From movement to society(1)
Massimo De Angelis
Ever since Seattle, and above all in the months leading up to Genoa, two main issues have been raised in an effort either to delegitimise the movement, or else to force it onto the defensive. These are the issues of "violence" and of "alternatives". In both cases, we are called upon to take a clear position, to draw lines in the sand, to define, to classify and to be precise. In the first case, our failure to do so is portrayed as an ambiguity that disguises possible collusion with violent or "criminal" behaviour, thereby paving the way for the criminalisation of the entire movement. In the second, our failure to assume a clear position is portrayed as a lack of serious intent in dealing with the problems of the world.
By and large, the movement as a whole has refused so far to accept these fronts as legitimate, at least in the terms posed by its opponents. To call for the marginalisation and repudiation of the "violent" fringes in our movement, on an a priori ethical ground that defines this or that as the only legitimate form of struggle, would be to introduce in the movement a serious element of division. It would also show an utter indifference to the social basis of that form of struggle, as well as, in different context, its historical strength and value. On the other hand, to try to unify the movement on the basis of a comprehensive programme which alleges to be an "alternative" would be not only to render millions of different voices of this movement silent. It would also delegate to a new political hierarchy the sole role of defining for the rest of us what we do want. The movementís inclusive, horizontal character and profoundly democratic spirit has saved it from all-encompassing manifestos that would close off demands and therefore open them to cooptation by neoliberal capital.
But Genoa is a turning point. The level of confrontation chosen by the Italian branch of the Empireís police is without precedent for a country that proclaims itself a democracy. Blood has been spilled the young life of Carlo Giuliani taken, and intimidation, torture and beating made the rule. Genoa poses the question of "what do we do next?" with impressive urgency. Several issues are at stake. The debate has exploded worldwide on the internet and on other media. The wave of criminalisation has acquired momentum, and the movement must reinvent itself. In this piece I argue that to avoid entrapment by our opponents, the question of "violence" and "alternatives" must be approached together but in different terms from those posed by our opponents. I believe this is not simply a contingent question of tactics, but a question of envisaging the political horizon within which our more contingent and concrete tactics and strategies must be shaped in the months that follow. Dealing with the issue of "violence" and "alternatives" together means that we must make a leap in the understanding of our movement: not simply as a means to an end, but as a social force constituting a new society.
The question of alternatives has been posed from many quarters, including government representatives and neoliberal opinion leaders (see for example the Economist, UK development secretary Clare Short, etc.), as well as from representatives of mass popular organisations. Indeed, many within the left tradition, including many Trade Union leaders, have difficulty understanding this movement. They are puzzled - if not irritated or threatened - by the network-form of this movement. Many remain perturbed that the participants in this movement do not take this network-form as an expression of the low degree of development of the movement, as an early stage in the process of building a political party better suited to "represent" the aspirations of millions. Such observers are disturbed that, on the contrary, the network-form is taken to be a symptom of strength by movement participants. Many such observers cannot rid themselves of their suspicion of a movement that does not pose the question of the alternatives to the market in recognisable terms. That is, in terms of a programme which can be packaged, discussed through the official media channels within 30 seconds of an average interview, and deliverable to official institutions. Of course, this is only partially true, as there are many demands on the ground that represent substantial policies which spring out of the movement (whatever their limitations, there is the Tobin tax, debt cancellation etc.). But what is generally understood here by alternative is not so much alternative policies on specific issues, but rather visions of our human sociality on this planet that are alternative to those conceivable within the framework of the capitalist the market. In short, they want this movement to come out so they can pin us down. The neoliberal bloc want us to spell out our vision of alternatives to the capitalist market, if we have one. They can then show that we are either naive in terms of our reforms on the market (see ideas like "fair" price, "fair" profit, "fair" trade etc., which essentially do not understand the competitive laws of the market), or else want the "inefficient" and long-discredited "state" once again to manage economic affairs (at the cost of individual freedom of choice). On the other hand, those left-wing activists whose tradition is still rooted in a project of alternative based on the state would share with the neoliberal bloc their doubt about reforms of the market, while wanting us to come out in defence of the state. In short, they both want the movement to come out with an alternative to the capitalist market that is posed in recognisable and familiar terms.
