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Violence as a Tool of Order and Change

The War on Terrorism and the Antiglobalization Movement

LEO PANITCH is Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy, York University, Toronto. He is an editor of the Socialist Register and author of Renewing Socialism: Democracy, Strategy, and Imagination (Westview Press, 2001).
This is a revised version of a Keynote Address to the Conference, “Protest, Freedom and Order in Canada: Finding the Right Balance,” Institute for Research on Public Policy and School of Community and Public Affairs, Concordia University, Montreal, March 11-12, 2002. It should be noted that this was a “mainstream” conference, at which the former head of Canada’s security service, senior members of Québec’s police force, and various politicians and civil libertarian lawyers, as well as social movement and antiglobalization activists, were also invited to speak. This address at such a venue was therefore intended to offer a sense of perspective from the left at a tricky and dangerous moment when imperial security defines the role of the state.

September 11, it is said, has changed everything. However true or not this may be—and I tend to think that it is not very true at all—one thing it certainly should have changed is the loose manner in which the adjective “violent” has been appended to recent antiglobalization protests. Especially for a conference such as this one—conceived in the wake of the Québec City events of last year and designed to shed light on the nature of the challenge posed to capitalist democracies by the new antiglobalization movement—the horrific and deadly terrorist attack on New York and Washington, D.C., and the scale of state violence unleashed—literally from on high—by the war on terrorism, certainly put this loose usage in stark perspective.

This should give us pause about the way the word “violent” has been invoked in the media, and the way in which massive police and even military forces of containment have been mobilized every time there has been a large-scale protest at gatherings of corporate and political elites to further the globalization agenda. When the whole world is witness to passenger airplanes being deployed to destroy office towers in New York, and to military airplanes being deployed to rain bombs on villages in Afghanistan, the police designation and seizure as a violent weapon of a toy catapult designed to throw teddy bears over a security fence becomes even more surreal than the names of groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism or the Lanarkists that conceived this type of protest. Even those who engage in practices oriented to breaking through police lines and fences to make their objections heard and their presence felt in public spaces adjacent to where the rich and powerful are gathered, or who throw a rock at a McDonald’s window along the route of a protest march, or who manage to get so far as to toss a paint bomb at a politician or CEO, are clearly engaged in a form of politics that is fundamentally of a different order in terms of intent, in terms of the material employed, and in terms of effects, than the practice of armed conflict by or against a state. Indeed, the very charge of disturbing the peace leveled against people sitting down together to block intersections is brought into question by September 11.

However, the bizarre effect of September 11, and the declaration of war in response to the terrorist attacks of that day, is that rather than making these distinctions clearer, they are in danger of becoming further obscured. The legitimacy of dissent, and especially dissent that takes the form of street protests, is often a domestic casualty of the ideological climate of war. In this case, the mass fears that watching the events of September 11 have induced in the population at large, rationally or otherwise (and it is clearly not very rational for Canadians to imagine that their office towers are about to be targeted), is aggravated by those unscrupulous right-wing politicians and journalists who never overlook an opportunity to smear the left.

To take just one example close to home, within a week after September 11 we could read the following in the National Post: “Like terrorists, the anti-globalization movement is disdainful of democratic institutions.…Terrorism, if not so heinous as what we witnessed last week, has always been part of the protesters’ game plan.”1 That this should be said about the antiglobalization movement that the current generation of left activists has spawned is so absurd as to suggest sheer ignorance, if not mendacity. For what precisely characterizes this generation and this movement in contrast with earlier ones on the European and North American left is the explicit eschewal, even among its most militant elements, of either armed revolutionary struggle or terrorism (along the lines of the Red Brigades or Weathermen just a generation ago) as a means of effecting change in the advanced capitalist countries. In the current era, it is not among activists on the left, but rather almost exclusively on the right, as among those who bomb abortion clinics, government buildings, and refugee shelters, from Christian fundamentalists, to American militiamen, to European neo-Nazis, that one finds violence adopted as a strategy and a lifestyle. And the same must be said about the religious fanatics in the Middle and Far East, whether Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu, for whom self-identification as the scourge of the secular and religious left is a central element in their political formation.

By contrast, a Yale university anthropologist, himself an anarchist, has claimed that, despite the way the U.S. media has deployed the word violence “as a mantra” to describe antiglobalization protests, “it is impossible to produce a single example of anyone to whom a U.S. activist has caused physical injury.” Even if this may be not entirely credible in light of some policemen that have sustained minor injuries, he is on the whole correct to say that:

what really disturbs the powers-that-be is not the ‘violence’ of the movement but its relative lack of it; governments simply do not know how to deal with an openly revolutionary movement that refuses to fall into familiar patterns of armed resistance…Where once it seemed that the only alternatives to marching along with signs were either Ghandian non-violent civil disobedience or outright insurrection, groups like the Direct Action Network, Reclaim the Streets, Black Blocs or Tute Bianche have all, in their own ways, been trying to map out a completely new territory in between. They’re attempting to invent what many call a ‘new language’ of civil disobedience, combining elements of street theatre, festival, and what can only be called non-violent warfare—non-violent in the sense adopted by, say, Black Bloc anarchists, in that it eschews any direct physical harm to human beings.2

I will come back later to the distinctive nature of this type of protest and have something to say about its contradictions and limitations. For the moment, my purpose has been to try to put the discussion of violence in relation to the antiglobalization movements in North America and Europe into some proper perspective, as we must indeed do if we are not to be swept up by the winds of propaganda and repression that so often blow against genuinely mass movements of the left, and that especially become dangerously blustery during states of war, whether hot or cold.

