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Re: <nettime> Violent Agreement
Benedict Seymour on Sat, 6 Oct 2001 04:54:06 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Violent Agreement


Don't know if you've read the review (by Malcolm Bull) which Kermit
Snelson is referencing but the comparison Bull makes and which you
object to is based on the notion that both the protestors (whatever
their place in the 'meshwork', their style of organisation or
over-determining ideological commitments) and the institutions at which
their protest is targeted share certain crucial assumptions.

Given the strong role played by NGOs in the anti-globalisation
'movement' this is hardly surprising, such organisations by definition
exist in relation to the governments and supranational institutions they
batten on, pressurise, monitor, even generate policy for (albeit in the
mode of dissent and critique). Malcolm Bull specifies this suggestion,
and shows how it's not just the NGOs who may be complicit with
neoliberalism. He gives the example of Ya Basta and points out how their
two key political demands, free migration and the right to a guaranteed
basic income, are both policies 'once largely the preserve of Neoliberal
think-tanks in the United States'. Other examples exist, for example
ATTAC's demand for the introduction of a 'Tobin Tax' - well, clearly
Tobin (the economist) himself was right in there inside the leviathan of
neoliberalism (albeit avant la lettre); economists of this kind seem
like an odd source for supposedly radical opposition. Perhaps this is
why the 'movement's real figureheads are not government and neoliberal
intellectuals, NGO leaders like Anne Pettifor, rock stars like Bono and
Sting, or even academics /intellectuals like Hardt and Negri, but rather
what I have heard described recently as 'the people of the earth' -
perhaps above all the Zapatistas (and Marcos uber alles) whose economic
and geographic remove from the centres of neoliberal power would seem to
present the most radical kind of alterity, effectively cloaking any
underlining political or philosophical continuities in a myth of exotic
authenticity and sheer difference.

As you ask, how can such people be equated with the plutocrats of the
Washington consensus and the corporate fat cats who represent their
symbolic and economic antipodes? Well, again, the 'politics of
recognition' which Bull sees governing and uniting the opposed sides,
has no problem encompassing even this (at once real and fantasmatic)
distance, for in the end the valorisation of the South and its
insurrectionaries by protesters in the North works on good globalist/
neoliberal principles of empathy and identification - the discourse of
multiculturalism is the moral alibi of neoliberalism as well as a
necessary component in its functioning, the supranational religion. The
workers and activists in the South themselves, however poor, are
obviously in part defined for this struggle by the neoliberal
institutions they are fighting against, not to mention their putative
allies in the NGOs and other institutions, eg ATTAC or whoever. Again,
both sides share a (formal) commitment to the fundamental idea of
justice and human rights, and this is the basis or horizon of both sides
politics (the anti-globo movement demands justice, not a radical
transferal of power). The neoliberals in government and in supranational
institutions, if only on paper, share with the protesters a commitment
to a politics of respect for the dignity of the other (multicultralism).
In other words, the suffering human subject is a political cornerstone,
or rather a non-political, absolute moral base for both sides.

It's interesting to contrast this position with the (insistently)
impersonal and value-free analysis made by Marx in which the proletariat
are privileged not because their suffering elevates them morally but
because of their strategic position in the system of exploitation - if
they refuse (to work), the refusal has real force. Read in this way,
Marx is 'beyond good and evil', whereas the 'movement' is still going to
sunday school. In its reverence for the worlds 'poor souls' (Blair) -
this moralised politics places the 'substantial' suffering and
oppression of humanity above the exploited 'nothingness' of the
proletariat. This tendency can take on noble savage proportions: the
indigenous peoples are closer to the land, the rainforests and rivers,
to substantiality, than the etiolated, alienated western worker of old
(or the contemporary techno-activist?) who has 'nothing to lose but
their chains'. [see the latest issue of New Internationalist magazine
for a does of this].

Having passed beyond (the autonomists), rejected (anarchists) or never
encountered (the NGOs, etc) the Marxist analysis in which oppression is
acknowledged and engaged as a divisive social and political strategy but
not fetishised as a quanitifier of moral worth or political efficacy,
they  share, therefore, the neoliberal sense that justice (human rights)
is an absolute value. They share the same politics of recognition and
empathy ('America must extend the same rights to its over-seas workforce
in China as to its workers at home'; 'The Landless Peasants are human
too and deserve a basic wage' etc) which in other contexts sells Coca
Cola and furnishes Tony Blair's speeches. In this sense, whether or not
it is a crippling or enabling condition for the anti-globalisation
movement, the fact that one is poor or speaks for the poor against the
neoliberal elite and their institutions is not the same as occupying
some radically antithetical position.

