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(en) The Same New World: Antiauthoritarian Politics after September 11 by Cindy Milstein

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://www.social-ecology.org/learn/library/milstein/s11.html)
Date Sun, 4 Nov 2001 09:22:58 -0500 (EST)


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This essay is reprinted with permission of Night Vision, a special co-publication of
Onward, Arsenal, Clamor, Active Transformation, and Turning the Tide.
Copies of Night Vision can be obtained from Onward, P.O. Box 2671, Gainesville, FL
32602-2671.

...September 11 will always be a day to be condemned. It will also mark a
juncture in history. The list grows increasingly long by the hour: a lengthy war
allegedly sanctioned by, in Bush's words, "the collective will of the world"; racist
attacks on Muslims and Arabs; the gutting of civil liberties; patriotic flag waving
and media-sponsored jingoism; new subsidies for the rich and further
degradation for the poor; and much more.



Those of us on the antiauthoritarian Left also face the snapping shut of the
space we worked so hard to create; a space that allowed for dissent, but also
utopian impulses and even concrete possibilities. While there is clearly no
comparing the despair this causes us to the tremendous anguish of those whose
friends, colleagues, and family members perished in the explosions, nor the
exacerbated suffering of Afghan civilians, these are trying times indeed for
anarchists. The ills of globalization that appeared so sharp on September 10
seem to have disappeared, and with them, the reason for a radical social
movement. Or perhaps there are simply more important concerns now, and so
what little space still remains has quickly been filled by a predictable, though
needed antiwar activism, opportunistically latched onto by the authoritarian Left.

But glimpsed from a certain angle, the newly altered global terrain after the
September 11 suicide strikes is not so different after all. The hijacked planes
speeding into the twin symbols of capitalism only helped accelerate political,
social, and economic upheavals already swiftly underway. Towers may have
tumbled, but the process made up of a constellation of phenomena bundled
under the term "globalization" moves forward at a mind-bogglingly renewed
pace, forging new forms of domination even as it affords openings. And given
the tenacity of barbarism—from terrorism to militarism, from internationally
networked fundamentalists to the international "community" of statists and
capitalists—struggles to draw out the liberatory potentials within globalization
appear even more imperative.

This means assessing not so much the changed world, crucial as that is, but the
not-so-changed one that confronts us after the "attack on America." And not
simply to reclaim the offensive that had the G8, IMF/WB, and WTO on the run.
(As long ago as it now seems, the most powerful governments on earth basically
lost the legitimacy to meet in their own cities, much less publicly, after Genoa;
the IMF/WB scaled back their fall meetings months before the planned direct
actions even came near the streets; and the WTO is still scurrying for cover this
November in a country without much pretense of democracy.) We must size up
the same new world in order to regain our voices as antiauthoritarians, as a
counterpoint to the cacophony of the doublespeak of nation-states, worn-out
rhetoric of most leftists, and patriotism of the populace and media. Only by
understanding the complexities of the world, both the heightened sameness as
well as disconcerting newness, can anarchists again serve as voices of
conscience.

What follows are some tentative thoughts, far from answers and further still from
solutions, along two intertwined yet divergent paths. That's all that seems
possible right now, given how confusing conditions remain; any answers would
seem pat or flat, any solutions too easy and thus meaningless. As anarchists,
finding our way again, much less the ground beneath our feet, must be slow,
steady, and well reasoned, especially if it is to resonate with society at large.

The Path of Least Resistance
Wall Street shut down, for the longest period in its history. On any other day, in
the context of a widespread social movement, this would have been cause for
celebration. But it was impossible to feel joy given the circumstances. This is the
paradox at the heart of the film Fight Club. The alienation that we in the glittering
consumer society of the West feel—at least those of us fortunate enough to
have material plenty—can go in either libertarian or fascistic directions. Either
may bring transnationals to their knees, but the means are quite different and
the ends even starker. As Fight Club implies, a world opposed to or ultimately
even outside of capitalism could look equally ugly, equally violent.