From the perspective of social change, the dichotomy between state and market has always framed the debate over alternatives. State is understood as the space of central authority (in whatever form), and market is understood as the space of dispersed human interaction. If the latter creates injustice, political power can then readdress such injustice. If this is true, then it is clear that the party-form becomes a necessity. In other words, if the alternative to the market becomes the state, then the state as we know it requires political parties, or at least organised coherent groups able to put pressure on them. If ultimately the alternative to the market is the state, and the alternative to the state is the market, then the movement's aspirations cannot be properly channeled by its present network-form. If this movement does not see itself as evolving into a twentieth century-style party, how can the alternative to the market occur? After all, those party forms, beyond any difference between reformist or revolutionary political methodologies, had as an aim the conquest of state power. In terms of the social co-ordination of human activity, it is precisely state power that seems to pose itself as the only alternative to the market.
Incidentally, one cannot object from within our movement that we do not intend to abolish the market, but only to institute some limit by means of "just" prices and "just" profits. In the market, the "justice" of a price and a specific profit is given by the competitive mechanism. If we believe that there is another concept of justice that has nothing to do with the competitive mechanism, then we are told that we must rely on central state authorities to fix this price and enforce it. In other words, if we believe that all that is demanded by this movement is the enforcement of "proper" prices and "proper" profits, then the contradiction between the horizontal network-form of this movement and the centralised aspect of modern political processes is plain to see.
However, in asking what this movement "wants", those on both the "left" and the "right" help to reveal a fundamental contradiction between our way of organising ourselves in this movement, and the current way of organising social co-operation, whether through the market or the state. Under the pressure of criminalisation, a process that has been accelerated with the Genoa events, this contradiction may lead our movement to a divisive impasse. Some of its clusters may be pushed to accept the view of our opponents, moderating their organisational forms, disconnecting with the rest of the movement and becoming simply a "pressure group" or a political party. Once again, the only alternative to the market appears to be the state. Other parts of the movement may just run out of steam and retire into private life. Criminalisation imprisons and tortures bodies, but also souls. In the face of a mounting criminalisation campaign, the question of alternatives is more than an academic question: it is a question about the kind of world we want to live in.
As it happens, we donít need to accept the false opposition between state and market. So far, the movement as a whole has not. From this movement emerges instead the concept and practice of network, horizontality, democracy, of the exercise of power from below, and of rights like those of access to social resources beyond the market and of peopleís mobility in a world without barriers. All this leads to a vision of "economic" action that goes beyond either the market or the state. To recognise this, we must take this movement in its entirety, not as "no global", but as "no global capitalism". We can do this if we reflect for a moment on the objective global network dynamics of solidarity and circulation of struggles, rather than on what any particular exponent of the movement has to say. From this perspective of the whole emerges a heterogeneous movement posing the question of limit to the capitalist market. This concept of limit is different from the one of "just price" or "just profit" that some are campaigning for. The line that this movement as a whole is drawing in the sand is against growth for growth's sake, as a panacea for the solution of all the evils of the world. To downplay this aspect of the movement is, in my opinion, a big mistake. In Seattle the slogan was "no new round, WTO turn around". Notice that the slogan was not saying "enough" to this or that liberalisation. A new trade liberalisation round would have opened the road to the intensification of competition in sectors like that of services, and to the commodification of new sphere of life. To demand that there be no such round, therefore, meant to pose the question of a limit upon a social system of production that, as Marx would say, is inherently without limit. This is the true contradiction within which we can pose the question of alternatives: the limit to the inherently limitless drive to accumulation. The same happened in a pervasive way through the numerous battles of the last two decades, especially in many countries of the Third World (for example the many "IMF riots"). These battles have multiplied against privatisations, against SAP, against cuts to social spending, against new enclosures undertaken in every sphere of social life by large capital and its agencies, against a relation with "nature" that sees the latter only as an economic resource.
