submission to Roundtable of
Special Section on Anti-Capitalism
I have been an activist, educator, and researcher in and of the emerging anti-corporate and anti-globalization movements for five years. I am currently, among other things, a member of an "affinity group" which participated in all four of the major US mass actions to date. We are an unresolved mix of anarchists, Chomskyites, organic farmers, and people who detest everything that corporations do. I am also the author of the first systematic analysis of international anti-corporate and anti-globalization movements (Naming the Enemy: Anti-Corporate Movements Confront Globalization, forthcoming from Zed Books in September , 2000).
For me, the word ‘capitalism’ is useful neither analytically nor strategically at this time. The most useful analytic concept is colonialism, a process which uses race and gender as well as cultural invasion, ideological hegemony, militarizationmilitary force, and state apparati (schools, prisons, compradorships…). Anti-colonial theory, unlike anti-capitalist theory, does not have to go b-boy in the intersections in order to deal with multiple oppressions because post-colonial investigations have documented how colonialisms carefully distorted gender and sexuality, manipulated ethnicities and manufactured races, and constructed new classes and consciousnesses. Anti-colonial theory describes the many subtle and not-so-subtle processes through which workers, land, culture, consumption, and small businesses everywhere are appropriated and controlled. This helps to connect first and third world struggles against globalization, as well as connecting so-called white anti-corporate/anti-globalization movements with longstanding movements of first world people of color.
While world-systems theory has incorporated some anti-colonial perspectives (such as noting capitalism’s uses of dependent peripheries and pre-capitalist modes) anti-colonial theory has a great deal to offer which socialist theory tends to ignore. Anti-colonial theory asks fundamental questions about productivism, growth, and consumption as the basis of prosperity; the desirability and necessity of "employment"; the superiority and necessity of modern technology; the viability of traditional low-tech labor-intensive production and pre-capitalist exchange systems; the economic, social, and artistic contributions of micro-enterprise; and the role of the economy in the popular but undertheorized project of "cultural survival". We rushed home from Seattle furious with Anita Roddick to repaint our signs — "Fair Trade sucks too!" The problem with The Body Shop is not simply the generous liberal legitimation of capitalism but the socialist disinterest in economic independence as necessary basis for cultural and political integrity. Anti-colonial analysis assists us in recognizing "fair trade" not as a form of international solidarity and a step toward redistribution, but as a dangerous dependency. And anti-colonial analysis can provide solutions that do not ask people to wait for the revolution.
Consistent with the colonial paradigm, doubters of the superiority of the new colonialism, globalization, are not only irrational and doomed to social backwardness, but are also violent and fanatical. Those of us who choose the "olive tree" over the "lexus" are the inexplicable, mysterious, proponents of "jihad" rather than sensible liberal critics of the occasional excesses of "mcworld". (Note the symbolic mobilization of the Arab world as the irrational, primitive, and violent "other" by both the neoliberal Friedman and the liberal Barber.)
The main difference between postmodern corporate colonialism and modern European colonialism is that postmodern corporations have slipped their moorings and are no longer responsible to nations. They have advanced from agents of the sovereign to sovereign agents accountable to no political entity. Although, as Leo Panitch points out, they still use political entities and regulation for their own purposes. States’ police, weapons, and jails come in handy for protecting corporate consensus-building extravaganzas and controlling people in and around "enterprise zones".
Turning now to strategy, it should be obvious to all but the most sheltered of Marxists that Americans do not respond in the way we would like them to when they hear the word ‘capitalism’. Walking down (ahem) Melrose Boulevard in Los Angeles in April of this year, I discovered that my "fuck corporations" t-shirt is the best organizing tool I’ve ever come across. (I promptly made them in six colors.) People from all walks of life (including African American cops) approached me, enthusiastically explaining this political economic critique to me!
In Europe the Reclaim the Streets parties are called "Carnival Against Capital". Here they’re called "Carnival Against Corporate Rule". My friend Séan Robin, founder of a great journal called The Indigenous Planning Times, wrote in the early nineties "I think when we talk about ‘transformation’ we’re basically talking about what they used to call ‘revolution’." "Globalization from below" is new language for "workers of the world unite" (but with awareness of a wider framework of dispossession). Corporations are the historically-specific manifestation of capitalism to which people are responding with powerful and analytical outrage. We just gotta get with the new lingo. Tut-tutting Marxists and Maoists must look underneath the titles, and check out what folks are talking about. They will find that people critiquing corporations want fundamental political economic change. But anti-globalists are not all closet Marxists; many movements resisting globalization are defending small-scale livelihoods, which Marxist analysis has often abandoned to the past or the bourgeoisie.
Three kinds of alternatives to capitalist globalization have been offered up by resistance movements and praxis-oriented scholars. One set of movements seeks to mobilize existing democratic structures to subordinate corporate power. Another set attempts "globalization from below", in which corporations will be reshaped in service to new international democratic structures that will be populist, participatory, and just. A third set of movements seek to delink communities from the global economy and re-build small-scale societies in which corporations have no role at all.
