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(en) <caravan99> From resistance to revolution II (2/2)

From autonomousrevolutions@gmx.net
Date Wed, 21 Mar 2001 05:37:14 -0500 (EST)

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

National dead-ends

A similar problem, also related to issues of identity and to classic
understandings of 'unity' and 'resistance', is the strong inclination
to react against 'globalisation' with nationalism (sometimes
combined with religious fundamentalism). These 'solutions',
tailored as they are for specific and select groups of people at the
expense of others, miss the most important positive contribution
that 'globalisation' has to offer to a genuine process of positive
social change: the fact that today, more than ever, dreams of
international solidarity and mutual support are within our reach.
Such reactions have already engendered aberrations and tragedies
in our continent such as the ascendance of a fascist party to the
Austrian government (See chapter 17, European Strategies of the
New Right-the Example of the FPO) and the war in former
Yugoslavia (which was engineered with the active participation of
Western countries, as shown by previous chapters (See chapter 14,
Taking Sides Against "Ethnic Cleansing"). But this is only the
beginning of what could become a frightening political evolution
for Europe, and possibly the rest of the world, if we allow the
destructive potential of nationalist reactions to unfold without
challenge. And one of the main ways to challenge these reactions is
to show to people who look at the future with anxiety that there
are other ways out, other alternatives based on positive values.

What makes this problem particularly serious and relevant for us
is the way in which mainstream media is strengthening these
reactions through the way in which it represents our mobilisations
(See chapter 61, "If struggling for life and freedom is a crime, I
am also a criminal"). They usually give the impression that all we
are unhappy with is globalisation, neoliberalism and transnational
corporations, but that we would have nothing to object to
capitalism if we as 'citizens' would convince the politicians to
'control' its expansion, be it by making sure that it remains within
national borders, or thanks to global redistribution and control
mechanisms like the Tobin tax. This is unfortunately the stand of
many reformist NGOs and so-called 'intellectuals' who have no
connections to any grassroots mobilisation processes in Europe
(excepting in France, where things are a bit different than in most
other Western European countries), but are always looking for
opportunities to portray themselves in the media as 'intellectual
leaders' or 'speakers' of 'the movement'.

However, the instrumentalisation of our mobilisations by
reformist agendas is also the responsibility of the anticapitalist
grassroots groups that have done most of the work for these
actions, because we have not done very well at making our
perspectives more broadly known. Our careful and sceptical
approach to media is actually a good thing in itself, due to the very
destructive role that media can play for grassroots movements, but
we can look for ways to make our message clear and loud for all
the people who will not have any direct interaction with us or
access our autonomous and independent media.

Similarly, nationalist organisations, which were almost absent
from the early stages of this process of autonomous anticapitalist
resistance, are becoming increasingly interested in our actions.
The last example are the plans of Catalonian nationalists to
organise a meeting of 'nations without state' in Barcelona to
protest against the Development Conference of the World Bank in
that city, in June 2001. The main reason for their sudden interest
on global institutions (when their traditional field of action has
been the resistance against the states where they are located) is the
public sympathy enjoyed by the so-called 'anti-globalisation
movement' and the potential that they see to gain political space by
projecting nationalism as a solution to 'globalisation'. Those of us
who wouldn't like to see our work become political ammunition
for nationalism should do something about it very soon, because
otherwise it might be too late when we react.

