particularized, culturally translated, and "applied" to a diverse variety of

The New Left taught us the relevance of culture to the process of social
transformation. Focused on the universal historical subject, the
revolutionary tradition of the past two centuries failed to link particular
forms of social oppression such as sexism and racism to wider systemic
processes such as the state and capital. Today, we know that we cannot
dissolve particular identities or cultures into general, universal theories
or movements. We know that the elimination of class exploitation, for
example, will not inherently entail the abolition of racism or sexism. The
question we face, then, is how to generalize particular social struggles in
such a way that general movements may reflect the particular cultures and
identities of real people dealing with concrete local and cultural problems.
Otherwise stated, we must learn how to particularize general struggles, or
how to speak to and support the particular subject within the general
movement=8Bas well as vice versa.

Drawing from the New Left, we have learned that general human freedom may
only be won by working through particular forms of oppression. Indeed,
within an authoritarian society, we are dehumanized in particular ways: the
often overlapping effects of homophobia, sexism, racism, and classism, for
example, will shape the lives of people in ways that are both specific and

As a consequence, the struggle to regain our humanity will always be
particular as well as general. The new revolution will include a process of
consciousness-raising and education, raising awareness of particular forms
and effects of hierarchy. It will open the way for social groups to pursue
particular paths toward recovery of a human potential understood to be both
general and diverse.

A movement that challenges globalization is a movement that fights for each
human being to fulfill her or his potential, by challenging a world. It is a
movement that strides out of the era of the particular to reclaim our
collective, revolutionary imagination and intelligence. Such a movement
provides a critique not only of particular social issues but of a global and
integrated system that has been in place for centuries. In turn, a truly
humane movement against globalization does not solely help people cope with,
or accommodate to, a system that is inherently dehumanizing and
anti-ecological. Rather, it is a movement for real political power that will
finally allow us to create our own everyday life, collectively, in all of
its fullness. This is what democracy looks like.


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