THEY CALL IT A REVOLUTION - IF ONLY: A TALE OF TWO BOOKS REVIEWED
LOGO: Taking aim at the Brand Bullies Naomi Klein; Flamingo. 2000
is a worldwide protest movement developing. It might end up in a revolution
if we are not careful. In confirmation of this we have only to read
the screaming tabloids as they take up the cudgels for their owners
and controllers. Who better promotes the interests of the working-class
and the oppressed? As we move away from the protests in Genoa at the
recent 'G8 summit', in the aftermath of Seattle, London, Toronto,
Prague, and Gothenburg, the same historically tried and tested format
is being wheeled out. Anyone, whether Environmentalist, Third World
Debt relief protestors, Socialists or Anarchists, who dares to bring
their concerns and questions onto the streets just trying to be heard,
is labelled as troublemaker or terrorist or even, God forbid, a communist.
Two new books offering very different analysis of this global protest movement suggest that this time the tabloids may not be too far wrong. The movement did not start in Seattle, nor is it likely to end in Genoa. Is it however the prelude to a new historical epoch, the beginning of a new global agenda developed across the internet by the dispossessed and the caring?
Naomi Klein in her recently published book, No Logo, outlines the history of the burgeoning protest movement in great detail. There is little doubt that she has used the four years that went into the research and writing of the book to clearly identify the Brand bullies and also those who have them in their sights.
She initially tells us that the book is based on first hand observation and is not a book of predictions, it is 'an examination of a largely underground system of information, protest and planning, a system already coursing with activity and ideas crossing many national borders and several generations'. It undoubtedly is that, and worth reading for the insight. She then goes on to make those very predictions she wanted to avoid although staying well away from any hint of revolution. As a well-known Sinn Féin friend told me recently 'you don't make many friends in America talking about revolution.'
Exploring the early social and environmental campaigns of 'small town and campus America', usually against the Wal-marts or McD's; bridging across to the national and international protests such as those which targeted Shell Oil after the atrocious hanging of Nigerian author and anti-Shell activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, or the links between the Burma junta and the global corporates, through to the street 'countersummits' which now stalk our 'world leaders' in politics and economics, Naomi Klein tries to fit them into an understandable and focused model of radical international change.
Claiming, with some superficial rationale, that a group of corporate Goliaths have come together and now form a de facto global government, she presents the book as an 'attempt to analyse and document the forces opposing this corporate rule and to lay out the particular set of cultural and economic conditions that made the emergence of that opposition inevitable.' And she does a very thorough job of it.
She examines in detail the surrender of culture and education to the needs of the marketer; a process that is only just beginning here. She then looks at how this process leads to corporate control of both our bodies and our minds - their censorship and obliteration of the right to choose. As she sees it, this right to choose is not only set in terms of products and thoughts but is giving rise to the new labour market tendencies of tenuous worker-employer relationships, out-sourcing, forced self-employment, part-time and temporary posts. This unfortunately is not a new tendency here. Our voluntary and community sector knows this process only to well and unfortunately feels obliged to pander to it.
From Naomi Klein's perspective it is the collusion of, and the interplay among, these various tendencies, the hidden forces that employ them and the political structures that protect them which have given rise to the activism, which, she says is sowing the seeds of a genuine alternative to corporate rule. Well to be honest she doesn't mention the political structures which protect them. That is a little piece I threw in.
It is also the focus for another book that is centred on the theme of globalisation. Perceived as a 'sweeping history of humanist philosophy, Marxism and modernity that propels itself to a grand political conclusion: that we are a creative and enlightened species, and that our history is that of humanity's progress towards the seizure of power from those who exploit it.' (Observer 15/07/01; ed Vulliamy. P.23) The book is certainly creating a stir in certain circles in America. Again it begins by examining the global economy, named 'the Empire' by authors Michael Hardt, an American academic, and Antonio Negri who is now imprisoned in Italy because of alleged links with the Italian Red Brigades among other things. It goes on to argue in defence of 'modernity' and makes the argument that the globalised economy presents a greater opportunity than ever for humanist and even 'communist' revolution. In doing this it makes a number of critical, and even conventionally heretical, arguments.
Firstly it suggests that the "Empire," like the Internet, has no centre - it is a 'non-place'. The conclusion of this particular argument is that we do not have a specific centre to storm, to take over. There is no Winter Palace to attack as the Bolsheviks had in 1917.
Secondly, and just as critical, is the suggestion that the workingclass, the defined proletariat, no longer exists in it's classical, or class form as outlined by Marx. It is now the new, miscellaneous, and powerful 'Multitude'.
Thirdly, and somewhat less ingeniously given what happens in the real world, they argue that the tructures and leadership of the global economy, rather than being the all-powerful mechanism which has been portrayed by the past two generations of aged, despondent, and despairing 'revolutionaries', contains the seeds of its own destruction. From their perspective the political climate has never been more favourable for uprising by a 'communism which is Marxist, but is bigger than Marx'. Shades of Marx indeed.