An unfortunate meeting point between progressive and
reactionary reformists and nationalists is their common obsession
with 'citizenship rights'. Some of the progressive groups that make
use of this concept insist that citizenship should not depend on
nationality, and that these rights should be extended to anyone
who lives in the country in question. But the dominant message of
their campaigns (which cover a wide range, from minimum
citizenship income to measures to protect national production
from the competition of multinationals) is that the legitimate
framework for policy-making is the nation state. This implies that
rights (and duties) should continue to be defined by the national
government of the country that you happen to inhabit, an unfair
and unjust criterion (as five hundred years of colonialism
demonstrates) which would lead to extreme inequalities. Because
the only way to improve the lot of the European citizens whose
situation worsens due to 'globalisation', while keeping the
capitalist accumulation machine alive and kicking, would be to
isolate completely their countries from the dynamics of
international market competition while taking the exploitation of
unprivileged continents and regions to such extremes that the
global profit margins concentrated in their countries would not be
affected by redistribution policies. This is not possible unless
imposed by force on other regions, and it is certainly not desirable,
although fascist parties all over the continent would surely be
happy to do it in the same way that the US government is doing,
with the collaboration of several Western European allies, in
countries such as Iraq and Colombia. But it is the underlying
message of all the people who speak up against 'globalisation' but
keep silent about capitalism, asking for the reestablishment of
national privileges in their countries or regions within a slightly
reformed global economic framework.

A step that would greatly contribute to clarify our views would be
to express actively and forcefully that we are not against
globalisation, as the media repeat all the time, but against
capitalism. We can celebrate globalisation, as Antonio Negri and
Michael Hardt do in their book 'Empire'9, where they use this
word to identify 'the regime of global relations' that many others
call 'globalisation':

 [W]e insist on asserting that the construction of Empire is a step
forward in order to do away with any nostalgia for the power
structures that preceded it and refuse any political strategy that
involves returning to that old arrangement, such as trying to
resurrect the nation-state to protect against global capital. We
claim that Empire is better in the same way that Marx insists that
capitalism is better than the forms of society and modes of
production that came before it. Marx's view is grounded on a
healthy and lucid disgust for the parochial and rigid hierarchies
that preceded capitalist society as well as on a recognition that the
potential for liberation is increased in the new situation. In the
same way today we can see that Empire does away with the cruel
regimes of modern power and also increases the potential for

Negri and Hardt make a good point about the increasing space for
liberation brought about by globalisation. But what they don't
take into account, following a long tradition of Marxist thinkers, is
the fact that not all pre-capitalist societies and modes of
production were as parochial and hierarchical as European
feudalism, a point that will be addressed more thoroughly in the
next section

Another anachronistic legacy of mainstream Marxism is the
continued obsession of many anticapitalist organisations and
activists (including good numbers from the autonomous
movement) with the industrial working class as the main actor of
social change at national (and ultimately global) level. While the
importance of workers is not questioned, the enthusiastic and
fervent hopes of a proletarian revolution proclaimed at any
occasion by many old-school Marxist organisations are totally
misplaced. These organisations and their ideologues seem not to
have realised the implications of the global economic restructuring
which has happened since the '70s. We shall not see workers
taking over power anywhere for a very long time, if we ever do,
due to a complex combination of factors.

The massive introduction of labour-saving technologies in most
economic sectors, the deep changes in the organisation of
production brought about by post-fordism (by which large and
'solid' companies passed on responsibilities and risks to small and
'weak' subcontracted companies (See chapter 8, 25, Mergermania;
My home, my workplace, new ways of organising the invisible
workforce), the international division of labour (which
concentrates labour-intensive production in regions with good
conditions to exploit workers), and the displacement of several
million people each year due to the destruction of their livelihoods
(by wars, modern agricultural technologies, megaprojects,
environmental catastrophes, etc.) who have to look for new means
of survival within or outside of their countries, are some of the
reasons that have combined to make most workers feel quite
happy about being exploited, as long as they keep their job. The
global production machine has never worked better for the owners
of capital, who are now received with red carpets even in
supposedly revolutionary countries such as Cuba and China.
Meanwhile, the trade unions of all kinds and ideologies are losing
their strength and credibility (See chapter 26, Social dialogue,
social pacts, or a social Europe?).