I was originally invited to speak on the topic of “the role of violence as a tool of change,” but I demurred, saying I wanted to amend this to “the role of violence as a tool of order and change.” Certainly, the various form of violence associated with keeping order differ from those associated with making change. A great nineteenth century writer once put this very well, and I don’t mean, it may surprise you, Karl Marx. I mean rather, Mark Twain, whose A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, published in the year of the first centenary of the French Revolution, had this to say about that truly historic occasion of violent change:

There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the ax compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heartbreak? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.3

Of course, it is relatively easy for us today to recognize, and even question the legitimacy of, the role of violence in the maintenance of an order of feudal domination where the military apparatus is the central element of the state. It is also relatively easy for us today, as the inheritors of the French Revolution’s impulse “to build a new house where freedom can dwell,” as Hannah Arendt put it,4 to put in some perspective the postrevolutionary terror that Twain is talking about here, emerging as it did amidst the disorder that attended the consolidation of a new regime (and which, through the Napoleonic dictatorship that it spawned, made such a foundational contribution to the development of western law and capitalist markets). It is less easy for people in the West to recognize how far the kind of reasoning Twain employed regarding the two reigns of terror goes toward explaining the fact that the overwhelming balance of world public opinion is against the U.S.-led war on terrorism. This has been revealed in the remarkable series of surveys of global opinion undertaken by the Ipsos-Reed polling organization which demonstrates that whereas 85 percent of Americans and between 58 percent and 66 percent of those in other G-7 countries support the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, the war is opposed by 70–75 percent of the population in the world’s poor countries, including even those in Latin America.5 This is where most people still experience first hand what Twain meant by “lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, injury and heartbreak,” and they are not wrong to think that the role of the U.S. state as the guarantor of the wealth of North America and Europe may have something to do with this.

If the majority of world’s population is at the same time unsympathetic, as they are, to the momentary terror wrought by the September 11 acts themselves, this may well have to do with their recognition of their purely symbolic and atavistic nature. This is meant in the sense that these acts were not only immoral from the point of view of the innocent people they killed, but were also, unlike the French Revolution, driven by a reactionary, almost feudal, impulse. And they were also immoral in the sense that they were counterproductive as a response to global inequality and U.S. imperialism. For, unlike the French Revolution, which, whatever the horrors of the transitional terror, did after all overthrow the old regime, the kind of political action that September 11 represented can only be ineffective. Its inevitable outcome could only be that of stoking the self-righteous flames of imperial power and fueling their spread. Those branches of the U.S. state controlling and dispensing the means of violence are now in the driver’s seat; in an administration representing a Republican Party that has always been made up of a coalition of free marketeers, social conservatives, and military hawks, the balance has been tilted decisively by September 11 towards the latter.

The reason that most people in the rich capitalist democracies, even outside the United States, look upon the war on terrorism so differently than most of world’s population has, of course, something to do with the complicity of all the wealthy states of the North in, and the direct patriotism that is felt by most of their populations towards, the American imperium in its cultural as well as its economic, political, and military dimensions.

A note of justification for the use of the word “empire” here may be in order. I don’t use it polemically, but rather descriptively. Clearly, we need some concept to capture the fundamentally different role the U.S. state plays in the world. The word “superpower” fails to capture this precisely because it implies merely greater power than others, eliding how U.S. power is different because of the way it penetrates and structures other states. It was significant that, speaking at a panel at this conference, Reid Morden, the former head of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (who must have had some firsthand experience of this), not only mentioned the effect of living beside an 800-pound gorilla in the context of his discussion of U.S. pressure on Canada to rush through its antiterrorism legislation, but described the over-all U.S. relationship with all other states in terms of a “hub and spokes” metaphor. It is for this reason that the concept of empire, which used to be quite unfashionable, is now making a comeback among political scientists, including among some on the right of the political spectrum. Of course, the American empire is quite different from the colonial empires of recent vintage, and it would be a serious mistake to try to revive in the current context Hobson’s or Lenin’s notions of imperialism, connoting, among other things, a stage of capitalism marked by interimperial rivalry and war. Nor should we think that every intervention abroad by the United States is driven by narrow domestic interests: on the contrary, it may be more accurate in some ways to see the U.S. state today as burdened by the function, which it alone can play, of maintaining world order in today’s global capitalism.

Harold Innis once observed that “American imperialism…has been made plausible and attractive in part by its insistence that it is not imperialistic.”6 He recognized that what made this new type of imperialism “particularly effective” was its internalization within the Canadian state and social formation, and this can now be said of a great many other states as well. But what makes it “plausible and attractive” has also to do with the legitimacy that liberal democratic institutions at home lend to the deployment of violence by the U.S. state worldwide.

