Globalization and Anarchism After 9/11: Possibilities and Imagination from Reassessment
By Eugene Koveos
(A note to the reader: though this is the least of its tragedies, it is worth noting that living in New York City during Sept. 11 and its aftermath has taken a toll on my writing. It would be dishonest and censoring to hide the disruption that has found its way to me so much less so than others. As such, the traditional essay-style analysis is disrupted by decidedly playful attempts to imagine in (semi-) practical, pragmatic ways that I hope are helpful in promoting critical dialogue as the struggle carries on. They are deliberately challenging, possible and hopeful.)
“Perhaps in these less than militant times we need to imagine the possibilities of resistance anew; for what we cannot imagine will never happen.”
– bell hooks, “A Call For Militant Resistance,” Yearning
The discussions at the Global People Summit in New York City, organized to coincide with local protests against the World Trade Organization’s meeting in Qatar, spoke to the massive reassessment in the anti-capitalist globalization movement since Sept. 11. The transformation of what was going to be a massive protest against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank into a march against racism and war, ignored by most of the business press, is representative of the shifts that movements in the US have undergone in the face of a changed landscape. The interrelated phenomenon of resurgent nationalism, heightened nativist/white supremacist attack, the proliferation of police and state powers, and, of course, state war have amounted to a general feeling that we are back on the defensive.
As Institute for Social Ecology faculty member Cindy Milstein said at the People’s Summit, the anti-capitalist globalization movement and interrelated anarchist movement find themselves in a space not only of silence, but possibility. She encouraged anti-authoritarians to take this time to understand what is happening.
In this time, many of our weaknesses and strengths have been made more visible. If our movement is to have any integrity, we will examine, imagine and reconfigure. There is no destiny that says that we cannot or will not emerge stronger and more effective than ever. Milstein noted the importance of proposing seemingly utopian notions during this time of horror and bloodshed; there is great importance in engaging in creative imagining of what is possible of our movements as well. Times of crises can birth radical change for movements as much as anything else. We have been disrupted; we must take this opportunity to re-form ourselves.
With all its problems, the very existence of a global movement against capitalist globalization has been an astounding and hopeful achievement. The tragedy and horror of what has taken place in and since September does not and cannot erase this, no matter what happens. Not to honor the development of this movement would be an arrogance unworthy of the movement’s participants across the world as well as an incomplete reassessment. However, we must honor the existence of this movement in the only way appropriate and respectful: by challenging dominating power within the movement, by organizing more effectively, by increasing accountability to each other, by generally making ourselves live up to our yearnings.
Those of us seeking to dismantle oppressive, dominating and hierarchical power within the anti-capitalist globalization and anarchist movement must take this opportunity of reassessment to continue to voice our critiques and do so even louder. Central to any reassessment must be power dynamics within the movement. We have a wealth of meaningful critique – from Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martinez to Barbara Smith to Jaggi Singh and more – and a wealth of resources – from marginal voices of movements past to the Colours of Resistance group (www.tao.ca/~colours) to our comrades in various anti-racist, feminist, queer, anti-capitalist struggles and others. How can we push our critiques to the forefront in new ways? Perhaps it is time for heightened direct action and disruption in the interests of meaningful dialogue and change within our movement such as many feminists of color have engaged in throughout history? What could this look like? How could we organize it?
Imagine: Dissident anarchists in the U.S. organize a conference entitled Anarchist Movement: Overthrow Yourself. Making use of the vast array of communications between anarchists, the conference is organized so that nearly every anarchist in the U.S. attends – the sheer numbers alone are inspiring. The purpose of the conference is to challenge the anarchist movement to live up to its own ideals, to understand and work toward dismantling oppression, domination and hierarchy within the anarchist movement. The first portion is dedicated to attempting to grasp how power operates within the movement as part of a global context of white supremacy, patriarchal and binary gender norms, capitalism and so on. The conference is long, painful and joyful as a transformed anarchism emerges. As they left the conference, the overwhelming majority of anarchists say they feel, for the first time, genuine solidarity in the anarchist movement. And they all stress: this is only the beginning.