The only serious challenge to this accumulation process comes
from people in the South who largely depend on nature for their
survival, and who are resisting their displacement by so-called
'development' (as the Zapatista indigenous army does in Chiapas,
defending the right of indigenous communities to control their
resources and preserve their culture), or claiming back space for
their survival (as the landless labourers movements are doing all
over Latin America, and particularly in Brazil, with their land
occupations). These growing processes of resistance are becoming
a real problem for the further and accelerating expansion of
capitalism, since they block the access to natural resources. But
these are not the proletarian revolutions that most Marxists have
been announcing for one and a half centuries. They are processes
of resistance of people who are trying to avoid their
proletarianisation, keep a minimum level of self-sufficiency and
stay away from the miseries of dependency. Instead of aiming at
taking over power at national level, they are defending or
reconstructing spaces of autonomous power at the local level.
Hence, even in countries where most people (not just the excluded,
also those in work) live in appalling conditions, a proletarian
revolution is totally out of sight.

But even if workers would be in a position to overthrow the
government and take over power somewhere in the world, and
even assuming (against all available historical evidence) that this
would not lead to the creation of an authoritarian and despotic
regime, these are still not the best times to romanticise national
revolutions. The United States and its Western European allies
(especially the UK) are more than ready to apply their powerful
military machinery against any government that they perceive as a
serious threat to their interests (See chapter 62, Global military
strategies for the millenium), as they have demonstrated often
enough, and this is extremely unlikely to change in any foreseeable
future. Hence, national revolutions in these times are predestined
to the same slow defeat that was suffered in Nicaragua, with all the
human suffering and demoralisation that this implies.

Localism, technology and progress

The repressive role that nation states have played in our continent
since their formation10, together with the problems inherent to
national frameworks for social change (whatever their ideology),
have led many people to react by mystifying the local. Many critics
of 'globalisation' defend that equal and sustainable relationships
are only possible through direct interaction at local level, and they
hence choose to restrict most of their political work to that level,
maintaining national and international connections only on a
circumstantial basis.

Similarly, observations about the destructive use of most
technologies have provoked a strong aversion to technology among
many people (particularly those with environmental awareness),
who react to this by idealising manual work and hating machines.
However, primitivism is very alienating to most people of this
world, who feel the totally legitimate wish to live in comfortable
conditions and have as much free time as possible, in order to
determine themselves what to do with it. It is totally clear that
some technologies, such as biotechnology and the nuclear industry,
are destructive regardless of the use given to them, and some
technologies increase dependency and hence restrict freedom,
although this is normally a consequence of the way they are made
available and used, and not of the technology on itself. But there
are also plenty of technologies that can help to achieve greater
degrees of freedom and have negligible environmental
consequences (like small-scale wind generations made out of
recycled materials) and ways to reduce the dependency provoked
by the use of certain technologies (like the anti-commercial
networks that work collectively to produce copyright-free
computer programmes). Even some technologies that do produce a
certain degree of dependency can have an overall positive effect,
like most contraceptive methods. Computers have, for instance,
been indispensable for the creation of global networks of
autonomous and decentralised action. Without them, we would
have much more limited possibilities to combine our strength

Unsurprisingly, localism is often connected to primitivism, and in
these cases, the groups in question have often very closed collective
identities; many of them actively distance themselves from the rest
of society. This is their own choice and in most of the cases it is fine
since it doesn't have any negative implications on other people. But
such positions have a very dangerous potential when their
ideological basis is solely the supposed destruction of the planet by
'humankind', disregarding that environmental problems are
rooted on a system of production maintained by oppressive power
relations. The expansion of these views offers a great potential to
fascist proselytisers, as has been accurately identified by the social
ecologists Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier:

During the Third Reich ... Nazi 'ecologists' even made organic
farming, vegetarianism, nature worship and related themes into
key elements not only in their ideology but in their governmental
policies. Moreover, Nazi 'ecological' ideology was used to justify
the destruction of European Jewry. Yet some of the themes that
Nazi ideologists articulated bear an uncomfortably close
resemblance to the themes familiar to ecologically concerned
people today... Updating their ideology and speaking the new
language of ecology, these movements are once again invoking
ecological themes to serve social reaction... [They] emphasize the
supremacy of 'Earth' over people; evoke 'feelings' and intuition at
the expense of reason; and uphold a crude sociobiologistic and
even Malthusian biologism... As social ecologists, we... uphold the
importance of reason, science and technology in creating both a
progressive ecological movement and an ecological society.11