The Empire we are faced with wields enormous powers of oppression and destruction, but that fact should not make us nostalgic in any way for the old forms of domination. The passage to Empire and its processes of globalization offer new possibilities to the force of liberation.
of course, is not one thing, and the multiple processes that we ecognize
as globalization are not unified or univocal. Our political task,
we will rgue, is not simply to resist these processes but to reorganize
them and redirect them toward new ends. The creative forces of the
multitude that sustain Empire are also capable of autonomously constructing
a counter-Empire, an alternative political organization of global
flows and exchanges.
struggles to contest and subvert Empire, as well as those to construct
a real alternative, will thus take place on the imperial terrain itself
- indeed, such new struggles have already begun to emerge. Through
these struggles, and many more like them, the multitude will have
to invent new democratic forms and a new constituent power that will
one day take us through and beyond Empire."
They are undoubtedly right in one element of their proposition. It is not simply that the struggle has only started. It has been an ongoing struggle for many of us even if at times those engaged in it do get depressed, or burnt out, or diverted. It is not that the struggle will only take place on 'the imperial terrain'. It will indeed need to be an international struggle, but that is nothing new. It will however also need to take place in our communities, in our workplaces, in our cultural, social and economic centres, in all our relationships.
The authors are undoubtedly right when they say our struggle will have to "invent new democratic forms and a new constituent power that will one day take us through and beyond Empire."
That is our challenge. That requires a debate, even if at times it seems that debate has echoes of other discussions, other arguments, of another century, another time. Despite the fact that there have been major changes in the structures and control Mechanisms of capital that we need to understand and address, we have much to learn from those past debates, and from the experiences, good and bad, which flowed from them. We have allowed others with their vested interests to throw out the baby with the dirty bathwater.
Perhaps the first thing we need to accept is that it may be that no one of us, no group or organisation, is completely right at all times in either analysis or tactics or strategy. We should all however, have the option of pursuing our beliefs in comradeship and in a spirit of collective growth and development. Mistakes and failure also provide opportunities for learning. We have much to learn and share with each other. If there is one lesson which stares us in the face it is that for too long, and at a shameful cost, we have turned our anger, our confusions, and our anxieties inward. We have spent more time attacking and confronting each other than confronting those who oppress us.
Both these books make an important contribution to this debate. They pose it from an internationalist perspective. This is necessary, particularly when the daily demands of our own struggle push us towards introversion. Allowing for the need to play our part in the international struggle against oppression and exploitation does not however negate the need for a fundamental debate, and the interrelated confrontations with oppression in its various forms, in the here and now. This is where we, each of us, will make our major contribution to the building of a new world liberation movement. Finance capital has long been globalised. We here played our part in that development as the multi-nationals stopped over in the 1950's on their way to the next 'cheap labour' market. We just did not see it.
Perhaps Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are right when they write that 'The creative forces of the multitude that sustain Empire are also capable of autonomously constructing a counter-Empire, an alternative political organization of global flows and exchanges.' Perhaps the contradiction is that as we share in the fruits of 'the Empire's' exploitation by buying and wearing their sweated labour, logo flaunting, commodities we are also only shamefacedly beginning to really appreciate its power and potential for domination. In this awareness of the international reality of capital's latent misery we should also remember that oppression and greed still have a name, they still have an address. They need to be confronted where they live as much as where they oppress. And the reality is that they, and those who service them, live among us.
Perhaps a quote from Ursula Franklin, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto puts our struggle here into an international perspective in a very real sense:
"I picture the reality in which we live in terms of military occupation. We are occupied the way the French and Norwegians were occupied during World War 11, but this time it is by an army of marketeers. We have to reclaim our country from those who occupy it on behalf of their global masters."
Maybe she is right. Maybe we need to be asking who is really occupying our country, on whose behalf they are doing it, and how we, the 'multitude' who are collectively exploited and oppressed, can organize together to build our country, and our world, a world which is being destroyed by the 'Empire'. Perhaps we need to share our experiences, of war and of peace. Maybe that means We have to make contact with those others, in many countries in the world, who are also making their fight for freedom even if it annoys those who are at the heart of Empire. Even if sometimes they are presented by the media as 'left-wing' guerrillas. Now where have I heard that one before?
Or is that being disloyal to those who try to control us here in the name of freedom?
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IN THIS ISSUE
Under the Foot of the Mountain: Brendan Hughes
Author's Choice: Rogelio Alonso, A Just War?
Anthologies Package our Literary Past
Taking Sides in the War on Modernity
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"The passage to Empire and its processes of globalization offer new possibilities to the force of liberation."
"...We should also remember that oppression and greed still have a name, they still have an address..."
"...They need to be confronted where they live as much as where they oppress. And the reality is that they, and those who service them, live among us."