|Abstract: Of all the emerging roles of computer communications
in social conflict, this paper argues that the most serious challenge to
the basic institutional structures of modern society flow from the emergence
of computer-linked global social movements that are, increasingly, challenging
both nationa and supranational policy-making institutions. The suggestion
is that we are currently witnessing an accelerating circulation of social
conflicts whose participants recognize a common enemy: contemporary capitalism.
In their increasingly common rejection of business priorities their struggles
cannot but recall Marxist notions of "class warfare." Yet the common opposition
to capitalism is not accompanied by the old notion of a unified alternative
project of socialism. On the contrary, such a vision has been displaced
by a proliferation of diverse projects and the notion that there is no
need for universal rules. In response to these struggles, the threatened
institutions are responding in various ways, sometimes by military and
paramilitary force, sometimes by co-optation aimed at reintegrating the
antagonistic forcs. The problem for us is finding ever new ways to defeat
these responses and continue to build new worlds.
Recent writings on the spread of widespread, computer communications
have found them playing new roles in all kinds of social conflict: in the
activities of terrorists, drug cartels, illegal arms merchants, nation-states,
advocacy groups and social movements. The content of these roles differ
--from hacker break-ins and extortion demands, to the circulation of information
on the Internet-- but they all involve the use of modern computer technologies
as weapons of criminal acts or political struggle.
Clarifying the importance of communications in such conflict areas depends
on the examination of case studies. Case studies, in turn require us to
narrow our focus and select a specific area of conflict for closer scrutiny.
How to choose? In general this question is being answered by individuals
according to their own interests and by funding agencies according to their
priority of worries. Everyone, I assume, wonders "in which area of conflict
are the effects of these new behaviors and organizational forms likely
to be the most profound?"
Of all the areas mentioned above, I argue that the area developing in
ways most likely to produce profound effects is that of broad-based social
movements. The reasons for this view are simple.
On the one hand, no innovation in the organization of terrorism, criminal
cartels, military operations or any other inter-state interaction threatens
the socio-economic and political order of contemporary global capitalism.(1)
Small groups wield terrorism as a political weapon in the struggle for
conventional power. For governments terrorism is just another way of repressing
the opposition or, at an international level, of putting pressure on other
nation-states. Current efforts to reorganize the military are merely designed
to make it more effective within the current system ­which includes,
and is not threatened by, modifications in nation-state relationships.
Similarly, the restructuring of criminal organizations (drug cartels, arms
merchants) is no more mysterious than parallel efforts among their more
legal corporate counterparts. In all of these conflict areas we may well
expect innovation and changes in the forms of conflicts that citizens will
need to take into account, but none of them threatens any fundamental change
in the current system.
On the other hand, there is accumulating evidence that current trends
in large-scale social movements do pose such a threat and hold the possibility
of coalescing into a deepening and broadening of that threat. Many past
studies of large-scale social movements have not seen them as dangers to
the current social system but rather as narrowly focused, largely reformist
movements aimed at achieving particular changes, but not general ones.
In contrast, this paper suggests that current struggles for particular
changes are linking up into a collaboration whose impact may wind up being
much larger than the sum of the individual influences. One of the most
important dimensions of the movement toward collaboration is its increasingly
global or transnational character. Local and national movements, which
have fought local and national battles, are quite consciously seeking and
finding ways to make their efforts complement those of others organized
around similar issues elsewhere.
Transnational rhizomes, networks or social netwars?