No one can really say why the suicidal hijackers of September 11 targeted the
World Trade Center and Pentagon, but it's safe to venture that it had something
to do, at least in part, with the unease caused by a world in transition. (That in
no way justifies the means used, nor in all likelihood, the equally brutal and
authoritarian ends.) Yet ironically, rather than slowing or halting the dizzying
transformation known as globalization, the one-two punch aimed at the great
symbols of capitalism and militarism has only increased its velocity, and from an
antiauthoritarian perspective, sent it in the wrong direction.

The tectonic shift known as globalization, still so difficult to define, is in large part
about a shift in power relations. It is a shift that is far from settled. As
globalization breaks down all sorts of barriers—social as well as spatial, real as
well as virtual—it carves out a world just as open to the free flow of resistance
as of capitalism. Capitalism's internal compulsion to continually expand is greatly
helping to remap the world as one without borders, but so too are the growing
bonds of solidarity between the earth's displaced, dispossessed peoples. The
powerful and powerless are both influential in this globalizing process; at the
same time, both are also very much at its mercy. Because as old divides
crumble, up for grabs is where and with whom power will ultimately reside once
the world is fully globalized—"power" here referring to what and who will
ultimately decide the shape of that fully globalized world. Thus is globalization
creating a power vacuum.

Authoritarians and antiauthoritarians alike have stepped into this vacuum in a
struggle for very different notions of how decision making should be structured.
Those presently in command obviously have a greater advantage. But because
the power struggle takes place within, not outside, the globalization process
itself, everyone is forced to play by the new rules being created by a globalizing
world. These rules mandate such strategies as mobility, flexibility, openness,
networking, and cooperation. Our old mind-sets, however, haven't caught up to
these new rules, and hence it is difficult to see that even the powerful are
destabilized. This is the unease of globalization even for a superpower as
preeminent as the United States, the nation-system central to creating a
globalized world yet vulnerable to being unraveled by the very process of getting
there. Two examples from the new "war on terrorism" will hopefully suffice here:
the open borders–closed borders dilemma, and the need for international
cooperation before launching strikes against, for now, Afghanistan.

Long before the eleventh of September, as far back as the mid-1940s and
certainly since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, the nation-state as a tightly
bounded entity has been in decline. International bodies from the European
Union to the Hague Tribunal are helping to capture more and more of the
"traditional" functions of individual states at the supranational level. Certain
states benefit and others lose out in the short run, but all states must
increasingly forfeit elements of their autonomy in this new world community. A
related, though different breaking down of the national boundedness of
capitalism has taken place, and supranational corporations and financial
institutions are now the norm. This upward consolidation of governance and
economics, to name just two key spheres, has made borders between countries
and even continents increasingly irrelevant.

Yet unlike capitalism, which happily assists in tearing down walls in order to
grow, borders are necessary for states if they are to remain a distinct set of
institutions with powers all their own. In short, if they are to remain a distinct
state. As quickly as the globalization process irrevocably chips away at borders,
then, states must just as quickly engage in keeping up appearances that they
do, indeed, control their own territory. For this patina of control is what makes
the difference being legitimacy and illegitimacy for states. When individual
countries are forced by a globalizing world to ease border restrictions, they must
maintain this illusion of control by promoting and/or signing agreements that
ratify what is, to a certain extent, already the on-the-ground reality.

And so seeming paradoxes abound. The U.S. government promulgates an
agreement to fling open borders throughout the Americas to trade, and is even
willing to consider a quasi-citizen category for Mexican "guest" workers in the
United States, but (vainly) tries to stave off border crossings for illegal drugs or
immigrants, or for those anarchists who wanted to join the Anti-Capitalist
Convergence in Quebec last April. This paradox has only been accentuated
since September 11. For instance, it is now much more difficult for U.S. citizens
to get back into the States after visiting Canada, but Bush is trying to do an end
run around activists by getting Congress to agree to fast-track the Free Trade
Agreement of the Americas—to patriotically show those terrorists they can't stop
business as usual (which, of course, they haven't). As globalization congeals into
a globalized world, however, this contradiction will likely be resolved as borders
blur and perhaps even dissolve. Unfortunately, such a "no borders" campaign is
a frightening prospect when waged by nation-states—the victor potentially being
competing networks of suprastates or even a one-world government monopoly.

