Appropriating “Another World”
Review by Sureyyya Evren
When I wrote David Graeber(1) and informed him that our new collection of essays in Turkish is being published under the title Another World is Possible(2)—including a translation of his article “The Globalization Movement,” which later became “The New Anarchists”(3)—he noted that many books, in many different languages, are being published with the same title. Graeber is correct, and this should probably be seen as a form of written solidarity and linguistic internationalism from the global/local movements that are now emerging onto the political scene in so many parts of the world.
The movement we are talking about is known as the anti-globalization movement, the global justice movement, the global democracy movement (as David McNally prefers(4)), or global/local movements. There may be other alternatives I forget here and maybe it is enough when we simply say The Movement (even if we actually mean movements). I suspect that our difficulty naming ourselves is a reaction to the existing naming strategies used by those in power (especially the corporate media) and it shows the serious need to use more flexible categories while defining ourselves than the old, stiff categories that easily create manichaeistic divisions. The slogan “Another World is Possible” always express the idea that we do not want to name the world we are struggling; that we just know that we don’t want the same old world, that we know what we oppose. As the Zapatista encuentros declared earlier, we are organizing “against neo-liberalism and global capitalism.” We are anti-capitalist, anti-militarist, anti-globalization, anti-WTO, anti-IMF, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-hierarchical, anti-statist, anti-sweatshop, anti-x. The most anti- generation in modern political history is in the streets...
So, here we have three books that want to engage these anti-s and to some extent change and even manipulate the Movement. They are The Anti-Capitalism Reader: Imagining a Geography of Opposition, edited by Joel Schalit, Another World is Possible: Globalization and Anti-Capitalism by David McNally, and From ACT Up to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization, edited by Benjamin Sheppard and Ronald Hayduk.
When I said “even manipulate” I especially had in mind The Anti-Capitalism Reader (ACR). At first, ACR looks like a solid anti-market book that is trying to grapple with today’s capitalism in its many aspects (from culture and economics to the public sphere and anti-capitalist movements). The index includes essays with appealing titles and there at least three “stars” in the anthology: Naomi Klein’s famous article on Zapatistas and Marcos—”The Unknown Icon”—is republished here and there are interviews with Slavoj Zizek and Antonio Negri. Some time ago, one of my friends told me that he got a book on “anti-capitalism” (it was ACR) and asked my opinion about translating and publishing it in Turkish. I just looked at titles and flipped through the pages and, without reading it, said “Sure, looks like a rich book on the anti-globalization movement.” What a mistake! What a lesson for me! When I actually read ACR, I saw that it is an authoritarian, sectarian, orthodox marxist attempt to appropriate the anti-globalization movement. I called my friend early in the morning with severe feelings of guilt and told him what the book is really like. If it is going to be translated to Turkish it should be done by some Marxist party or group, who reject the decentralized character of the Movement in principle: I would be the last person to contributes to this.
Two types of pieces characterize ACR; essays addressed to sectarian Marxist readers that debate what to do with the new anti-authoritarian movement and essays written to teach anti-globalization activists how to stop being members of the anti-globalization movement and start being socialist party pawns (or, to put it differently, essays teaching the Movement how to stop being itself and turn into a campaign for parliamentary elections). The authors in ACR do not understand what the movement is and do not try to listen to it. Instead, like the corporate media, they only see symbols, and prefer to manipulate.
But they are not, as Zizek notes, so stupid as to represent themselves as they truly are.(5) So many titles are misleading. Paul Thomas’s essay “What News from Genoa? Varieties of Anti-Capitalist Experience” does not intend to explain or discuss varieties of anti-capitalist experience (in Genoa, for example). Instead, he praises Marx and Marxism and tries to prove that Marx was the father of all revolutionary sons (ACR shelters in some sexism too, I will note later) with entertaining phrases like “There is a patterning to the galaxy, with Marxism as its lode star.”(6) This essay should really be titled “The Real Origin of Genoa and other Anti-Capitalist Experiences is Marx and No One and Nothing Else.”