This is not a problem of the past. The Dutch antifascist group De
Fabel van de illegaal wrote a series of articles when they decided to
stop all their anti-globalisation activities showing how the
environmental and the so-called 'anti-globalisation' movements
have become the favourite 'fishing pool' for European fascists.
According to them, "[o]ne of the strategies of the New Right is to
look for conservative and nationalist tendencies in supposedly left-
wing ideologies and to adopt these ideas for their own growth"12
One of the most shocking examples that they exposed was the links
of Edward Goldsmith, editor of 'The Ecologist', the most
important environmental magazine in the UK, with the New

Goldsmith makes a plea for a green policy that will re-establish a
"natural social order" and "the traditional relations between
people". "The real problems are caused by the disruption of
natural systems as family, society and the ecological system", he
wrote recently in The Ecologist. Only when the human relations
are again organised by "the laws of Gaia" is a stable society
possible according to him. Goldsmith describes some political
conflicts as "natural" or "ethnic" problems. He believes "different
ethnic groups" cannot live together in one country... Goldsmith
sees the Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants "as two different
ethnic groups", which should be set apart. He also is a fan of
Ataturk's who, according to Goldsmith, "separated Greeks and
Turks very successfully, although there was a terrible outcry at the
time and it undoubtedly caused considerable inconvenience to the
people who were forced to migrate. But should we not be willing to
accept measures of inconvenience in order to establish a stable
society?"... Comparing human societies with biological organisms,
Edward Goldsmith even argued: "What is today regarded as
prejudice against people of different ethnic groups is a normal and
necessary feature of human cultural behaviour, and is absent only
among members of a cultural system already far along the road to
disintegration." Many people in the New Right see Edward
Goldsmith as one of their most important ideologists... [He] is the
president of Ecoropa and a member of the board of directors of
the International Forum on Globalisation (IFG).14

This is, however, a complex issue, since there is certainly an
overlap between the message of fascist groups and the ideas that
most progressive people in Western Europe defend when talking
about indigenous peoples. Fabel reproduced the reflections about
this overlap of Veldman, one of the most important ideologists of
the New Right in The Netherlands:

It isn't logical that the explicit identity politics of almost extinct or
destroyed minorities, and 'undangerous' mini-peoples, get a lot of
praise, whilst the same set of values are distrusted immediately
when supporting the vigorous nationalism of a somewhat larger
people", Veldman says, simply disregarding all history books full
of "minorities" being killed by "a somewhat larger people"
propagating such "vigorous nationalism"... "Seeing that so many
well-meaning people value the culture and worldview of
indigenous peoples, it is amazing that Europeans who also dislike
progress and also try to recover their cultural roots and identity,
get confronted with so much distrust and resistance by the people
who say that they share the same values.15

Of course, the solidarity of most European left-wing supporters of
the struggles of indigenous peoples and other rural sectors
struggling for self-governance (Afro-Americans who live in free
rural communities, certain peasant communities, etc) has nothing
to do with ethnicity or cultural essentialism. Instead, it is
motivated by the anticapitalist and autonomist character of these
struggles, by the realisation that many of these rural societies hold
many positive social and environmental values and by the violent
oppression that they have suffered since centuries (especially
under European colonial rule). Consequently, there is a clear
social analysis among the defenders of indigenous, peasant and
Afro-American autonomy which immunises them against the co-
option attempts of the New Right. But Veldman raises one
extremely important issue that really needs discussion among the
radical environmental movement: the understanding of progress.