Max Weber’s definition of the modern Western state in terms of the legitimacy of its claim to a monopoly over the means of violence rather than in terms of its goals or range of activities remains fundamental to social science. But the nature of this legitimacy, as Weber also understood, is bound up, albeit by no means to the exclusion of many charismatic and traditionalist elements, with the rule of law, representative and responsible government, competitive elections, and the liberal freedoms of speech, association, and assembly that form the components of the liberal democratic form of state. And insofar as globalization entails not only the spread of global capitalism but also the extended legitimation of the U.S. state’s role in policing global order—including remaking the world’s states in the image of the United States as the leading capitalist state—it is this that lends some credence to the claim that the U.S.-led wars in Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan are all about human rights, democracy, and freedom. This is not really as new a development as is sometimes thought today. Harry Truman said, in a speech at Baylor University in 1947, that “the American system can survive in America only if it becomes a world system.”7

Of course, it must be said that there is a staggering amount of self-delusion in the view of the Bush administration that the United States is hated by the terrorists because “we elect our leaders” (a self-delusion only matched in the immediate aftermath of September 11 by the apparently widespread credibility in the Muslim world given to the absurd rumor that Jews were forewarned from going to the World Trade Center that day). Bin Laden, we may be sure, could not have cared less whether Americans elect their governments or not. Nor could many millions more people in the world than liberal human rights advocates care to admit—except perhaps in a negative way, insofar as its claims to be the foremost democracy lead the U.S. state to confer upon itself the right to deploy its unparalleled means of violence around the world.

This global deployment, even when narrow U.S. interests and security are not foremost in mind, and even when the interventions are legitimated and sometimes invited by international human rights advocates and agencies, does not, of course, necessarily lead to the spread of human rights and liberal democracy, let alone greater economic equality. The dubiousness about the war on terrorism among so much of the world’s population stems no doubt partly from this. For there can be no doubt about the major role played by the American imperium’s world-wide suppression of progressive forces, often in the name of spreading democracy and human rights. One aspect of this was its cynical sponsoring of reactionary religious fundamentalism as a tool against the secular left in that part of the world on which it has now made war, and from which it now stages that war. The sheer cynicism, but also the sheer foolhardiness, that governed strategy at the time bin Laden’s entry into Afghanistan was sponsored by the United States was dramatically revealed in an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski (President Carter’s National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981, Madeleine Albright’s tutor, and author of the explicitly imperialist handbook, The Grand Chessboard) conducted by Le Nouvel Observateur (January 15–21, 1998):

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?

Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported…[and] given arms and advice to future terrorists?

Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

September 11 was “blowback” from this—with such vengeance as could only have been stoked up over half a century. (The term was first coined in Washington in 1954 as CIA and Pentagon bureaucrats mulled over the consequences of their decision to overthrow the left nationalist Mossadeq government in Iran.) Bin Laden will pay for it with his life, if he has not already, as has the Taliban regime that took over hosting him when he turned on the Americans. Even if he deserved this, those untold many who suffer death from the “collateral damage” (already more than in the World Trade Center attacks) surely do not.

But the larger strategic imperial visions at play go far beyond al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. They have much to do with what was still unsettled after the “liberation” of Central Europe and end of the Cold War. The countries that have since the break-up of the Soviet Union been patronizingly called the “stans” in the State Department and the Pentagon have been finally prised from the Russian sphere of influence. The U.S. bases that are being established in post-Soviet Central Asia will not be dismantled with this war. U.S. military bases will now encircle the world from Japan to the China’s western border. The Russian resistance to the building of the National Missile Defense “shield”—with all this implies for the militarization of space—has been definitively broken (or should we say bribed away?). And the New York Times (March 7, 2002) now tells us that the Pentagon is seriously entertaining the use of conventional nuclear weapons as a contingency, even against non-nuclear states—the ultimate means of violence for maintaining global order.

The fact that war this time is not being prosecuted through NATO, much less the United Nations, but through a hub-and-spokes “coalition” in which all the world’s states are deemed to be “with us or against us,” is explicitly intended to allow for maximum unilateralism of strategic and tactical military action by the imperial state itself. As for the United Nations, and reviving the Pearsonian* nostrum that such a war could only legitimately have been prosecuted under its auspices, one should not forget what Stephen Lewis, Canada’s Ambassador to the UN at the time, had to say about the Gulf War:

The United Nations served as an imprimatur for a policy that the United States wanted to follow and either persuaded or coerced everybody else to support. The Security Council thus played fast and loose with the provisions of the UN Charter… In some respects…[this] may have been the UN’s most desolate hour. It certainly unnerved a lot of developing countries, which were privately outraged by what was going on but felt utterly impotent to do anything—a demonstration of the enormous power of US power and influence when it is unleashed.8

It is difficult to believe things would have been much different had it suited the Americans to follow the UN route this time. Yet the contradictions of ruling the world are great. They were indeed brought home to Americans horribly on September 11, but they are more likely in the immediate future to be measured in the instability that this war, and the extended American reach that accompanies it, brings about in places initially very far from New York and Washington (although it’s not impossible that the brutalities and costs of an extension of this war will eventually bring this to the imperial heartland too). A good deal of this instability will take anti-American forms, and this will only reinforce the self-delusion that “they hate us because we elect our leaders.” But whatever form it takes, the effect that the declaration of war in the name of peace, civilization, and freedom has had in terms of unleashing the coercive power of the state must be measured domestically as much as internationally.