This push to place a limit upon the dynamic of capital as a whole has its own ambiguities, especially if we analyse specific positions within the universe of the movement. Even more, perhaps it is precisely because of the ambiguities and contradictory positions between its different components that the movement, taken as a whole, is able to pose the question of a limit to capital accumulation. And this has an important consequence: posing the question of the limit to capital means simultaneously posing the question of the limit that capital places upon human free enterprise (yes, free enterprise - free, that is, from the restrictions of property and rent positions in the capitalist market!). Let's take for example the question of debt. Everyone within the movement is for debt abolition (and here there are of course numerous partial positions that dispute how much of this debt must be abolished, and the forms of the debt cancellation). But in any case, we all agree that the resources thus freed from the suffocation of debt do not represent the alternative. Rather, they are one of its fundamental conditions. "You try", a Nigerian woman told us at the Genoa Social Forum in the days before the police butchery, "to manage a class of 15 students with $50 a year". This is the key issue behind the question of alternatives: not so much income redistribution, but access to social resources beyond the logic of the market, an access that poses the question of another-management of the social relation of production. Remember Marx's question about access to the means of production? And the same is true for a variety of other struggles: that for social services (from Bolivia to UK), for land (i.e. MST in Brazil), that against GMOs (from India to Europe), against enclosures of knowledge represented by patents on pharmaceutical products (Africa), for the right to live in a relation of respect with nature, etc. All these struggles pose the question of the limit to growth for its own sake, and that of a non-commodified access to social wealth. The powerful of the earth are afraid of these limits and questions that are even now spreading across the planet, permeating many social spheres in the process. It is for this reason that they deploy police that intimidate, massacre, and torture. But if we are able to free social resources, how can we then utilise them? The question of the limit to capital as a condition for alternatives opens up that of the forms of such alternatives might assume.
The historical challenge before us is that the question of alternatives (I intentionally use the plural) not be separated from the organisational forms that this movement gives itself. The idea that means and ends, objective and organisational forms, must be kept separate is a common mistake. In the past, it has led to a tragic dissonance between the "party" and the "new society" promised by political action. While the former was meant to marshal the masses; the latter designated its future objective. In the mean time, the real aspirations of millions of social subjects would prove incompatible with the party's tactics, and had to be subordinated to the end of reaching an objective posed by an élite. Here we need only think of the history of communism and socialism, which is filled with the marginalisation of women, blacks, gays and lesbians, of repressed grassroots workers and peasants who would not submit to the party directives. Today this model is refused en masse by the movement, which is characterised instead by the desire for respect, dignity, grassroots democracy and exercise of real power. To ask, "what does this movement want?" as many have done, is to demand the multitude to provide its "line", its future objective. It is a question that at best empties this movement of content, and at worst forces it to accept the content of our opponents stuck in the dichotomy of state versus market. Instead, we should look at how the multitude organises its differences in order to know what it wants in practice, and how it practices what it wants. And it is here that we need to dig, enquire, analyse, but also, and especially, participate. The crucial question then becomes: up to what point is it possible today to organise social co-operation in forms that reflect our organisational practices, our horizontality and networks? Think of the production of the various counter-summits held in recent years (the last of which that of Genoa), the production of the various Zapatista Encuentros. Think of the many social practices that produce use values beyond economic calculation, beyond the competitive relation with the other, inspired instead by practices of social and mutual solidarity. All these are modes of co-ordination of human activity that go beyond the capitalist market and beyond the state. It does seem that we are talking about another world. Indeed, not even the slogan on T-shirts in Genoa was entirely correct: another world is not only possible. Rather, we are already patiently and with effort building another world - with all its contradictions, limitations and ambiguities - through the form of our networks.