John Brady’s essay “The Public Sphere in the Era of Anti-Capitalism” criticizes the Movement for overemphasizing the public sphere as a political arena and, instead, proposes “political parties, parliament, and the state administration.”(7) He is unhappy that the radical democratic Left’s energy has been focused on the public sphere and civil society so much and that efforts to mobilize within the electoral arena are increasingly dismissed. For Brady, the parliamentary road is “the path anti-capitalist left must follow.”(8) Unbelievably, he writes without hesitation that “after all, in modern democracies the will of the people is expressed most directly through elections.”(9) This makes you feel like, “what am I reading?” Brady seriously has no idea what has been going on since Seattle and what the radical Left has been doing (or maybe he is just making fun of us).
And Scott Schaffer’s “From Bunny Rabbits to Barricades: Strategies of Anti-Capitalist Resistance” is not about strategies of anti-capitalist resistance. Schaffer believes that the newest phase of anti-market struggles lack a “practical politics” and thus he proposes strategies. (What a misunderstanding! The “newest phase of anti-market struggles” is actually based on organizing with “practical politics” and even the ideology of the movement lies in its way of organizing.) The title should be “Strategies for Anti-Capitalist Resistance” because, instead of finding out and discussing strategies that are used in the anti-capitalist resistance, he only wants to make suggestions.
In fact, the name of the book is completely misleading. It should have been called As Marx Described It—as one of the contributors of ACR, Charlie Bertsch, says to Henwood during an interview.(10)
Among the committed Leninists in ACR, Doug Henwood seems a little more critical and sometimes tries to understand what’s going on. And he also provides a good example of how Marxist intellectuals write to other Marxist intellectuals. You should read the passages in which he refers to activists as “kids,” which they—Marxists intellectuals—can shape efficaciously. (Just to note: a tendency towards gerontocracy reveals itself often in ACR. For example, speaking of activists, Henwood states that “the kids are grateful to hear a coherent analysis of how the parts of the system fit together”(11) or “I think it often tends to be juvenile in practice. A lot of it is an infantile ‘NO!’ translated into political philosophy.”(12) Likewise, John Brady says, “After all, the mobilization against global capital is still in its infancy.”(13) While these quotations do not prove anything in themselves, they suggest a perspective.) Although Henwood knows that activists have had little tolerance for similar takeover attempts, he is still hopeful for Marxism. “It seems like it would be far more efficacious for marxist intellectuals to talk with the protesters, to engage them in conversation with some modesty, perhaps even a touch of awe.”(14)
Talking about anarchists as the “other,” Henwood and Bertsch are interested in “them” and “their ideology.” Henwood was struck by the anarchists’ organizational model, which combined incredible flexibility with great discipline, and the spirit of it, which combined great seriousness and fun. Henwood found anarchist protests “erotic.”(15) (Similarly, in Turkey and perhaps other parts of the world too, the corporate media often refers to news stories and events with lots of pain, blood, and scandal as “sexy.”) He tries to make fun of anarchism, but he is also afraid of its successes (which he witnessed). This is a typical orthodox Marxist, defensive reaction.
His interview with Zizek begins with a question like “what we are going to do with this growing anarchist influence?” Zizek is no doubt a good writer and an exceptional thinker and it is always a pleasure to read his analyses, even if you do not agree. He is a good interdisciplinary thinker who combines an analysis of popular culture, academic debates, and political demands in a brilliant way. The last book I read by him was, The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch’s Lost Highway, which is a good example of his style—skilful interpretations that you can admire even if you don’t embrace them.
But he seems uninformed if not ignorant when the subject comes to anarchism, particularly when he says “For me, the tragedy of anarchism is that you end up having an authoritarian secret society trying to achieve anarchist goals.”(16) On the contrary, this looks like the tragedy of the far-away, intellectual-observer. This statement provides only one insight: the Great Zizek writes brilliantly on September 11th but he is not really interested in the anti-globalization movement and actual political struggles and doesn’t spend much time trying to understand what emerged in Seattle and after. He even claims that there is always “one person (in the anarchist groups), accepted by some unwritten rules as the secret master.”(17)
Another World is Possible: Globalization
To a great extent Another World is Possible (AWP) is like a long-pamphlet explaining why capitalism is bad, why the big companies are bad, and why we should change them. Despite the McNally’s obvious good intentions, there are serious orthodoxy problems in the book, like economic determinism. We can take racism as an example. McNally gives false or insufficient information about the creation of the concept of race. Of course it is always a good starting point to note that the concept “race” was created and fabricated, but it was not created by rich white Americans to divide the poor whites from poor people of color in eighteenth century America (even though rich whites did use racism to divide poor whites from poor people of color).(18) Such simplifications and economic determinism just do not help. On the other hand, why doesn’t McNally interpret, for example Robert Bernasconi’s works on race and racism in continental philosophy? And race and racism in the Locke’s work—whose philosophy is very important for the United States and slavery—and Kant and Hegel and the Enlightenment are not insignificant issues.