The constant calls to continue the globalization movement highlight the anxiety that our movement will disappear through the sort of state action that ate away at the anarchist movement during World War I. However, the fear that the US section of the anti-capitalist globalization movement could soon dissolve post-9/11 does not come from the state action alone. It comes from the potential of the voluntary disassociation of people involved. If people abandon the movement, we must ask ourselves: why? While perhaps we have found, in the umbrella of globalization, a key issue around which to organize formerly (seemingly) disparate democratic challenges to oppressive power, there has also been constant questioning of how we organize.
Some members of the movement find themselves isolated from, and alienating to, people around them not involved in the movement. Now more than ever the lack of connection to the communities in which some of us live is visible and painful. Perhaps we will never again be able to afford summit-hopping without mass local support, perhaps we will all be forced to localize our organizing as some have already done. Despair and isolation are not inevitable results of post-September events; they have everything to do with how we have and have not organized.
How can we re-imagine and reconfigure our organizing? Could the community organizing models of Rules For Radicals author Saul Alinksy be re-imagined to further globalization struggle and create democratic, empowering structures? How can anarchists organize around the needs and pressing issues of myriad communities? Could we extend Alinsky-style organizing outside of its traditional low-income context to suburbs? How about high schools? How could anarchist answers to such issues as universal health care (certainly the struggles of DC General Hospital offer us hopeful possibilities), the rollback on civil liberties, cuts in welfare, attacks on accessible higher education be further articulated and enacted now?
Whatever hegemonic hold the U.S. and North American movements have over the globalization movement, enacting some of the very power relationships it claims to oppose, these sectors are not the whole of the anti-capitalist globalization movement. Thanks to visible organizing outside of North America, and clever slogans like “It didn’t start in Seattle and it won’t end in (enter location of contemporary protest),” most of us recognize that.
But if the U.S./ North American sectors of the movement died, what would we leave in our collective will? It is possible that, for example, direct democracy may become the norm for future social movements. Anti-capitalism has come once again to popular oppositional politics. Much of the emerging next generation of radical academics have cut their teeth on globalization protests. And a specter is once again haunting authoritarianism on the Left and Right – the specter of anarchism.
What possibilities can be drawn from current and potential situations? Imagine: As the U.S./North American hegemony over the movement against capitalist globalization subsides in the post-911 world, “Global Solidarity Collectives” spring up across North America. These collectives focus upon education and action in solidarity with struggles around the world, keeping the globalization struggle in the U.S. global based upon the values of mutual aid. Certain individuals within the group focus on particular regions or nations, participating in movement list-serves elsewhere in the globe, maintaining contact with activists and keeping folks updated. The accumulated result is a fury of truly global movement. While U.S./North American globalization activists may not have had mass mobilizations comparable to Seattle or Quebec to support, say, auto workers occupying factories in Daewoo or Brazilian farmers blocking roads against IMF debt in the past, they now bring to life the old IWW slogan “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.” The movement becomes global, even in North America.
The occupation of Palestine has become an “issue” that US radicals, many of whom have avoided due to its “complexity,” can no longer be ignored. Herein lies possibility as well. We have never asked for “uncomplicated” questions; we have asked for a liberating justice for all. The insightful work of the late Eqbal Ahmad, of Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, among many, offers those of us critical of nationalism and supportive of anti-colonial struggle meaningful guidance. United States anarchists and the anti-capitalist globalization movement must find ways to talk about the complexities of nationalism, particularly anti-imperialist and anti-colonial nationalisms. We cannot engage in uncritical (imperial?) denunciations of nationalisms ignorant of context and meaning.