This complicity may, as Kermit might concur, be inherent to political
conflict per se. However, I think the implication that what liberal
humanist fundamentalists call extremism and he calls fascism (following
Foucault at his most sloppy 'naughty binaries!' poststructuralist) is
the inevitable outcome of such imbrication is misleading and becomes an
argument for inertia (or certainly has done). Like the 'movement'
addressing the WTO today, revolutionary politics used to make demands to
the bourgeois state, it spoke its language, or mimed it; this did not
have to amount to a mere mirroring of that state. Some mirroring, some
shared point of 'violent (dis)agreement' is surely a precondition for a
possible movement beyond the current terms of politics/ life. However,
what seems important to me in the context of anti-globalisation (whether
it is neoliberal anti-globalisation or anti-neoliberal globalisation) is
that we address this question both in its practice and its theory, for
it would seem to me that this work is being evaded right now. The old
revolutionary left insofar as they constitue part of the 'movement'
touch on it, but tend not to bring it up in case everyone gets (even)
more impatient with them, so (fortunately) it's up to the rest of the
'movement' or meshwork to explore this problem - it's obviously quite an
'alien' question, but that's the point. Bull's review  seems to suggest
that, anyway, after S11, the game is up, and that we are entering,
somehow, a postneoliberal condition of globalisation, hence rendering
not only Negri and other intellectuals positions but also the practice
of the Ya Bastas etc redundant or at least in need of serious
reconfiguration. I'd like to hear what you make of the Bull review
because I am by no means sure that I understand or accept the whole
argument. Nevertheless, Casarini (of Tute Bianchi, I think) was already
talking about a shift from civil to social disobedience (ie strikes)
after Genoa. Even before S11 there was some sense of a cycle ending - if
only because the supranational institutions and governments have caught
up with the demands of the protesters in terms of rhetoric and
repression, further complicating the question of the 'origin' and future
trajectory of these demands.


Ben Seymour

----- Original Message -----
From: n ik <fragments {AT} va.com.au>
To: <nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net>
Sent: Friday, October 05, 2001 4:36 AM
Subject: Re: <nettime> Violent Agreement

> >Any more than it should
> >surprise us that Negri's followers are battling in the streets
against a
> >doctrine that is nearly indistinguishable from their own, which
shares both
> >a political muse (Spinoza) and a publisher (Harvard) with fellow
> >mythmakers whom they would supposedly detest.  Have we already
> >Georges Sorel, the "Marxist" who begat Mussolini?
> this is a common mistake...theorists tend to belive that practice
> follows from theory, when in fact, more often than not, those
> engaging in practice want nothing to do with theory. They are
> concerned with practicalities.
> And no doubt there will be a chorus saying, "oh this theory -
> practice distinction is old hat, and boring, and we don't belive it".
> But no doubt it will come from theorists, and academics, all people
> who have forgotten that it is only *in theory* that there is no
> difference between theory and practice..in practice it is something
> quite different. Organisation is a technical problem, abstractions
> are used as temporary maps and tools...
> about the same percentage of the population of the meshwork of
> 'anti-globalisation' protestors, networks, and organisations have
> read (and agree with) Negri's work, as have the rest of the
> population. in fact, probably less people in that meshwork have read
> it proportionally speaking than the rest of the population. He is no
> more a leader than any other actor in the game...
> The meshwork of 'anti-globalisation' protestors, networks, and
> organisations has no leader, no center, no representatives (so
> consider this a personal missive) -  a movement without follows,
> charging the barricades with doctrine in hand,...
> the 'anti-globalisation' movement is the same as the body of people,
> governments, corporations, supragovernmental organisations, etc
> pushing globalisation? this would have to be a question of ends,
> means and tactics surely, because there is no one doctrine that binds
> the meshwork of 'anti-globalisation' protestors, networks, and
> organisations together. And on that basis it is at best a confused
> and foolish statement. A meshwork of locally based,
> intercontinentially acting groups and organisations working
> (generally speaking) in an anti-heriachical manner, towards a vision
> of a world without gross inequity and alienation....how could this
> possibly be compared to the push for globalisation - economic
> imperialism writ large accross the globe?
> nik
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