But that is the possible totalizing world of tomorrow. For now, another example
of the post–September 11 acceleration in this blurring of borders relates to
policing. The terror perpetrated on U.S. soil brought the world home. It is, of
course, a positive development that Americans now realize they are part of
humanity. Yet Bush and company would have us believe that means there is
now "no place to hide," neither for terrorists nor us many, lowly civilians. Or
more precisely, everywhere is now a potential hiding place, everyone a possible
suspect, for September 11 showed that fear and terror know no borders. They
don't tell us that states, too, also have no safe refuge. They would rather have
us think that if the earth is indeed everyone's home, we must defend it against
intruders, and that means calling the police. Anticapitalist activists know full well
that "domestic" police like the FBI had already gone global to lend a hand
against protesters in Prague; and Dutch and German police in one small region
recently built a station that straddles both their countries' borders. What might
have been a gradual process, though, has now been telescoped since the
suicide attacks. "Homeland security" involves European NATO planes policing
U.S. skies; police "wiretaps" will follow individuals across borders rather than
staying put on a phone. Enter the age of the supra–police state.

The processes of globalization still place limits even on these new forms of
domination, at least for the moment. Cooperation is one of the restraints, for
cohabitation on a globalized planet necessitates that we—the "we" running the
gamut from police to states to fundamentalists to leftists—get along out of mere
survival. Such global "cooperation" could already be seen in relation to flows of
capital; national currencies giving way in Europe to a regional one, the Euro, are
just one instance. But the war on terrorism ushers in a heightened sense of
cooperation, in this case between nations. The U.S. government can no longer
get away with being the world's police. As one part (albeit still a major one) of
what's becoming a police world, it too must now seek out and actually get moral
and material cooperation from a plurality of states, nominally democratic or not.
"An attack on one is an attack on all," affirms NATO in a grand subversion of the
Wobbly slogan. "Not in our name," chant peace activists in the United States,
but "our name" is much larger and more dangerous than simply "America." And
much more complex. This global war will involve a consensus much harder to
combat in that it stretches across cooperating states, not between competing
ones, in a battle against "rogue nations" and stateless "evil."

This is a small, still shadowy part of the world emerging after September 11. It is
a changed world, perhaps, but only because the changes already underway
were so fast-forwarded as to appear as something completely new. The same
new world's novelty, however, lies in its ability to throw everyone and everything
off balance. Old assumptions have indeed been shattered, but they were
shattered long before September 11, and unless we carefully shift through the
rubble, we will find neither cause nor effect.

The Path of Renewed Resistance
The Statue of Liberty shut down, for the longest period in its history (other than
for renovations or repairs). If we are supposedly returning to "normal," if the U.S.
government is allegedly defending the liberties that make this country
exemplary, why protect Liberty Enlightening the World, as she's officially called,
from the public? It's only one statue, and a contentious one at that, but what
better symbol of the irony of the war on terrorism to guarantee "enduring
freedom" than its continued closure?

For this statue was intended to stand for "universal political freedom"; it was
meant to welcome all peoples of the world into a purportedly democratic society.
The fact that unlike the stock exchange, this icon has still not been able to be
reopened makes plain the U.S. government's values. And certainly, there are
many in the United States who share the government's increasingly nativist,
undemocratic sentiments.

But there are many others who don't. Witness those moments on
9-11-2001—and there were many—when people didn't fulfill notions of humanity
as greedy, xenophobic, or power hungry. When voluntarism along with
numerous acts of kindness were as overwhelming, if not more so, a response.
When the senseless deaths of that morning made many turn both inward to
reflect on the meaning of their own lives, on how they contribute to society, and
also outward to explore other cultures, religions, histories. And when many
people recognized just how fragile concepts like "freedom" and "democracy" are,
even if those notions are hollowed out or often false in these United States. It will
be, and indeed it has been, difficult for people to get back to normal, especially
when "normal" is defined as shopping and returning to work. The genuine
emptiness of life-before-September- 11 has hit hard for many, particularly in
contrast to the genuine community most felt in the days just after the attacks.
Millions have (re)turned to religion, others to friends and family; some to a peace
movement. They have sought company and values in a world that now seems
lonely and valueless, and many long for an ethical orientation that is about a
greater good than chasing the American dream.