A large part of the radical environmental groups in Western
Europe (especially those close to the ideas of so-called 'deep
ecology') consider themselves to be part of a vague 'anti-
development' movement. The rejection of the concept of
'development' is totally justified if one looks at the history of
abuse, destruction, displacement and exploitation that has been
done in the name of this cosmetic concept, invented by the USA
administration in the post-war period to dress in humanitarian
and compassionate rhetoric the neo-colonial exploitation of the
South. But this critique should not conclude in an idealisation of
the past and a romantic perspective on static societies (which
never existed, anyway). Again in the words of Fabel:

Left-wing activists should rather strive for a society that can
change, and in which all newcomers can equally participate. The
left should strive to develop autonomous internationalist cultures
of struggle... Left-wing activists should not protest against a
globalisation of solidarity or a global exchange of cultures and
ideas. And most certainly not against progress. The real struggle is
about the direction in which we are going to progress, and most
important: who is going to decide about that.16

The new networks of autonomous action groups can play an
important role in promoting this important debate within the
radical environmental movement. This is a good example of the
importance of these networks and links to facilitate the exchange
of ideas (including the mutual challenge when necessary, though
hopefully in cordial terms) between groups that were previously
quite isolated from each other. Such exchanges can be
tremendously helpful to advance in our individual and collective
analyses and understandings of the world, of social change and of
our roles within it.

Challenges ahead

In addition to these and other debates, many other challenges will
have to be overcome before the processes of creation of free,
autonomous and self-sustained spaces in Western Europe can
become revolutionary.

First of all, we need to work hard on our communication skills, in
order to come to collective understandings, at different levels, of
what we want and how we want to get there. This is not a small
challenge, as the last three years have amply demonstrated. We
should also experiment and improve ways to eliminate all forms
and systems of oppression, domination and discrimination within
our own circles (while keeping the right to difference and taking
precautions against the formation of dominant collective identities)
(See chapter 76, Cultures of domination: race and gender in
radical movements) and to deal with conflict and dissent
constructively (so that they enrich what we do, instead of dividing
us), since we are not doing very well on both areas. Furthermore, a
lot more of knowledge and skills sharing will be needed
throughout the process, both on the level of analysis (through
seminars, exchange with people from other parts of the world, etc),
and to exchange tools for organisational and economic self-
reliance (communication technologies, renewable energy,
ecological agriculture, languages, etc), avoiding the establishment
of leaderships and hierarchies due to specialisation. Finally, we
should continue the brilliant efforts to develop more efficient and
imaginative ways of transmitting our message to the rest of society
without depending on the mainstream media.

Another challenge will be the repression from the state, which
might become a real nightmare if this process takes root and
strength, especially if these spaces block their access to exploitable
resources (and much more if there are conflict over basic ones,
such as water) (See chapter 54, SOS Itoiz! The fight against a
corrupt and dangerous dam project in the Basque Country). This
is one more reason to remain as much in contact with the rest of
society as possible, since a delegitimised state will have a hard time
repressing spaces that are seen with positive eyes by most of the

In connection with this, there are a couple of thorny issues that we
will not be able to avoid, since they have been the object of very
long and difficult discussions in autonomous spaces, but are still
not resolved: violent forms of action (including those that do not
pose any threat to life or health) and the self-destructive use of
drugs. Both of them have been and are being used extensively by
the state to successfully repress and destroy of social movements.
Today's autonomous action networks are small and fragile
compared to the movements that have already been smashed by
unconstitutional (but, unfortunately, very popular) repressive
measures against 'violent people', or by LSD and other drugs
introduced by state apparatus in order to break down human lives
and criminalise dissent. It's important to discuss these historical
experiences collectively, especially in a context of increasing (and
very positive) interdependence bought about by the networks of
autonomous action groups. Because, as the former animal rights
activist puts it: "Building communities, bridging the gaps and
healing the wounds amongst us, dealing with our own alienation
and conditioning is a very hard and unromantic task, which has no
room for heroes and martyrs... Chucking a brick through a pane
of glass or building an incendiary device is piss easy in

