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Benedict Seymour

Do The Right Thing! The Anti-Globalisation Movement After S11

1. Since the emergence into the world's consciousness of the so-called 'anti-globalisation movement' at Seattle in November 1999 there has been an ongoing discussion among its protagonists of where this new political phenomena needs to go and how it should grow.

A multiplicity of different and often previously incompatible groups converging in opposition to the institutions of neoliberal globalisation - the WTO, World Bank and the IMF - , this new and ambiguous coalition has been celebrated by its protagonists, sympathetic commentators in the mainstream media, theorists, academics and members of a recrudescent old left as a remarkable development from the insulated identity politics of the 1990s. Anti-globalisation protests have aggregated rather than cancelled the plural constituencies of postmodern politics: from feminists, environmentalists and Aids activists to trade unionists, autonomists and 'civil society' NGOs. The 'Battle of Seattle' simultaneously saw the arrival on the streets of the first world of the well-established but previously 'submerged' reaction of people in the third world to the depredations of neoliberal globalisation.

Insofar as it constitutes a movement (and this is by no means a given), anti-globalisation is composed of 'one No and many Yeses'. Rather than representing a definitive break with '90s politics, the protests have brought them together in opposition to a single target, clustering their specific, often local, concerns into a negative unity. Suggesting a common ground for apparently disparate positions through its identification of a system - neoliberal capitalism - as a target rather than any single instance of injustice or oppression, this conjuncture forces existing struggles out of their parochialism, precipitating an over-arching demand for social justice in which all specific struggles are intricated. The sub-species of this demand take many forms, from the attack on 'free trade' and the call for its institutions' abolition, reform or replacement, to the 'Drop the Debt' campaign for cancellation of third world debt. Traditionally insular, protectionist groups like the American unions stand 'shoulder to shoulder', as we now say, with landless workers, lesbians and anarchists in the utopia of the protest, opening up a temporary space of coexistence and cooperation - at least, that's the theoy.

Dedicated to delegitimating the institutions of globalisation, the mob may not always deliver satori to its constituents (for example, try standing in Oxford Circus for 6 hours hemmed in by police), but it has proven an effective means of securing the attention of the mainstream media and the globalisation elite. As well as occupying the cities where the supranational institutions of neoliberal globalisation meet to transact their unaccountable and undemocratic business, the anti-globalisation protests have also colonised other kinds of public space, mounting an ongoing semiotic civil war on brands (Adbusters, Rtmark, et al), besieging the closure of third way politics (the World Development Movement's opposition to sovereignty-dissolving neoliberal programmes like GATS, ATTAC's successful defeat of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment), and chipping away at the apparatus of parliamentary democracy per se (anarchist groups with their 'Vote Nobody' campaigns, but also the many NGOs which continue to propose themselves as a parasitic regulatory supplement to government). Invading the fabric of early 21st century political, economic and cultural discourse, resistance to neoliberal globalisation has burgeoned, both through the punctual, international carnivals of dissent that have transformed each WTO, IMF or WEF summit from Seattle (70,000 people) to Genoa (300,000 people) from clubbish, complacent affirmations of corporate hegemony into a very public contestation of their presumptions, and through the protest's ongoing impact on the rhetoric, if not yet the policies, of the neoliberal institutions themselves.

2. When the police killed the 23 year old protester Carlo Giuliani at Genoa in July this year, the anti-globalisation struggle was given its first martyr and encountered the limit of direct action. The immediate effect was to rattle the NGO component of the protests - the celebrity vehicles like Jubilee 2000 cancelled their demos and groups like the 30,000 strong French anti-neoliberal organisation ATTAC were forced to ask themselves what level of risk was acceptable for their members. More importantly, the shooting further undermined the claims of the neoliberal elite and their hosts to represent the true interests of the majority. Brutal policing and the use of live ammunition made Berlusconi's government look even more fascist while the protesters, in particular non-violent direct action groups like Tute Bianche, came out looking like anti-globalisation saints, their actions applauded in the liberal press as an idealistic contrast to the greed, complacency and callousness of elected politicians. The mainstream media across the world continued to make a distinction between the violent anarchists and the majority of peaceful protesters, ignoring the fact that without the former group's direct action the protests would hardly be making the front pages. As commentators and protagonists like Susan George and Michael Albert argued, the recurrent mainstream media fixation on the conflict between pro- and anti-violence groups, and the conflation of property damage with violence against persons, could have the effect of diverting attention from the protesters' actual aims, fetishizing the question of their tactics at the expense of their demands and discontents.