Our organisational forms are of primary importance: not so much for reaching a goal external to them, but as a social force that constitutes new forms of social co-operation beyond the capitalist market. To understand this better, we need to understand that the world of capital is also made up of networks. Within the capitalist form of social co-operation, we are forced to relate to each other as competitors, as social subjects who interact in networks. There is, however, a twofold difference. In the first place, the networks of capital deny us any say in defining our relation to the other. Indeed, here the other is an invisible subject, deaf and dumb, replaced by that abstract mechanism which is the market. Here social relations appear as they are, as material relations between people and social relations between things, as Marx put it in his analysis of commodity-fetishism. This is a network-form of social relations with the other based on systematic and continuous competition as an end in itself. From an existential point of view, such relations are utterly meaningless. And it is precisely this interaction that has been intensified in recent years, by absorbing new spheres of social action. On the contrary, those participating in the "no global capitalism" network movement, with its horizontally-linked clusters, have shown that their driving desire is to practice other human relations. That is, human relations different from those based on the endless competitive work in every sphere of life, relations that turn the "other" into a de-humanised thing. In any case, the market is not that spontaneous mechanism extolled by Hayek, the champion of the modern neoliberal project. On the contrary, the state and its repressive apparatus provide the very conditions for the market's existence, operation, and protection: capitalist horizontality ends here. The networks with which the market is protected and enforced are utterly militaristic and vertical in form. In this sense, there is much to learn from recent events in Genoa (as from the daily acts of repression that are widespread in many Third World countries).
Read within the movement's social practice, including the interaction between its internal differences, the dichotomy between state and market (state as central authority, market as sphere of social co-operation) is a false opposition. In the web of this global movement, social co-operation dictates its rules through grassroots democracy, consensus, dialogue, and the recognition of the other. On the other hand, these norms in turn define the modality of social co-operation. "Authority" and "social co-operation" stand in a fluid relation, as in a mechanism of feedback: not dictated from outside, but self-constituted through interaction. Hayek believed in the market as the mechanism that, precisely because of the abstract character of its rules, allowed individual freedom. The freedom of Hayekís man was a freedom to choose from a menu that was pre-given by an abstract mechanism. This mechanism, in other words, was external to the concrete character of the individual; indeed, historically it was posed with force by the state. The freedom of women and men in this movement is a freedom that wants to select the menu itself, because life is not abstract, but very concrete. This movement therefore tends to embrace the battle for freedom, taking it away from those neoliberal lies that see freedom only as a freedom of choice by fragmented and isolated individuals who have no say over the rules of their interaction.
The road is therefore of necessity a contradictory one, because in order to have everybody agreeing, everybody must abandon themselves in the recognition of others. But what is that "association of free producers" dreamed of by Marx if not precisely this process of mixing and blending?
The movement "no global capitalism" therefore opens two interdependent fronts. One is that of the limit to capital, and therefore against the limit that capital places upon us. This is the front of access to social resources beyond capitalist market. The other is that of relations with the other, a network based on respect, dignity, and direct democracy. The first poses the question of the commons (in opposition to the enclosures underlying the commodification of spheres of life). The other poses the question of community: or in the words of Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, of the communal being, for whom the other becomes a need. Commons and community: is it the case that this movement, once it is taken as a whole, is - without knowing it, or draping things in meta-narratives - posing the question of communism for the twenty-first century?
Because of its characteristics discussed above (network, democracy, consensus), it becomes problematic to pose the question of "what does this movement want?" from outside it. What in practice this movement has shown it wants is horizontality and participatory democracy. Precisely for this reason, asking the question from inside the movement is a practical and relational thing to do, part of the process of defining norms and sociality. The question of "what do we do next?", or "how do we deal with this or that problem?", cannot be addressed purely instrumentally, through an economistic mindset that looks for the "most efficient ways" to reach "goals" and "objectives". Without wanting to idealise the practices of this movement, its network-form - built upon decades of struggles by a variety of subjects that have reclaimed respect, dignity and autonomy - is forcing its participants to blur the distinction between means and objectives. There is, in other words, a growing sense that this movement is turning into a community: or, better, into a network of communities. The movement of the movements, or the network of the networks, as this movement has been dubbed, could also be named the community of the communities. Indeed, only by understanding this movement as a community of those who fight for a better world can we properly frame the challenges before us.