The good thing about all these challenges is that, as mentioned
above, it's in our hands to overcome them. A group of people are
already discussing the idea of setting up a globally networked
space for experimentation and knowledge/skills sharing, to
promote these kinds of revolutionary processes. If you want to
participate in this discussion process, or have any remarks /
criticisms to share, please write to
1 This chapter is not signed because it is the result of long
discussions with many different people. Although many of the
issues discussed in the chapter are surely relevant for other
continents too, the stress has been placed in Western Europe since
this is the part of the world that the people who participated in the
discussions know relatively well. 'We', in the context of this
chapter, thus means the people actively involved in autonomous
anticapitalist resistance in Western Europe.
2 This means that Southern countries have to give increasing
amounts of what they produce (raw materials, primarily) in
exchange for what they purchase from Northern countries (mainly
industrial products and services). This deterioration in terms of
trade isn't happening spontaneously: is was violently started by
the colonial powers and continued in the post-war period by the
World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, especially
since the 1980s, due to the immense powers that the debt crisis
gave to these institutions.
3 Many 'uncompetitive' regions in Western Europe already accept
the environmental problems that richer regions don't want and
can be relocated, such as toxic waste (which has already provoked
an environmental disaster in Southern Spain), pig manure
(Northern European meat producers pay many farmers in
Southern Europe to take care of their pigs, due to the
environmental consequences of excessive pig production, in order
to keep the profit but let others deal with the shit), waste
incinerators, etc. These 'exports' will come on top of generalised
and worsening ecological problems, from climate change (whose
main expression will be increased instability and disasters which
governments will have decreasing means to relieve) to the yet to be
known longer-term effects of genetic engineering, and many more.
4 Credit rating agencies assess and rate the risk associated with
public debt issued by governments all over the world.
Governments issue public debt as a source of revenue: it is as if the
government would take a loan (with interest) from private hands,
committing itself to pay it back after a certain period. For many
Southern countries it is vital to sell public debt in international
financial markets (where it is traded as one of the many
international commodities) to maintain their macroeconomic
balance, especially as a source of hard currency. The interest that
they have to pay depends on the risk assessment of these agencies:
the higher the risk, the higher the interest that they have to offer.
Four credit rating agencies (of course all private, three based in
New York and one in London) rank countries in the eyes of
international financial markets, basing their decisions primarily
on the assessment of these countries' policies. They can thus bring
countries to their knees and force them, indirectly, to take major
policy decisions, as was the case when they downgraded Ecuador's
rating. The crisis provoked by this decision played a key role in the
dollarisation of its economy. This was heavily contested by the
social movements of that country, which went to the extent of
occupying the parliament and overthrowing the president in
January 2000 to avoid it. However, the dollarisation was done by
the next government. But all of this is another story...
5 Quoted from the PGA manifesto as approved in the first PGA
conference. This is also the current version of the manifesto at the
time when this text was written, but it might change in future PGA
conferences. The complete text is included in the first PGA
manifesto from June 1998, available at http://www.agp.org
6 Martin, Biddy (1988) "Feminism, Criticism and Foucault", in I.
Diamond and L. Quinby (eds.) (1998) "Feminism and Foucault:
Reflections on Resistance", Boston: Northeastern University Press.
7 Taken from the second hallmark of PGA, introduced at the
second PGA conference. See PGA bulletin number 4 at
8 Anonymous and undated, "animal liberation - devastate to
liberate? or devastatingly liberal?"
9 Negri, A. & Hardt, Michael (2000) "Empire", Harvard
University Press.
10 Nation states still have a good name in other parts of the world
since they effectively liberated people from colonial rule; however,
in much of Western Europe they never fulfilled that role.
11 Biehl, Janet & Staudenmaier, Peter (1995) "Ecofascism:
Lessons from the German Experience", Edinburgh: AK Press.
12 Krebbers, Eric & Schoenmaker, Merijn (1999) "De Fabel van
de illegaal quits Dutch anti-MAI campaign", Leiden: De Fabel van
de illegaal.
13 For this reason, the very best people from the editorial team of
The Ecologist left that publication and formed their own research
and publishing collective, called The Cornerhouse.
14 Ibid
15 Krebbers, Eric (1998) "Together with the New Right against
globalisation?" Leiden: De Fabel van de illegaal.
16 Ibid
17 Anonymous and undated, "animal liberation - devastate to
liberate? or devastatingly liberal?"

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