Nevertheless, the moral authority of the protests as a whole was simultaneously reinforced - although 'a few bad apples' might be spoiling the party for everyone else, the protests had become a fact of life, a valid reaction to perceived injustice.

It was incorrect, however, to suggest that the violence of the black bloc was a new and alien element, a hostile take-over of the protests. Undoubtedly police did infiltrate their ranks, but these hardcore autonomists and anarchists were hardly newcomers to the protests. Indeed, as much as NGOs and landless workers, autonomists and anarchists have been present since its birth. This has been an ongoing embarrassment for some participants, keen to discipline the indeterminate, decentered and leaderless aggregation into a 'proper' movement. Whilst almost everyone involved embraces this networked, leaderless form, praising the opposition to corporate globalisation as an insurrection without a manifesto, even enthusiasts of non-hierarchical (dis-)organisation have for at least a year been discussing the need for unity in action, greater co-ordination and, of course, the 'problem of violence' - potentially divisive and counter-productive in a climate of intensifying state repression and attacks on civil liberties.

By the beginning of this year it was obvious that different groups were now engaged in a competition for the future direction of 'anti-globalisation'. The shared address to the global institutions sutured but could not eradicate their differences, both in their attitude to the form of protests and the content of their opposition.

The politics of Seattle were predicated on the protesters' powerful imaginary identification with the other, a politics of sympathy with the world's oppressed and a demand that they should enjoy the same privileges as the wealthy.

The protests brought together disparate groups in the name of a shared ideal of justice struggling for a re-unification of an unequally divided world. Its initial form, demonstrations and direct action, grabbed attention, but simultaneously lost it - the focus became the protest itself rather than the demands articulated by its constituents, leaving many (potentially sympathetic) onlookers bemused or dismissive.

For engaged and influential commentators and protagonists like Naomi Klein, Michael Albert, George Monbiot, Susan George and Walden Bello the next step in the evolution of 'the anti-globalisation movement' (such figures emphasise the solidary, unified potential of the protests over its rhizomatic, disorganised qualities), should involve a shift from symbolic protest to the formulation and implementation of new rules for globalisation. From brand iconoclasm, the mimicking and maceration of logos, and a declared opposition to the neoliberal consensus, the protesters must start to fashion an articulated political alternative, coordinating themselves in order to transform their original 'No' into a determinate demand for specific and realisable policies. Their newly focussed 'movement' must frame new rules for the existing supranational institutions (the IMF, WTO and World Bank) to constrain the movement of capital, protect the sovereignty of nation-states from the incursion of global economics and enable them to protect their citizens from the tyranny of the market. Many groups, from NGOs like Walden Bello's Focus on the Global South to the World Development Movement, No Sweat and ATTAC all share this idea that the protests and their allied forms of resistance must constitute themselves as a movement with clearly defined, mutually agreed goals, simultaneously identifying these as the reform and regulation of the current neoliberal regime. The mob (or as Naomi Klein put it 'the movement we already have') will recognise itself as a 'real movement' once it is consolidated behind the demand for and implementation of a new kind of globalisation which 'puts people before profits'.

However, not everyone subsumed under this vision of 'the movement' wants, as it were, to be in this movement, the very notion of 'the movement' being bound up with existing political and institutional forms. It is hard to define who comprises this 'anti-movement' tendency without turning them into a movement in their own right, but certainly the anarchist, autonomist, some of the far left and I would guess some intellectual and academic sympathisers have become increasingly suspicious of a premature dilution or constriction of the protests original potential. Does growing up have to mean this reformist reduction? While sharing a commitment to finding a replacement for or at least supplement to mere protest, anarchists and autonomists, as well as academic intellectual champions of the protests like Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, stress the necessity that this go beyond calls for regulation and reform to the construction of new democratic political structures. Rather than overhauling the institutions of globalisation, the multitude of oppressed, exploited, and disenfranchised citizens of 'Empire' must construct our own counter-democracy. The anti-globalisation struggle must evolve, but by constructing an exodus from the existing forms of global and state power rather than simply coalescing into a programme for their amelioration.

Genoa affected the attitudes of both the 'regulationist' and anti-statist, anti-reformist elements of the original protests, however. Luca Casarini of the Tute Bianche (offshoot of the autonomist group Ya Basta) advocated a shift from civil to social disobedience as crucial to the (neo)autonomist project of 'constructing democracy otherwise' (Negri). Increasingly terrorised by the state and aware that the protests' provocations could always backfire causing a public reaction against 'the movement' as a whole, Casarini argued for increased local activity and an intensification of everyday dissidence. Where 'nationalist internationalist' Trotskyists (parties like the Socialist Workers Part in Britain and their front group Globalise Resistance) this 'bringing the protests back home' includes rebuilding their national union movements, coordinated strike action, and a translation of anti-globalisation demands into parliamentary politics, for anti-globalisation autonomists, defined by their hostility to this bureaucratic mediation, social disobedience is more likely to involve wild cat strikes, industrial delinquency, and the construction of new local but globally linked actions independent of state or unions.