One of the challenges facing our movement is the danger of criminalisation. Criminalisation occurs when the heterogeneous practices of a movement are turned into a homogeneous mass of "criminal" behaviour, when its aspirations and dreams are turned into criminal plans, its living diversity into an amorphous blob. This is not a question of whether or not the movement undertakes illegal actions. The criminalisation of a movement has little to do with breaking the law. Breaking the law may well be "legitimate", as the civil disobedience tradition reminds us, or when it is an open mass practice. Criminalisation occurs when a wall is successfully built between the movement and the rest of society. Criminalisation occurs when fear and confusion become so pervasive that women and men who were about to join the convivial breeze of a new world go back to their rooms, their flats, their houses, their huts, their holes, and shut the doors for the next twenty years. Criminalisation occurs when repression is successfully deployed in order to prevent the movement turning into society, to prevent its aspirations polluting everyoneís dreams and actions. In this respect, there is no doubt that sooner or later, in one form or another, there will be attempts to criminalise the movement.
Criminalisation begins with seduction. Listening to official government declarations, one might believe that they agree with the reasons of protest, while being critical of the methods employed. Government and bank officials, they tell us, are as concerned as the rest of us about the dying children, the disappearing forests, and the livelihoods being destroyed. It is for this reason, they say, that they meet and agree to create more markets and to promote more competition. For this reason, they say, summits ought not to be disrupted, because the official representatives (regularly elected, we can add, by not more than 20% of the confused population having a right to vote) are working for the good of all. They agree with the problems, but are not sure about our methods. "Violence" can always be found hidden within methods that do not recognise the ways of official authority. The mark of being "violent" is always branded on those who are different, while normalised violence remains invisible.
We do not need to repeat that they are trying to criminalise a movement by using the discourse of violence: bending it to their advantage, with the help of a media-produced stupidity that suits their image of our movement. We donít need to repeat that the current daily state of affairs is itself violent in the way that it robs millions of food and water, of health and access to the legacy of human knowledge enclosed with patents and suchlike. We donít need to repeat that those daily rules enforced by laws and stupid traditions are violent, forcing humanity into a continuous rat race for survival, while warehouses, intelligence, knowledge and resources are so rich and wealthy that to continue running in competition with each other through artificially created scarcity is just plain stupid. No, according to them, all these horror stories are the norm: whatís violent, rather, is the breaking of windows belonging to multinational banks (which represent branches of the international strangling machine called debt).
No, we donít need to repeat all this: others have done it better. But the issue of "violence" cannot be brushed aside simply because they are exercising it much more than us. Institutional violence holds the power of judgement, and the power of judgement holds us as in contempt of the norms of this society. Had we been able to tear down peacefully, without harming anybody, the walls of shame erected in Genoa by the G8 oligarchy, we would still have been called violent. Instead, in Genoa an urban battle erupted outside the red zone, at the cost of several commercial banks, insurance and travel agencies, sex shops and cars. Is this right? Is this wrong? The debate within the movement risks degenerating and oscillating between this polarity, a polarity enforced by our opponents. They are trying to criminalise the movement, by asking it to "isolate" and even "denounce" the "violent" window breakers. A frame of mind constrained between good and evil is a frame of mind that searches for innocents and sinners according to an impossible and de-contextualised above part criteria, and therefore scapegoats, in this case the so-called "black bloc".
Instead, we need to deal with this issue beyond good and evil. Again, is not a question of the opportunity or otherwise, the ethical correctness or otherwise of destroying a window, but rather whether that action was a responsible one within that context. The question of responsibility, then, is the key question we need to address. Responsibility is above all a relationship to the other, one that presupposes the belonging in a community.
Letís look at the case of Genoa. To talk about "violence" in Genoa is actually to talk about the police. Walter Bello calls this "a police riot". And like him, I donít think that it "is appropriate to denounce people who say they are on our side but with whom we may have disagreement over tactics." But criticism also must be made of what Bello calls the "parasitical tactics" that have emerged in Genoa by several people belonging to the heterogeneous group labelled "black bloc" (Bs) (incidentally, following Starhawk, it would be more appropriate to refer to "clusters" than to "blocs").