In my analysis, the delinking/relocalization option is the most well-developed of these alternatives as an ecologically sound political economy which provides a basis for politics at a reasonable scale. After advocating third and fourth world articulations of this type for years, I recently learned that it’s pretty much the same thing the anarchists are talking about. But regardless of my preferences or yours it is incumbent upon us to blockade any further perambulation of the claim that the anti-globalization movement doesn’t know what it wants, has no alternative, or, worst of all, has "no vision". We have at least three major visions (described above) and we have thousands of alternative technologies, organizational structures, political processes, and social forms that folks have been experimenting with or relearning from pre-modern cultures for several decades. Many of these have already been modeled in the first world, and third and fourth world peoples are understandably confident in the practicality of their traditional social forms.
While I feel confident of our visions and our thousands of workable alternatives, I feel pretty humble about what the "transformation" is going to look like. Right now we’re figuring out what to do with some troublesome vanguard tendencies, what to do about our too-familiar political articulations that fall back on identity, and how and whether to build a national participatory democracy to support the movement. Apparently the October 20 protests against ASEM in Seoul (O20) included the same struggles over tactics and operationalizing participatory democracy that we are facing here in the U.S.
My activist colleague Brian Cairns argues that the minority of us who are organizing this exciting new movement are making a valuable contribution, but it cannot possibly be up to us, as a tiny minority, to articulate THE [post-revolutionary] vision. I have recently come to agree with him that there is a time and place for "right theory", and right now the place is at the bar and the time is after we have acted in community to publicize our dissent and build courage and confidence that we will make a change. Karl Jaspers pointed out that true communication only exists anyway in a matrix of trust, shared faith, and love for one another. (The rest, he says, is just issuing communiqués.) Once we know from experience that we are in solidarity, we will be able to engage in real dialogue about our specific critiques and visions and we will not be willing to put the solidarity at risk over theoretical disagreements.
In the U.S., the emergent anti-corporate movements pose the possibility of bringing groups fragmented by identity politics back together to fight common enemies in a "unity of many determinations". People have been wanting to be committed to multiple oppressions without having to fight each one separately. Seattle N30 (November 30) promised that this might work, although clearly there was a lot of work still to be done. The WTO was threatening nearly everybody in various ways, and activists saw the connections. As Walden Bello emphasizes, it was not a spontaneous coincidence that so many different interests were in Seattle. The World Bank/IMF protests of their April joint meeting in DC (A16 – are you catching on?) extended this new possibility of a multi-issue movement nicely, offering continuity with the new unitary critique while also proving that the American movement was not just concerned about ourselves. In LA, for reasons I am engaged in excavating, identity politics returned and direct action all but disappeared from the actions of the Direct Action Network. This happened, oddly, under the banner of "anti-oppression organizing", which has been rather blithely celebrated in denial of the near total failure of the actions.
Dejected after LA, I wondered if the movement would survive, but the encouragement of Prague, Melbourne, and Seoul has us back in the van to confront the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue in Cincinnati in November. Some in the movement are saying that we should abandon the mass mobilizations and work exclusively on local organizing, particularly so as to build alliances with people of color. In a way I think this is a false dichotomy. While a few of us may now indeed be itinerant "protest junkies" who spend a few months at each site building the infrastructure, most of us are doing all kinds of local organizing in between trips to mass actions (and the ensuing court dates). As an organizer I recognize that something powerful is happening as I watch people decide to put their bodies in the way of these arrogant fuckers as they try to plan our world, as I watch people realize that the rest of life is going to have to wait a week¾ maybe longer, and as I listen to people describe the numbness and shock of returning to technocratic schools and liberal jobs after experiencing power, democracy, and self-organization in action.
As street scholar Kevin Danaher emphasizes, our most important task now is continuing to bring people into a movement which fosters faith that change is possible and sparks their imagination of how things could be, while building a sense of belonging and pleasure in courageous and inconvenient acts. Engaging young people in the movement as an alternative vision of their adult lives is a particularly promising opportunity.
By way of epilogue, I want to address those of us who see fit to comment on this movement from various vantage points. Americans have a movement now, barely. Whether we have one tomorrow¾ whether we show up for the next mass action, whether we struggle through the hard work of building local organizations, whether we go again this weekend to stand in front of the Gap to talk to our fellow citizens/shoppers who laugh at and insult us, and whether we continue trying to "build bridges" with communities of color who see this movement as just another white thing¾ depends very much on whether we believe that we have a movement. The precious power of this tenuous possibility must not be underestimated and undermined by would-be allies who unfortunately make their living and their psychic bread from the profession of critique. In the small town where I live, N30 occasioned the first march (of more than 3 people) down the main street since the Vietnam War (A16 was the second) and has led to a transformation of the landscape of life for dozens of conscious and critical young people who formerly had no vehicle through which to express and develop their visions. And that is what is important. I have watched them become very skilled and incredibly, tear-jerkingly, brave and committed. That is what is important.