All that meets the ear, however, is a deafening silence. People are at a loss for
words as well as ideas to explain September 11 and beyond. The silence is so
deep that it will be harder than ever to break, especially since we too have been
quieted. Cries of "U.S. imperialism" or "imagine peace" have just as abrasive a
ring as "God Bless America" in the stillness that now engulfs both unity and
dissent. It is a silence that must end, but only when we are ready to serve as
insightful, articulate voices not afraid to speak truth to the powerful, not fearful of
playing with unending contradictions that may defy simple responses, not in a
hurry to work through the complexities that are today's scared new world.

For there is a world stuck between the bin Ladens and George Bushes of today
desirous of something better. But there must be something better to consider.
That means making sense—from a libertarian Left perspective—of
fundamentalism, the war of terror as well as war on terrorism, supranational
alliances, and a host of other phenomena connected to and sometimes separate
from the process of globalization. It also means taking account of these new
global dynamics in our praxis. Such a renaissance of thought within anarchist
circles will allow us to re-create the space we struggled so hard to build prior to
September 11, for we will have something profound to say and hopeful to offer.
Only from this place of critical thought can we again press ahead, even if by
baby steps, as educators and agitators.

Since September 11, antiauthoritarians have defied media stereotypes by
exhibiting patience, grace, and great sensitivity. Canceling the long-planned
direct actions against the IMF/WB in Washington, D.C. during a period of
collective mourning is just one of the many recent acts that offer a hint of our
ethical orientation and prefigurative politics. It is "diversity of tactics" coming to
maturity. Now we must broaden this notion in the days ahead, reaching out to
those newly politicized and newly touched by world events in ways we might not
have imagined or embraced only a long month or so ago.

We know that any move toward peace must understand that peace did not reign
prior to September 11, that peace can never be approximated without a struggle
to continually root out domination while providing alternatives. We know that a
peace movement can't operate as if the world were pre-globalization. The best
sort of antiwar movement would be one that sees itself as an extension, indeed
an expansion of the anticapitalist, antistatist struggle that preceded it. The best
sort of movement for peace would be one calling for a free society of free
individuals.

Our project is, and must be, the same today as it was before the horrific acts of
violence on September 11 and retaliatory ones since October 7. Cooperation
between heads of state in a war against terrorism must be contrasted to mutual
aid between peoples in a struggle against authoritarian rule, be it by states or
self-appointed martyrs. The evisceration of civil liberties calls more than ever for
a libertarian alternative. A widening circle of ethnically motivated attacks begs
yet again for a substantive notion of humanity and diversity—from the East
Coast to the Middle East. The further immiserization of people demands even
more that production and distribution be structured around desire not
domination. And perhaps most compellingly, the greater consolidation of
hierarchical networks of suprapowers in the post–September 11 world must be
thwarted by a directly democratic, confederal politics at the global grass roots.
Far from over, our project is now more crucial than ever, and potentially bears
more resonance in and outside any peace movement.

Nevertheless, we now find ourselves in the rather awkward position of having
good ideas under increasingly bad circumstances. In this globalizing world, we
too have no place to hide, we too are increasingly vulnerable. Thus we must
continue to solidify our own infrastructure, including but not limited to
independent media, physical spaces, a material base, and political organizations.
We must distance ourselves from positions within our milieu that either
glamorize acts of terror, like setting police on fire, or condone it, like supporting
the Unabomber's deeds. We must reach out beyond our counterculture, both
globally and continentally, yet also by working where we live. It is a good thing
that the world is opening up, that borders are blurring and power is shifting, but
only if we begin to create living examples of how to organize power in ways that
globalize freedom.

Capitalism was not brought down by September 11; it forges on in a macabre
though hypocritical tribute to the victims of that morning. Authoritarians from al
Qaeda to G. W. Bush retain their power to command, to stir up wars in the
name of God, albeit different ones. The WTO will go ahead with its fall meeting,
shamelessly dangling the newly poor in the wake of September 11 as the
reason, without mentioning its own deeper complicity in this impoverishment.
The world looks bleak, the good society seems distant. But small openings still
appear. It is up to us to raise alternative beacons of light in the coming storm.


Cindy (cbmilstein@aol.com) is a faculty member at the Institute for Social
Ecology in Vermont and a board member for the Institute for Anarchist Studies.


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