We must be able to articulate what it is about the way nationalism operates we oppose (the privileging of certain voices/lives over others, essentialism, dominating consolidations of power) while finding ways to extend effective solidarity to anti-imperialist movements across the globe. Dogmatic authoritarian Marxists are certainly ridiculous quoting Lenin or Mao as if they were self-evidently applicable for all situations (“Just add Lenin!”). But if we as anarchists cannot put forth critiques of nationalism beyond Emma Goldman’s – bound in the context of the turn of the century – we find ourselves mired in a related arrogance and utter irrelevance to which our locations as North Americans is central. Contemporary feminist and anti-racist texts such as Nira Yuval-Davis’s Gender and Nation (SAGE Publications, 1997), as well as classical anarchist texts, offer us multiple, interrelated grounds upon which to meaningfully argue against nationalism in the context of struggling for a world of global mutual aid, stateless socialism, and democracy. We must imagine new ways to engage with anti-colonial nationalisms, new ways of communicating why we oppose nationalism.
Imagine: Anarchists in the U.S. create alliances with Palestinian medical-aid and worker-aid funds, described as “almost anarcho-syndicalist” by Edward Said (Democracy NOW!, Dec. 29, 2000). Through the creation of these alliances anarchists learn much and a critical dialogue between comrades is established across national boundaries. Friendships fostered through this campaign prove especially productive when Palestinian revolutionaries tour the U.S. with U.S. anarchists educating and organizing in support of Palestinian struggles. Contemporary Jewish US anarchists, continuing the vast history of active Jewish, anarchist resistance across the globe, are at the forefront of this and provide a link between Jewish progressives and Palestinian freedom fighters. Groups such as NYC’s Jews Against the Occupation (www.angelcities.com/members/jato) grow and further links are made between fighting capitalist globalization, imperialism, racism and anti-Semitism. New and effective chapters in the histories of both Palestinian struggle and Jewish anarchism are born, hand in hand.
Further, as critiques of the relationship between the privileging of certain voices and nationalism present themselves, we must look at the ways even anti-nationalist movements such as the anarchist movement can reproduce and enact related phenomenon. For example, the last time I saw so much enthusiastic flag-waving was in the Black Bloc. Have we, too, not created a sort of “nation,” in which symbols such as flags represent an “imagined community” that often privileges white, middle-class, men in its name? Not that the nationalisms in the interests of the United States and the “nationalisms” in the interests of the U.S. anarchist movement are the same, but they are related and have similar effects in different yet contingent contexts. Similarly, the potentially democratizing meanings of their symbols may undo them. The potential meanings of the red, white and blue flag as democracy sometimes leads people to oppose nationalism (even the state and capitalism) when the contradictions of U.S. nationalisms are highlighted. Could the black of the red and black flag, proposing to represent the possibility of freedom from all illegitimate authority, inspire U.S. anarchists to fight against the illegitimate authority of privilege within the anarchist movement? How can we use the current focus on nationalism to transform our movement?
There are as many possibilities to be found, as many potential scenarios, as we could think of. In reassessing, finding possibilities and imagining, the movement against capitalist globalization and the anarchist movement in the U.S. must recapture the spirit of possibility we found after Seattle. When thinking about movement in the post 9/11 world, there is no reason that this hope should leave us. To repeat ad naseum, there is no inevitability that our movement will die, shrink, lessen in any way. The future has not yet been written. As the rich and powerful pledge to fight their war “on every front,” so we must dedicate ourselves, over and over, to fighting the war against oppression on every front. In order to be successful, movement against oppression, domination and hierarchy must be waged on every front – in our personal lives, in the streets, in our workplaces, in our communities, and certainly within our movements. The hope within our reassessment is an act of war. The possibilities we find are potential battle plans.
The power we hold transform the foundations of the lives we live toward a better world may not be infinite, but it is undeniably amazing. To concede our power and ignore the necessity of reassessment, the possibilities we find and what we imagine in the face of heightened white supremacist attack, state war and whatever other shifts are in store, is to hand our lives over. To pervert a quote from Richard Nixon, the state cannot destroy the possibilities of a new world; only we can do that. Even after Sept. 11.
Special thanks to Cindy Milstein, Professor Jyotsna Uppal, Nicole Solomon and Christina Hobbs. Cindy Milstein’s speech is available online at http://www.democracynow.org, Nov. 15, 2001.
Eugene Koveos is a student of Labor Studies in Queens CUNY.