The coalition against terrorism that the United States has built is explicitly designed to legitimate and sustain every state’s repression of the separatist groups (along with other dissident groups) within them. Less well known than the free hand being now given to the Russians in Chechnya is the free hand being given to the Chinese Communist-capitalist elite to act against the Muslim separatists in their westernmost province (where already twenty groups have been banned and many hundreds of people have been arrested in the past months) without fear that this will be used by the Americans against them in their ongoing negotiations over the terms of integration into the capitalist world economy. Consistency need not be a principle of imperial strategy and this was never more evident than in the stunningly quick about-face the United States has made since yesteryear’s war on Yugoslavia, when the justification for that war was the right of self-determination in the old Communist world for every ethno-nationalist group that demanded it.

The United States is now requiring all states to restructure their coercive apparatus to fit America’s strategic concerns. This would seem to reinforce the earlier requirement set by the imperium that they restructure their economic apparatus to fit with what Peter Gowan has called Washington’s Global Gamble.9 But the possibilities of “blowback” are visible everywhere, albeit nowhere more graphically today than in Pakistan. This is a country where 85–90 percent of the state budget is devoted to paying interest on the debt and for the military and coercive apparatus, leaving almost nothing for anything else. Little wonder, with no public educational system to speak of, that the poor in Pakistan—who do not vote for fundamentalist parties in any great numbers—have nevertheless been sending their boys to the religious madrasas, where they will be fed as well as indoctrinated in fundamentalism. And little wonder the imperium now worries about such a state losing control of its nuclear arsenal.

The consequences are incalculable precisely because the imperium, even if it has military bases everywhere, cannot rule except with and through such states. As Ellen Wood puts it in the conclusion to A World of Contradictions, the most recent volume of the Socialist Register:

The very detachment of economic domination from political rule that makes it possible for capital to extend its reach beyond the capacity of any other imperial power in history is also the source of a fundamental weakness.…National states implement and enforce the global economy, and they remain the most effective means of intervening in it. This means that the state is also the point at which global capital is most vulnerable, both as a target of opposition in the dominant economies and as a lever of resistance elsewhere. It also means that now more than ever, much depends on the particular class forces embodied in the state, and that now more than ever, there is scope, as well as need, for class struggle.10

This has enormous implications for the left today, and it is at this point that we need to return to a sober examination of the practices of the antiglobalization movement. Whether opposition to imperialist globalization will take rational and productive forms, as opposed to destructive and irrational forms, will largely depend on the fate of this movement of new activists who have moved into the vacuum created by the failures and defeats of the old left. I mean by this not only the Communist and insurrectionary revolutionary left, but also the vaccuum created by Social Democratic parties who, unable to change themselves from administrators of the welfare state into mobilizing agencies to fight neoliberalism, have all too often stoked the disenchantment with electoral politics by embracing capitalist globalization themselves. Into this political vacuum have stepped not only reactionary religious fundamentalisms and a racist populist new right, but also the forces in every country that have fuelled the global antiglobalization movement. This movement is not going to go away, as could be seen from the fifty thousand people who assembled to declare “another world is possible,” and to discuss what it should look like and how to achieve it, at the second World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in late January and early February of this year. After an initial disorientation that made large-scale mobilization difficult immediately after September 11, the movement is back on track.

The first consideration that we must address in this context, however, is whether the new coercive domestic practices and legal measures adopted under the banner of the war against terrorism will be deployed to stifle this movement in its infancy. In the United States, apart from the 1,100 people immediately added because of September 11, and without any pretence of procedural justice, to the two million already in U.S. prisons, the much broader and longer term consequences of the Patriot Act and other measures that enhance the power and resources of the coercive and security apparatus will be inevitably felt by the U.S. left for many years to come.

The same thing is being replicated in all the states which are known as the imperial power’s closest allies, but are really its most immediate tributaries. The adoption of new coercive measures reflects considerable direct pressure from Washington and, however much it is presented in terms of national security, the explicit justification for these measures in terms of the need for coordination among states to deal with international terrorism suggests that the more accurate designation should be, not national security, but imperial security. But it must also be recognized that the adoption of these measures is also fuelled internally, as I have already suggested, by a disturbing sense of patriotism, not so much to the state in question as to the imperial power itself, a sense of patriotism emanating from a very substantial part of the mass citizenry as well as from the political and media elites.