Parasitical tactics arise when, for example, a group in this cluster "would stay at the edges of the march and from there provoke the police by throwing rocks at them." The police then find the excuse to charge the demo. Walter Belloís approach to this issue is to make our large demonstration "more organisationally effective in communicating our message to the world", through the organisation of people for "orderly retreats, swift advances and disciplined resistance." He then proposes a strategy to neutralise the "Bs" problem. This strategy is composed of essentially two main aspects: 1) "initiate dialogue in the planning for the mobilisation with the more open, honest, and trustworthy B groups with the intent of getting them to agree to respect the political and ethical parameters of our mass actions", and 2) establish "a series of non violent measures of suasions and methods of restraining and defusing violent behaviour."
Belloís approach has the advantage that it does not moralise the question of smashed windows and "violence". His position is not one concerning the ethics of smashing the windows of multinational banks, but rather of the safety and respect of the people participating in the demo. But Belloís position does not go far enough. It recognises a more "trustworthy" section within the Bs, but risks considering even these components of the Bs as "other", as alien to the movement. He wants to engage them in a dialogue, to make them "agree to respect the political and ethical parameters of our actions". The questions, however, involve more than this: Are there grounds for a two ways communication between the "Bs" and the others? Are there grounds to define the "violent" and the "non violent" as both part of the same community? Can trust be built among these clusters, as well as mutual respect? Can both agree to respect the "ethical and political parameters" of their respective actions? Can they both engage in a debate over strategies, and not divide over their differences in perceiving good or evil? Is it possible to co-ordinate actions so that each cluster, each affinity group, recognises the others and is responsible towards them? The answer is certainly a disarming "no" if "parasitical tactics" become the norm in our demos, and if the reaction to them by the other sections of the movement is one that follows the model in the immediate aftermath of Genoa, when the "Bs" were simply dismissed by many as "provocateurs", "imbeciles", even "fascists".
The first commentaries of TV scenes of street battles, burned cars and shops, attributed the "violence" on the ground both to this bloc of "bad" people (how many of them? 1000? 2000? 5000? the media started to do some crazy guesswork on their numbers) and to the hundreds of thousands of others who "protected them". What an original plot for criminalisation: the ugly violent rioter hidden among the accomplices, i.e. everybody having reasons to protest! It took a few days to notice that it was precisely because the "Bs" were not a "bloc", precisely because they failed to co-ordinate their action, that some irresponsible groups engaged in "parasitic tactics". And it took some days for it to emerge that the mass street battles with the police erupted in self-defence on the side of the demonstrators included forces from all sections of the demo. The speakers of the Global Social Forum thus found themselves in an impossible position, squeezed between official media and institutional demands that they condemn "violence" and the multitude's anger at police brutality that cannot conceive "violence" out of a specific context. Constrained within the logic of "good" and "evil", the media-conscious speakers were trapped and started to defend themselves by asking the wrong, damn wrong, questions: "why did the police allowed the black block to run rampant?" (Also because they were not a "bloc", they were small groups of people, they were mixed in with the others, and nobody, including the speakers of the Global Social Forum, would have allowed the police inside peaceful demonstration to arrest people dressed in black!) "Why didnít they stop them at the borders?" (Also because we, the movement, including the speakers of the Global Social Forum, campaigned heavily for free circulation, we fought for this right, and still do. Because we donít want people to be stopped at the border for being dressed in black - or in any other colour for that matter - or for carrying Swiss Army knives, or for wear ear or nose piercing). This of course does not mean that we should not ask questions regarding the possible collusion of interests, from a historical and strategic perspective, between the state's needs for criminalisation and the acceleration of "violence" on the ground. It only means that the movement cannot collude with the police and the state to "condemn" the "Bs", because the social force constituting this movement also includes these people.
No, if there is an adjective that can define the groups who endangered the demo with "parasitic tactics", it is irresponsible. Irresponsibility is not a light criticism, precisely because it presupposes their inclusion in our struggle. You can be (ir)responsible only towards your community, not towards some outside force or some grand ethical concept. You cannot be irresponsible without defining its context. And if you are irresponsible towards the "other" in your community, then think twice, because the world we are fighting against is based precisely on this persistent indifference to the other. And if you keep persisting in being irresponsible, if you continue to refuse to engage and continue to isolate yourself, you will cut yourself from the rest. If you think ghettoisation is what a new world is about, well, we really do have different worldviews, and maybe after all weíre not part of the same community.