But this basic book, with many disputable assertions, is much better than the ACR because McNally really is interested in the Movement, and is trying to understand, theorize, and improve it. Clearly he put a lot of work into this book, and he devotes many pages to detailed discussions of important movement actions around the globe. While it was an unlucky experience to read ACR, reading AWP makes you reflect on the global history of protests and contemporary strategies. The barrier that prevents him from entering the “soul” of the movement probably lies in his belief in centralized politics. He quotes a slogan from a May Day 2001 banner in London: “Overthrow capitalism–and replace it with something nicer!” and notes that “the designer of this banner has humorously called for replacing capitalism with ‘something nicer’–without any attempt to name what that might be. That ‘something nicer’ needs a name. Social movements will not develop if they refuse to name and define alternative possibilities.”(19)
This is where AWP falls apart: this slogan has the same logic as the slogan “Another World is Possible” and the authors of both probably have a vision of social alternatives. But what they are trying to do is to send a message to other anti-capitalists who are working for these alternatives. Both express a strong emphasis on direct action, because they are not utopian and because they intend to change the present. And “Another World” is not a world you will see before you die; it is an ideal. That’s why banner writers do not name their alternatives, but instead name their desire to create them through alternative forms of organizing against capitalism.
In any case, as I said before, I do not want to be too negative about McNally. He is surely a committed activist, a writer with a strong global revolutionary perspective, and AWP is full of insights. Although I don’t agree with many of his points of view, I felt grateful for his book.
Politicizing Differences Together
Time to talk about From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest Community Building in the Era of Globalization (ACTUP/WTO), edited by Benjamin Shepard and Ronald Hayduk. This book is certainly written from inside the Movement and reflects its soul entirely. As Eric Rofes states in the introduction, it is an attempt at “creating a new literature for a new era of community organizing.”(21)
Shepard and Hayduk defend the idea that Act Up (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) played a central role in the rings of actions that led to Seattle. Although they exaggerate a little bit at times, particularly when they claim and/or imply that Seattle was born from ACT UP, exaggeration is inevitable in all arts and I suppose that they do this on purpose, in a carnavalesque spirit.
As Shepard remarks; Seattle was not one movement but the result of many. And ACTUP/WTO contains many essential studies and first hand accounts of how these movements organized. Considering that the ideology of the Movement lies in its way of organizing, this book on practical politics is key for those who want to study its meaning. It is a movement which is “decentralized, based on coordination rather than unification, deriving its strength and vitality from the autonomy and self-determination of its component parts,” as Leslie Kaufman writes.(22)
ACTUP/WTO explores forms of direct action and the role they have played. It presents a history of movements following and developing similar methods, offers a historical look at the spokescouncils and affinity groups, advances anti-sectarian organizing principles, and of course provides many, many examples and direct narratives. Starhawk’s “How we really shut down the WTO” draws an accurate picture. As she states: “our model of power was decentralized, and leadership was invested in the group as a whole. People were empowered to make their own decisions, and the centralized structures were for coordination, not control.”(23)
Queering the global/local movements
Even though ACTUP/WTO is surely not a “white” book, and raises many topics about race and race conflicts, it does focus a little too much on American movements. But why not? Someone could argue that it is not necessary for every book to cover the entire world. However, I am sure that Seattle has roots in many parts of the world, and McNally was very good when he was searching for them.
Anyway, ACTUP/WTO presents a lot of helpful information and valuable perspectives for a revolutionary transformation of politics and everyday life. Now, this is the book that I would like to help translate.
“Another World” is and has always been a very flexible category, especially when compared to concepts advanced by earlier revolutionary movements. And this is not a critique: I feel like this is what we need right now: more flexible categories and open structures instead of closed ones. Italo Calvino could be the writer of the moment. His Six Memos for the Next Millennium is a book on literature but the main concepts are at work in the Movement too: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity, and consistency.
For a Politics as a broader network…