The Council of the European Union passed, in December 2001, a Framework Decision on Combating Terrorism with a definition of terrorism so broad that it encompasses acts that intentionally “may be seriously damaging to a country or an international organisation” with the aim of “(i) seriously intimidating a population, or (ii) unduly compelling a Government or international organisation to perform or to abstain from performing any act, or (iii) destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional or social structures of a country or international organisation.” The initial EU Commission proposal in September had referred to terrorist acts in relation to “unlawful seizure or damage to state or government facilities, means of public transport, infrastructural facilities, places of public use, and property (both public and private)” and then immediately went on say “this could include, for instance, acts of urban violence.” This when coupled with the above definition provided by the Framework Decision on Combating Terrorism alarmed civil rights groups and especially the European element of the antiglobalization movement—and this concern was further fueled by draconian new laws being passed in a number of member states at the national level. By November, the concern was taken to the Council of the fifteen member states by a small minority of governments which “wanted to restrict this definition as far as possible in order to ensure that legitimate action, such as in the context of trade union activities or anti-globalization movements, could in no circumstances come within the scope of the Framework Decision.”11

The final council decision reflected this to the extent that it added a preamble which said that the definition could not be “interpreted as intended to reduce or restrict fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of assembly or association or of expression, including the right of everyone to form and join trade unions with others for the protection of his or her interests and the related right to demonstrate” and it also added a non-binding declaration that it should not be “construed so as to incriminate on terrorist grounds persons exercising their legitimate right to manifest their opinions, even if in the course of the exercise of such right they commit offenses.” But this has by no means entirely assuaged those who had already been concerned by earlier initiatives to create an EU-wide database on “suspected” protesters, to develop an action plan to place protesters under surveillance, and to bring together the various national paramilitary units to police protests. And as recently as February 2002, the Spanish Presidency of the Council presented the working party on terrorism with a draft for a council decision that would “prosecute violent urban youthful radicalism…at summits or other events arranged by various Community and international organizations,” which it alleges are “increasingly used by terrorist organizations to achieve their criminal aims.”12

In Canada, the introduction and passage of the Anti-Terrorist Act (Bill C-36) goes a very long way to undermine the advance that was made for civil liberties when the War Measures Act (passed during the First World War) was replaced by the Emergencies Act in 1988. This was done in explicit recognition of the fact (evidenced by the many hundreds of innocent people swept up by the Trudeau government when it invoked the War Measures Act against the Front du liberation du Québec during the October Crisis of 1970) that the former Act was far too ham-fisted and gave the state far too unrestricted powers in instances of internal terrorism. If used after September 11, the Emergencies Act would have permitted the declaration of an international emergency in Canada to deal with “acts of intimidation or coercion or the real or imminent use of serious force or violence” and given the government powers as “extensive and as invasive of existing rights and liberties as the provisions now made a permanent component of Canadian law” under the Anti-Terrorist Act.13 But it would have subjected the government to many more restrictions, especially from Parliament, insofar as it would have had to consider any motion to revoke the declaration where supported by ten members of the Senate or twenty members of the House of Commons, and provided a much larger role for all-party committees to review the government’s actions under the declaration of emergency, with the power to revoke or amend executive orders and regulations. The failure to take this route may be attributed in large part to the Canadian state’s entrapment in the American decision to respond to September 11 with an unrestricted long-term war against international terrorism; but by this very fact it also risks what legal scholars like Kent Loach have properly termed “the criminalization of politics” within Canada itself. Even with the “sunset clauses” that were added to require parliamentary approval for the renewal of some of its provisions, David Dyzenhaus has argued persuasively that,

the fact that what we have is not emergency legislation but a terrorism law—an emergency law masquerading as an ordinary statute—means that we have stepped outside the rule of law.…The rule of law is relaxed, though not totally, and there is no clearly defined threat. We have the permanence of the temporary, an attempt to normalize the exception.14

This is reminiscent of what Donald Swartz and I designated, in our book The Assault on Trade Union Freedoms, as “permanent exceptionalism”—the practice of removing, through a steady stream of back-to-work legislation applied to specific cases of legal strikes, the general right to strike which is recognized in the general legislation covering collective bargaining.15 In that case, the judicial deference to each case of “exceptional” legislation, despite its repeated condemnation by the International Labor Organization’s Freedom of Association Committee, has normalized the practice of “permanent exceptionalism.”

In this case, the likelihood is that the courts will defer to permanent emergency legislation that violates the freedom and accountability provided for in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Justice Minister Anne McLennan predicted that the Canadian Supreme Court would uphold the Anti-Terrorism Act with the observation that the “balance between individual rights and collective security shifted after the attacks” of September 11. But if this turns out be so, it will most likely be because, as the legal scholar Lorraine Weinrib has argued, the Government’s justification for this expectation rests less on its belief that the safeguards for civil liberties and accountability it has introduced will be found by the Court not to have breached the Charter, than on the grounds that the Court will defer to the government’s interpretation of “the content of Canada’s international obligations.”16 Not national security, but imperial security will trump the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As for the danger that the new antiterrorism legislation will up the ante considerably in the criminalization of antiglobalization protests, the amendment introduced before it was passed to indicate “that protest activity whether unlawful or lawful would not be considered a terrorist act unless it was intended to cause death, serious bodily harm, endangerment to life, or serious risk to the health and safety of the public” may turn out to be of real importance.17 But the very fact of the amendment’s introduction ought to be taken as recognition by the Canadian state that much of what has heretofore been designated as violent about antiglobalization protests reflects nothing more than attempts by police to find a minor law that has been broken. As we saw in the case of the protests at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Vancouver in 1997, the police are sometimes encouraged to do this by politicians or at least their political aides, whose incentive to suppress protest is especially great when it is likely to embarrass the hosts in front of their guests at international meetings (and this is so even when some of the guests are notorious for extreme practices of violence against their own citizens). Thus, Jaggi Singh, one of the foremost antiglobalization activists in Canada, was arrested at the APEC summit in Vancouver for assaulting a police officer by virtue of his having spoken too loudly through a megaphone; and he was arrested again at the 2001 Québec City Fair Trade Area of the Americas Summit (and detained for seventeen days) both for violating bail conditions by attending the protest and for allegedly possessing an offensive weapon in the form of the infamous teddy bear catapult (that he had in fact nothing to do with). The provision for “preventative detention” in the antiterrorist legislation, not necessarily on the authority of this legislation but on some other legal pretext, will further encourage police to prevent activists from engaging in demonstrations. This was already seen at the protests against the IMF/World Bank meeting in Ottawa in November, 2001, where the police suppression of the protest was very intimidating.