But if we are part of the same community, if we both think that a new world is one defined by a dignified relation to the other, then this movement must understand the practice of responsibility. The latter cannot be posed from the outside, but can only come from within the community. Responsibility, the recognition of the "others" within the community and therefore the willingness to engage with them, is the way to neutralise the strategy of criminalisation. It is also the basis for our community to reach out to those spheres of society still untouched by our dream of "another world".
The "Blacks," the "pinks," the "whites," and the "reds" (that is, everybody who shares the tactic pursued by them) must engage in a dialogue with each other, because we are all part of the same community (community of communities). For that reason we need to talk about the value of everybodyís actions, not simply as a means to reach a goal, but in terms of a means of engagement to the other. Only after we have done this can we talk about suasion and method to neutralise violence in specific contexts as Bello argues.
Itís not only those who believe in "violent" tactics who must understand the practice of responsibility: the "non violent" must do the same. If the cost of being "media-friendly" is to accept the media-representation of social forces (for example, the "Bs" as a bloc, rather than a loose cluster of European youth with their own aspirations, history, dreams, and motivations emerging out of the community desert produced by 20 years of neoliberal policies); if the cost of being "media-friendly" is to be trapped in the logic of de-contextualised ethics, which dangerously favours the game of criminalisation of the whole movement, then it is better to reduce our dependence on the media. After all, we do have independent communication channels. In Genoa, TV official reporting was forced to acknowledge the truth of police brutality after indymedia videos, pictures and text accumulated on the web. On that occasion, the alternative production of information infiltrated official channels that, in competition with each other, relied on the mass production of images and stories storming the web. After all, the message to the "masses" circulates better with the daily work of persuasion and dialogue on the job, in the neighbourhoods, in schools, hospitals, churches and streets than in the living rooms in which we swallow in isolation the stupidity of spineless entertainers. After all, a new world is built through new social relations, and these require an active participation that is a bit more engaged than TV zapping.
All sides of this large and heterogeneous movement must engage in reflection. Both the "non violent" and "violent" risk missing the key point that historically, the rigid contraposition between violence and non violence belongs in the realm of our opponents. It is they who, by denouncing "violence" without qualification and context, are able to use it in their chosen contexts. It is they who - history teaches - infiltrate our movement and collude with fascist organisations to amplify and accelerate the use of violence, hoping then, out of a climate of terror and confusion, to implement their message of state "non-violence" by escalating violent state repression on the entire movement through criminalisation. The rigidities of dogmas always lead to rigid consequences.
Both "non violent" and "violent" positions must come to terms with each other without buying into the rigidities of our opponents, rigidities that are instrumental to the continuation of the truly violent logic of this world. El Viejo, from the PGA network, puts the question of flexibility in this way:
"How is that the Blacks can find themselves doing the same things as police provocateurs? To me, it is because many of them have mystified violence (as many of us did in the Ď70s). Mystified, it becomes practically the only form of political expression, or at least one that is always appropriate, making a real political assessment of any particular situation unnecessary. And since illegality requires a lot of commitment and courage, it in great part suffices to define the identity of the group. In brief, they over simplify the problem. But no more so than those who in similar fashion mystify pacifism and voting. Victorious movements are ones that can adapt to circumstances, use violence when really necessary, but also humour, music, reason, and patience. Which can be stubborn in one case and negotiate in another. Flexibility is the secret of survival for any living thing".
But flexibility towards the outside is founded on flexibility within the movement. To pose the question of the community is to pose the question of flexible engagement among its different components, it is to pose the question of acknowledgement of the inevitable limits of oneís preferred methods of struggles, and therefore acknowledgement of the "other". To pose the question of flexibility and community is to pose the question of an unprecedented maturity of a global movement.