These tendencies in the emergence and evolution of social movements have
attracted the attention of independent critical intellectuals, mainstream
social scientists and national security analysts. Among the former, the
theoretical work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari has been particularly
fruitful. In the process of transcending traditional Left notions of structuralism,
dialectics and a preoccupation with large-scale forces, they elaborated
a number of new concepts to illuminate the micro-dynamics of both individual
psychology and social movements. For my purposes here, the most salient
of their ideas are the ones based on the metaphor of the rhizome: a subterranean
plant growth process involving propagation through the horizontal development
of the plant stem.(2) Deleuze and Guattari juxtaposed
this horizontal elaboration of a multiplicity of underground roots and
above ground stems to more familiar arboreal processes associated with
the vertical, centralized growth of trees. Through the metaphor of the
rhizome they explored the characteristics one finds, or might expect to
find, in horizontally linked human interactions --whether of small-scale
social groups or large-scale social movements. This work has been taken
up by activists in such movements and used for thinking about their own
activity, both locally and internationally.(3)
In the mainstream, first sociologists and then political scientists
have taken over from mathematical graph theory the concept of networks
to analyse a wide variety of social relationships.(4)
These have included individual behavior, small group interactions, organizational
behavior and social movements --most recently transnational movements.(5)
Of these, the last two would seem to have the most salience here. Organizational
theorists and observers have traced the emergence within businesses and
to some degree the state sector, of network forms of organization that
appear distinct from more traditional hierarchies and market systems.(6)
Recent applications of network analysis to transnational social movements
have drawn on past sociological studies of local networks, on organizational
studies and on empirical work on particular network-based campaigns to
knit together a synthetic view of "those relevant actors working internationally
on an issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse
and dense exchanges of information and services." (7)
Among national security analysts, the most perceptive work has been
done by RAND's David Ronfeldt and his co-authors who have examined the
implications of the emergence of network forms of organization for the
Defense Department. Drawing on studies of the changing organization of
business and the state, such as that of Walter Powell, they have taken
over the juxtaposition of networks to markets and hierarchies and argued
that contemporary social movements have been evolving into networked organizations
capable of unleashing "transnational social netwars." They see emerging
transnational networks of "information ­ age activism" based on
associations among non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with
modern and postmodern issues such as the environment, human rights, immigration,
indigenous peoples and freedom in cyberspace.(8)
The Zapatista Movement
In much of this recent work, a primary reference point for the study of
transnational rhizomes or social netwars has been the rebellion waged by
Zapatista communities in Chiapas, Mexico and the activities of its supporters
around the world since the beginning of 1994.
The first activist analysis of communicational dimension of the conflict
noted that the "most striking thing about the sequence of events set in
motion on January 1, 1994 has been the speed with which news of the struggle
circulated and the rapidity of the mobilization of support which resulted."
(9) Modern computer communications, through the Internet
and the Association for Progressive Communications networks, made it possible
for the Zapatistas to get their message out despite governmental spin control
and censorship. Mailing lists and conferences also facilitated discussions
and debate among concerned observers that led to the organization of protest
and support activities in over forty countries around the world. The Zapatista
rebellion was weaving, the analysis concluded, a global "electronic fabric
In July 1995 a Defense Department "strategic assessment" of the Internet
written for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and
Low-Intensity Conflict, quoted an earlier (and erroneous) Army report that:
Subcommandante Marco [sic] of the Zapatista National Liberation
Army (EZLN) in Mexico utilizes a portable laptop computer to issue orders
to other EZLN units via a modem, and to foreign media contacts in order
to maintain a favorable international propaganda image." (10)
Two years latter, in a general essay on "netwar," defense analysts David
Ronfeldt and John Arquilla wrote:
"In Mexico, a mix of subnational and transnational actors
have mounted a social netwar against a state lagging at democratization.
The netwar appears in the decentralized collaboration among the numerous,
diverse Mexican and transnational (mostly U.S. and Canadian) activists
who side with the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), and who aim
to affect government policies, on human rights, democracy and other major
reform issues. Mexico . . . is now the scene of a prototype for social
netwar in the 21st century." (11)
In 1998, as part of their study of the development of transnational
human rights networks, Keck and Sikkink reported that:
During the peasant uprisings in Chiapas in 1994 it became
clear that the government could no longer control information as it had
in 1968. . . . The press and domestic and international NGOs monitored
the conflict closely, and electronic mail became one of the main mechanisms
through which the EZLN communicated with the world. (12)
Such analyses, across the political spectrum, have sought to understand
the characteristics of what appears to be a new capacity for this and other
social movements to communicate across borders and to operate at a transnational
level. The rapidity and thoroughness with which almost every aspect of
modern computer communications have been used by pro-Zapatista forces has
been central to this particular movement becoming "a prototype." From the
use of mailing lists and conferences for the dissemination of information,
the sharing of experience and the facilitation of discussion and organizing
through the elaboration of multimedia web sites for the amplification and
archiving of the developing history of the struggle to the use of electronic
voting technology to make possible global participation in plebiscites
on their political positions, the Zapatistas and their supporters have
been on the cutting edge of the political use of computer communications.