Surprisingly perhaps, the massive mobilization of police forces in advance of the rather larger protest that took place at the Davos-on-the Hudson meeting in New York in February, 2002 did not take such an intimidating form (even with helicoptors circling overhead on the day). To be sure, “preventative detention” was employed as the police promise of a “zero-tolerance policy” against lawbreaking was implemented early in the day via the arrest of two protesters who were standing slightly off the curb on Fifth Avenue and charged with disorderly conduct for blocking traffic. Yet as several large scale marches converged on the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the police allowed the protest to proceed with relatively little interference, taking the form of a colorful carnival of dissent against the war and against Enron as a symbol of a corrupt capitalism, combined with all the banners (and even more of the giant puppets) that have become common to antiglobalization events.18

There is no question that the antiglobalization street protests are intended to be raucous and, if possible, disruptive of international elite meetings. It is that character that makes them different from set-piece demonstrations that unions often undertake along a march route pre-agreed with the authorities (which was also the case in New York in February). Most of the demonstrators come with nothing more illegal, let alone violent, intended than marching without a permit, occupying public spaces adjacent to the meeting places of the assembled elites, and engaging in the remarkably creative street theatre for which these demonstrations have become justly famous. The “diversity of tactics” approach adopted at these demonstrations, elaborately preplanned in Québec City to allow people to choose to stay away from a confrontation with the police at the security fence, also explicitly makes allowances for those who come to the demonstration with such a confrontation in mind. But the nature of the confrontation engaged in even by the black bloc is minimally violent in comparison with anything remotely resembling terrorism, and actually resembles much more the pushing and shoving that goes on at a militant picket line during a strike where the police have a large presence, combined with the odd breakage of a window, overturning of a newspaper box, or setting fire to a garbage bin. The violence I witnessed at Québec City was limited to a handful of people throwing rocks at an empty Shell station and concerted attempts by a crowd to scale the security fence. This led to confrontations with the police, including the throwing of various objects by demonstrators, but most often throwing back a few of the great many canisters of tear gas that the police lobbed from behind the fence and that soon engulfed much of the upper city.

Most of those who get tear-gassed, assaulted by the police, and even arrested at such demonstrations are people who intend nothing but peaceful protest but in the face of what seems an overbearing and unjustified police blockage and interference, often join in the pushing and shoving or resist arrest when they refuse to clear an area as instructed. Some of them then go off to join a better-prepared and more militant group for the next demonstration. Yet there can be no doubt that the confrontations with the police at such demonstrations were already, even before September 11, leading a good many people involved in these protests to question the “diversity of tactics” approach. Those who want to engage in a classic strategy of civil disobedience feel that they are effectively prevented from doing so by those who come with the intent of physically challenging police lines. For, once the police truncheons and tear gas descend, they inevitably descend indiscriminately and push everyone off the streets. The image of generalized violence among those who watch the protests on television or read the sensationalized accounts in the papers has also led many people inside the anti-globalization movement to question the diversity of tactics approach and to demand a serious discussion of which tactics are in fact most productive of building greater popular support for the movement against globalization.

There is much more to the antiglobalization movement than large street protest demonstrations, of course. These protests, as Naomi Klein has put it in the current volume of the Socialist Register, “are not demonstrations of one movement, but rather convergences of many smaller ones, each with its sights trained on a specific multinational corporation (like Nike), a particular industry (like agribusiness) or a new trade initiative (like the Free Trade Area of the Americas), or in defence of indigenous self-determination (like the Zapatistas).” To this could be added specific groups in each country, like the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty in Canada, whose radical egalitarian goals and tactics of direct action have become symbols of allegiance to the antiglobalization movement and its protest demonstrations. Each of these groups conducts its own specific campaigns, research, advocacy, and related direct actions. Klein also speaks in terms of a “hubs and spokes” mode of organization to characterize the antiglobalization movement:

Rather than a single movement, what is emerging is thousands of movements intricately linked to one another, much as “hotlinks” connect their websites on the Internet. This analogy is more than coincidental and is in fact the key to understanding the changing nature of political organizing. Although many have observed that the changing nature of the recent mass protests would have been impossible without the Internet, what has been overlooked is how the communications technology that facilitates these campaigns is shaping the movement in its own image. Thanks to the Net, mobilizations are able to unfold with sparse bureaucracy and minimal hierarchy; forced consensus and labored manifestos are fading into the background replaced instead by a culture of constant, loosely structured and sometimes compulsive information swapping.19

This decentered movement, which often makes it seem as if the agents of globalization, be they states, corporations, or international organizations, are being “swarmed” from a thousand directions, has produced results. This was especially seen in the exposure to public view and the defeat (with the final help of the French government’s veto) of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. And the widespread but interactive nature of this movement of movements has established a distinct and transnational political subculture of activists. This in turn has given critical researchers and writers against globalization a sense that they not only are heard, but also have a broad political base, and thus has led them to redouble their efforts.

To be sure, antiglobalization activists are themselves admiring of and inspired by certain struggles in the third world where violence is a strategic element, from the Zapatista uprising in Mexico to the “Cremate Monsanto” campaign in India. But while there are no doubt some activists in Europe and North America who would not reject out of hand the notion of incorporating such a strategic element of violence in their activities, it nevertheless remains the case that this movement can only be seen, in any historical and comparative perspective, as very far away indeed from anything that might fairly be designated as terrorism let alone armed struggle. Even among the anarchist elements in the movement, the stress lies rather on inventing, through their street protest preparations, a form of direct democracy based on small consensus-finding meetings rather than voting; and they especially point to the way these operate effectively at the mass demonstrations when small affinity groups are linked to one another through consensus-finding “spokes” councils. This is seen to presage the participatory democracy at a local level that often constitutes the foundation of an alternative vision to the freedom of capital movements and export competitiveness that is the essence of globalization. They look to more inward-oriented economic development strategies capable of preserving the decentralization and autonomy and the political and cultural diversity that is the hallmark of this movement of movements.

The problem with the antiglobalization movement is not really its alleged orientation to violence, but rather its difficulty in figuring out how to go beyond protest. Direct action protests are hardly entirely new and have often proved effective, as the marches by the unemployed and the occupations of factories and streets in the 1930s and 1940s proved. Looking back, what is now considered more legitimate—the firing by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the unemployed marchers in Regina or the vociferous protest that led to putting unemployment insurance legislation on the agenda? And does anyone give much credit today to the charges of lawlessness that thundered over Windsor when autoworkers commandeered over a thousand cars on the streets of that city in the famous 1945 blockade that led to union security legislation? The effectiveness of the mass antiglobalization demonstrations today is patently clear from the way meetings of the global elites have been put on the defensive, and now proclaim their abiding concern with addressing world poverty every time they get together. But there can be no effective change unless and until well-organized new political forces emerge in each country that have the capacity, not just to protest vociferously, but to effect (although the anarchists may not like this way of putting it) a democratic reconstitution of state power, turn it against today’s state-constituted global American empire, and initiate cooperative international strategies among states that will allow for inward-oriented development.

One of the promising aspects of the antiglobalization movement, compared with the antiwar movement of the 1960s, has been that this movement has increasingly designated itself as anticapitalist. This is an important advance over its self-designation as an “anti-free trade” or “anticorporate” movement through much of the 1990s. But, despite its decentralized and participatory visions of another order, the primary objective of that movement has still all too often been to protest the international economic and financial institutions of glo-balization—behind which stands the imperial state itself and the multitude of large and small, rich and poor states through which and with which it rules, or seeks to, the globe. So long as the international agencies continue to be the main focus of attention, legitimacy will continue to be lent to the institutions of globalization by many labor, nongovernmental organization, and third world leaders who see no practical alternative to them, and therefore seek a seat at the table of the international meetings where they might win some concessions from elites who, for their part, have certainly been chastened enough by the swarm of protests to look for interlocutors from the movement.

There is considerable suspicion among antiglobalization direct-action militants of those who would seek a seat at the table.20 But there is also a growing sense that protest is not enough either. If the Internet has been an asset in unleashing the capacity to organize dissent and resistance on the global stage, it has proved no substitute for the hard work of class formation and political organization that the Landless Movement in Brazil and the Zapatistas in Chiapas had to engage in on their own ground. The Internet may also be indispensable as a way of bringing together 50,000 activists and researchers in Porto Alegre to attend hundreds of panels that discuss the various meanings of “another world is possible,” but it is no substitute for building in each country new parties like the Brazilian Workers Party, post-Communist and post-social democratic, capable of developing new structures of popular democracy as a prelude to and an effect of competing for state power. In the same essay where she extols the Net as the key to a new form of political organizing, Naomi Klein admits:

There is no question that the communications culture that reigns on the Net is better at speed and volume than it is at synthesis. It is capable of getting tens of thousands of people to meet on the same street corner, placards in hand, but it is far less adept at helping those same people to agree on what they are really asking for before they get to the barricades—or after they leave. Perhaps that’s why a certain repetitive quality has set in at these large demonstrations; from smashing McDonald’s windows to giant puppets, they can begin to look like McProtests. The Net made them possible, but its not proving particularly helpful in taking them to a new stage….Now the police have subscribed to all the e-mail lists and have used the supposed threat posed by anarchists as giant fundraising schemes, allowing them to buy up all manner of new toys, from surveillance equipment to water cannons. More substantively, …the movement, no manner how decentralized, [is] in grave danger of seeming remote, cut off from the issues that affect people’s daily lives.21