Community of communities: local and global struggles
In dealing with the contingent questions of "violence" and of "alternatives", our starting point is the same, the constitution of community: an inclusive horizontal relation to the other based on respect, autonomy, solidarity and responsibility. Here I donít want to refer to the "real" communities we find ourselves in: professional communities, business communities, housing communities, work communities, local communities. Often, these refer to an idealised representation of a cluster of people who have something in common: a profession, a business, a house, a job, and a locality. In this definition of community, this something in common outweighs the rest. In a sense, all the rest is subordinated to this common character. For example, how many times have we heard the rhetoric of the "company community": we (i.e. we workers and managers spread over a hierarchy of pay and command) are all in the same company, we are the community of people working in this company, we need to reach an understanding, we need to put aside our disagreements (over pay and work conditions, over authority, over privileges and rights) because we are a community, and we have to focus on the competitive struggle against others?
The community I am referring to is not dependent on a sociological condition that is common to a group of people. That kind of community can always be instrumentally manipulated. Any single characteristic defining my commonality with another is based on silence concerning a million other differences with the same others. Why is it that in that context and that time, this single characteristic was selected to express commonality? What is the political meaning of this selection? How did power relations inform that selection? (And the other way around, any single characteristics that define my difference with another are based on the silence concerning a million other commonalties with the same other).
Instead, the community I am talking about is a form of engagement with the other. It transcends locality, job, social condition, gender, age, race, culture, sexual orientation, language, religion and beliefs. It makes all of this of secondary importance to the constitution of communal relations. Indeed, all these criteria present themselves only as raw materials, as presuppositions of a mode of engagement with the other.
Isnít this the blurred shape of the world of which we dream? How can we make it come true? If only more were to join us, if only other communities, at work, in localities, in neighbourhoods, could join in with their richness, their humour and their problems. If only we did not counterpoise our struggles to the daily struggle in which each man, woman and child on this earth engages on a daily basis.
The debate over tactics must thus make a great leap. It is not a question of choosing between big demos on the occasion of big summits that attract media attention, and going back to campaign in our localities on the other. No, this is again a false opposition. Our big demos would not be possible without the universe of our local struggles, and big demos are important for us because they produce networks, face to face contacts, friendships, and human bonding. Yet our local struggles are nothing without the continuous and insistent connection with all the rest, and local struggles are important because it is there that our desires and aspirations take shape. The global scene for us is the discovery of the "other", while the local scene is the discovery of the "us". But then, by discovering the "other", we change the sense of the "us", and by discovering the "us", we change our relation to the "other". In a community, commonality is a creative process of discovery, not a presupposition. So we do both, but we do it having the community in mind, the community as a mode of engagement with the other. When we organise the next big demo on the occasion of their summits, we need to keep this in mind. Before thinking about stewards to police the demos, letís spend more time with the local community ahead of time - "us" meaning all people believing in different tactics, "violent" and "non violent". Letís go there, talk to them, and ask them what level of confrontation they, who live there, would like to see on the ground. Would they be sorry to see their streets devastated, their cars destroyed, their phone boxes burned? You know, not everybody has insurance, and to some people a car is a life tool, not just a status symbol. In some places, it may take months to replace a local post office, a phone box or even a branch of a bank. Can we engage in discussion on these terms, concretising the question of "violence" and "non violence", bringing it to the ground, near the real needs and real lives of people? Can we talk about their problems and our problems, their aspirations and our aspirations? What are the grassroots unions saying, what are neighbourhood associations saying? Can we all ask ourselves and debate the purpose of the next demo, and whether we should continue with ritualised practices (whether "violent" or "non violent"), risking turning the entire movement into a yawning mass? Or maybe they think that a bit of mess on the street is exactly what they need. Who knows what will be the emerging answers? In a community practising democracy we can talk about everything, so long as in practice we respect each other.
Ultimately, the point is that the only right tactic is one that emerges out of a communal process of engagement with the other. Incidentally, the only "right" world is also the one that emerges out of this process of recognition of the other. And in this world, the distinction of local and global is not a distinction between "community" and the outside, but between "communities" and "community of communities".
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(1) This short article was written in the aftermath of the events in Genoa last July. It started as a series of notes on my experience of those days and it turned into something completely different. I felt I needed to reflect on the framework for political action in a moment when the global anti-capitalist movement was gaining momentum, together with the attempts of its criminalisation. This is the result. Many thanks to Silvia Federici, Steve Wright, and several other comrades for their comments and suggestions. <back>