These analyses of this movement have also recognized how the content
of these rhizomatic or networking forms of social mobilization has differed
from traditional Leninist notions of revolution. Instead of a dedication
to the seizure of power, the Zapatista rebellion, including its international
dimensions, has involved a mobilization with the essentially political
objectives of 1) pulling together grassroots movements against the current
political and economic order in Mexico and the world and of 2) facilitating
the elaboration and circulation of alternative approaches to social organization.
Such recognition differs markedly from that of the Mexican government
whose primary responses have included police, military and paramilitary
terrorism (backed by economic and military aid from the US).(13)
The insistence on the fundamentally political nature of the conflict also
stands in stark contrast to the thinking of some U.S. policymakers who
often have difficulty distinguishing between types of struggles and wind
up defining most of them as national security threats.(14)
At the same time, however, that activist analyses have sought ways to
deepen the effectiveness of these grassroots efforts, "national security"
research has emphasized how governments should learn to counter such social
movements. "To ensure that netwars do not adversely affect Mexico's stability
or transformability," Ronfeldt and Martinez wrote, "the government will
have to improve its ability to wage counter-netwar . . ." (15)
Military "Counter-netwar" responses
A recent attempt to assess evidence of any Mexican Army shift toward networked
forms has focused on signs of decentralization in operations, more inter-agency
cooperation and "increased attention to public affairs, psychological operations,
relations with NGOs, and human-rights issues".(16) Unfortunately,
from the point of view of the local inhabitants, the dispersion of small
units in a so-called "blanketing strategy" has primarily involved widespread
Army intimidation and terror in Zapatista communities.(17)
Inter-agency cooperation and "increased attention" to NGOs and human-rights
issues has revealed itself as an increased government willingness and ability
to persecute NGOs and foment human rights violations.
For one thing, the Mexican government has come to understand the important
role of international observers in outflanking its attempts to cover up
its terrorism and murder in Chiapas. Over the last year or so the Mexican
immigration service has been used increasingly to harass and confine the
activities of foreign observers. In an obvious attempt to avoid embarrassing
international reports by human rights observers, the government has undertaken
a blatantly xenophobic campaign accusing foreign observers of "political"
interference in Mexican internal affairs. Hundreds have been expelled from
Mexico, many banned from returning.(18)
For another, the major institutional change in the Mexican army in this
period that looks like an adaptation to "netwar" appears to me to have
been its insertion into domestic police functions (e.g., anti-drug and
urban police operations) and their intimate relation with state-supported
paramilitary terror networks.(19) Indeed, the most "networked"
new aspect of army organization may be this linkage. This kind of mailed-fist
response, however, is totally inappropriate to the political character
of the social conflict. Vicious repression has only generated increased
support from human rights groups and other sympathizers. By failing to
respond politically to political challenges, the government has been losing
the real "war."
Political "Counter-netwar" responses
An alternative approach to the antagonisms between social movements and
the state suggests their reduction to the negotiations of pluralism. In
the case of Chiapas, there have been recurrent efforts to convince or pressure
the EZLN into laying down its arms and becoming an officially recognized
player in the formal political sphere. More broadly: "Interests and needs
continue to grow for all manner of civil ­ society NGOs and other
nongovernmental actors to develop new ways to work with government actors
all across North America."(20) The formulation that it
is the non-state actors who need to work with governments assumes an at
least potential complementarity of interests.