For the Tute Bianche as well as the anarchists and many more conventionally 'liberal' anti-globalisation activists, the protests' initial force lay in their ad hoc, decentralised character. As such, this new and risky phase of 'consolidation' could see anti-globalisation domesticated or indeed betrayed by supranational bodies, governments and NGOs' reductive version of democracy. Rather than the successful assimilation of the protests into a viable democratic politics this would mean their subsumption under the platitudes of the third way. What is to guarantee that, once assimilated, their regulations can supply the required disciplining of capital rather than just compounding the attack on citizens' freedoms? Indeed, to radicalise the question: can capitalism be made fair, given balance, or through a proliferating architecture of new controls and regulatory mechanisms, be forced to mutate into an equitable system? This is the anti-globalisation struggle's own fundamentally 'repressed' question and, interestingly, it underlies the positions of both the (civil society, nationalist internationalist) reformists and the autonomist 'radical democrats'.

3. If Genoa prompted serious soul searching, the events of September 11th pushed the discussion to an altogether more sombre level. The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon reinflected the events of Genoa. The whole question of the symbolic politics that unites protest, direct action and full-blown terrorism was brought to the fore not only for the world's self-appointed police and newly galvanised defenders of democracy, but for the diverse tribes of anti-globalisation. The new 'war on terrorism' seems unlikely, at least at first glance, to offer opponents of the global elite anything positive, whereas governments have been handed a blank cheque for repression. Everyone is expecting an intensification of the existing 'state of exception' in which anything resembling real politics (conflict, resistance, even critique) tends to be criminalised. After September 11th the protesters were confronted with a provocation from above in the form of the blackmail formula: 'You're either with us or you're for the terrorists'. Prompting activists to choose between doing nothing, toning down their actions, or running the gauntlet of a re-energised regime of police control, it has been no surprise to see an anti-war movement spring up where an anti-globalisation movement was a few weeks before. With the cancellation of the IMF meeting in Washington at the end of September and under huge pressure to behave in a 'respectful' way, this autumn's demonstrations have so far articulated a new but all too familiar kind of generic negation: peace not war.

However, if there is anything positive about the repercussions of S11 it could be to force a further re-examination of the tenets of anti-globalisation. This might even mean a confrontation with the underlying neoliberal assumptions shared by its plural constituencies, a recognition that the protesters' dominant ideology of justice and humanitarianism does not, in itself, represent a truly radical alternative to that of 'the Washington Consensus'. The present global order is founded on the same official commitment to humanitarian justice, to universal human rights and, of course, the state of exception in international relations which this creates when applied in practice (for example, Kosovo, Iraq, and now Afghanistan). The positive demands of the protesters are by no means alien to the modest proposals of neoliberal economics. As Malcom Bull has pointed out in a recent article, the two key political demands of Ya Basta, the driving force behind Tute Bianche, are free migration and the right to a guaranteed basic income, both policies 'once largely the preserve of Neoliberal think-tanks in the United States'.

In general the protests, although no doubt representing some kind of return of the repressed for third way politics, also share an unaccountable, non-democratic, 'exceptional' character with the geopolitics of the new world order, very much a battle of the unelected against the unelected. Furthermore, their ongoing resistance to neoliberalism has a whiff of 'infinite justice', the bad infinity of the 'war on terror' about it, a politics of permanent revolution in which one repeatedly provokes the political Master into (limited) action, rather than seeking to displace him and assume power for oneself. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek has described this kind of strategy as a way to evade responsibility and fend off fundamental transformation as much as an attempt to achieve certain 'realistic' goals. As a struggle for justice, not power, anti-globalisation is not really an anti-capitalism - at least not yet. Both the neo-autonomist demand for radical democracy and exodus and the reformist civil society demand for regulation and the restoration of some kind of welfare state assume the continuation of capitalism. However, this does not mean that either should be rejected, rather there is a new opportunity to examine both as posing different possible 'launch pads' for an eventual departure from capitalism. Whether or not they explicitly entertain this more radical exodus, this remains the most interesting subtext of contemporary anti-globalisation.