On my way to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, I stopped in Santiago, Chile to give another keynote address, this time at a labor summer school. I met there two brothers whose parents were involved in the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria, a Chilean movement of armed struggle in the early 1970s, and who had escaped to Cuba after the Pinochet coup against Allende and the mass murder of the Chilean left that ensued. They returned to Chile as young men, having rejected their parents’ armed struggle politics, with a determined orientation, very much in tune with the new generation of activists in the North, towards working with people in their neighborhood associations as much as in their workplaces on a broad agenda of social, ecological, and cultural, as well as economic issues. As we traveled from Santiago to Porto Alegre together, I asked them to give me one concrete example of the kind of organizing on the ground they were doing to bring this about. The example they gave me certainly qualifies as direct action. It involved organizing workers in the construction sector where trade unions and collective bargaining have been completely wiped out, and where all workers are casual and contract labor. They led an occupation by the workers on a building site where an Italian multinational construction company was developing the largest planetarium in Latin America. But when the police massed outside to break the occupation, the Italian engineers on the project, locked up inside but sympathetic to the protest, insisted that the Minister of Interior negotiate with the workers. A seventy-two-hour cell-phone negotiation ensued, ending in a collective agreement, with minimum wages and standards specified.

This is the kind of direct action that may well come more and more onto the agenda of activists in Europe and North America. As the new generation on the left seeks to ground its protest against the global structures of oppression and exploitation, it will increasingly engage itself with addressing, including through direct action, the immediate troubles facing people in their own societies, helping in this way the longterm process of class formation and political organization to begin anew in the countries of the North. If it is going to be repressed by the state as violent, indeed as terrorist, activity, we are in for some very ugly times.

Notes

  1. Aaron Lukas, “America Still the Villain,” National Post, 18 September 2001, quoted in D. Schederman and B. Cossman, “Political Association and the Anti-Terrorism Bill,” in The Security of Freedom, R. J. Daniels et al, eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 188–9.
  2. David Graeber, “The New Anarchists,” New Left Review 13, January/February 2002, 66.
  3. Quoted in M. Geismar, ed., Mark Twain and the Three R’s: Race, Religion, Revolution—and Related Matters (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1973), 178–9.
  4. Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Viking, 1965), 28.
  5. “G-7 Countries Find Their Public Supportive of U.S. Military Action in Afghanistan but Serious Opposition Appears in Other Countries,” Ipsos-Reid Media Center, 21 December 2001.
  6. Harold Innis, Essays in Canadian Economic History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1956), 407.
  7. Quoted in Cheddi Jagan, Forbidden Freedoms, 3rd ed. (London: Harbig, 1994), 1.
  8. “The United Nations after the Gulf War: A Promise Betrayed,” Stephen Lewis interviewed by Jim Wurst, World Policy Journal, Summer 1991, 539–49.
  9. Peter Gowan, The Global Gamble: Washington’s Faustian Bid for World Dominance (London: Verso, 1999).
  10. Ellen Wood, “Contradictions: Only in Capitalism,” in L. Panitch and C. Leys, eds., A World of Contradictions, Socialist Register 2002 (London: Merlin, 2001), 291.
  11. “EU definition of terrorism could still cover protests,” www.statewatch.org/news/2001/dec/07terrdef.htm.
  12. “Doubts on EU Presidency proposal to target protesters as ‘terrorists,’” _www.statewatch.org/news/2002/feb/07protest2.htm.
  13. Lorraine E. Weinrib, “Terrorism’s Challenge to the Constitutional Order,” in Daniels et al, Security of Freedom, 102.
  14. David Dyzenhaus, “The Permanence of the Temporary: Can emergency powers be Normalized?” in Daniels et al,Security of Freedom, 28-9.
  15. Leo Panitch and Donald Swartz, The Assault on Trade Union Freedoms (Toronto:Garamond, 1993).
  16. Weinrib, Terrorism’s Challenge, 94–96.
  17. “Strengthening the Safeguards,” www.canada.justice.gc.ca/en/news.nr/2001/doc_27906.html.
  18. I have relied for this account on friends who attended the protest, as well as “Eyewitness: Protests on Fifth Avenue,” Ben Anderson and Ben Wright, BBC News, Feb 3, 2002 and the “Report from F2 manifestations against the World Economic Forum Meetings, New York City (February 1-3, 2002)” prepared by the Divas for Democracy affinity group from Colorado.
  19. Naomi Klien, “Farewell to ‘The End of History’: Organization and Vision in Anti-Corporate Movements,” Socialist Register 2002, 4.
  20. See Andre Drainville, “Québec City 2001 and the Making of Transnational Subjects,” Socialist Register 2000, esp. 20–27.
  21. Klein, “Farewell to the ‘End of History,’” 9.

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