Grassroots movements, in contrast, desire real changes in government
policies, or even alternative forms of collectively managing the social
commons. Even among those who think reform possible, many believe that
without considerable external pressure governments will never change in
the directions they desire. There is also a perception, based on past experience,
that to "work with governments" is to risk having one's challenges to the
current order neutralized through co-optation. Collaboration with the state,
in other words, can lead directly to the subsumption of "civil society"
within the state and an end to whatever autonomy it has managed to assert.(21)
The use of consultation-co-optation is currently in vogue at the World
Bank. This supranational state institution traditionally is not directly
accountable to the citizens of its member states. But in recent years,
the Bank has been besieged by environmentalists and indigenous rights groups.
Faced with multiplying objections to its approach to development, the World
Bank has invited its critics to contribute to the reform of its policies
--with some success, given that a certain number of NGOs have accepted
to engage in such consultation. Of course, such discussions about reforming
Bank policy must take place within the framework of contemporary global
capitalism. Listening to critics has the triple advantage for the Bank
of 1) getting them off the streets and into less visible conference rooms,
2) adding to its stock of ideas about how to foster capitalist development
while, 3) bleeding time, energy and creativity away from any consideration
of more radical alternatives.
In other examples of institutional responses to growing grassroots opposition
to their practices, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have begun to accept the
idea of "a dialogue with civil society." The surprising willingness in
early January 1998 of IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus to meet with
workers in South Korea who were opposing the government-IMF program to
deal with the "Asia Crisis" broke with all previous practice.(22)
His promise to set up a "permanent" dialogue between the IMF mission
to South Korea and the labor movement is very much in the spirit of World
Bank consultations with its critics.(23)
The OECD's opening to such dialogue came only after the defeat of its
initiative to negotiate and pass a Multilateral Agreement on Investment
(MAI) behind the backs of most of the world's peoples. That initiative
--to define a global set of rights of corporate investors (paralleling
the trade rules of the GATT)-- was begun in 1995 but not made public until
February 1997 when a draft of the proposal was leaked. The temporary defeat
of this initiative has been credited, in part, to the utilization of e-mail
and web sites to circulate information about the MAI, including critiques
of both the content of the agreement and the undemocratic process of drafting
it.(24) As a result of the outrage that this information
generated, the Internet also became a vehicle for circulating and organizing
a mobilization campaign against the MAI in dozens of countries. Such mobilization
put pressure both on the negotiators at the OECD and on member country
governments. In April 1998, under intense fire, the OECD halted the negotiations
for six months. In October 1998, France pulled out of the negotiations,
substantially undermining them.
In an analysis of this conflict, Wharton School management professor
Stephen Kobrin suggested that because the Internet makes it difficult to
maintain the secrecy of such elite negotiations it will be necessary to
invest in generating "public support for treaties such as the MAI" --no
matter how difficult or costly.(25)
Stunned by the success of grassroots opposition, the OECD invited NGOs
to a seminar-consultation on December 2, 1998. Only three NGOs participated
in this seminar while the vast majority of those who are active in the
anti-MAI movement stayed away, refusing to provide the OECD with the legitimization
of their presence.(26) This refusal was expressed in
a scathing public letter to the OECD, the draft of which was circulated
on the Internet for modification:
"No additional time is needed. We know perfectly well
where we stand on the MAI and on any text inspired by the same principles.
We have already declared on many occasions that we shall continue to oppose
it under any guise and wherever it may resurface."
Although we can understand your desire to re-establish the OECD's credibility,
badly, perhaps terminally, damaged by the MAI process, we do not intend
to lend ourselves to this enterprise.(27)
European Commission documents recently leaked and posted on the Internet,
as well as other public reports, suggest that rather than abandoning the
effort to create a MAI, or of undertaking any serious opening to "civil
society," there is currently underway an attempt to shift negotiations
from the OECD to the WTO, which has been even less inclined to talk with
In contrast to the IMF and the OECD, the World Trade Organization still
largely operates behind a wall of obfuscation and state repression, as
was seen in its response to the confrontations that took place in Geneva
during its May 1998 meetings. As early as February of that year, an international
coalition of grassroots movements formed a "People's Global Action" (PGA)
to build a global coalition from the bottom against what they perceived
as a global alliance at the top. Organized in part through the Internet,
and dedicated to direct action as well as to non-violent civil disobedience,
the PGA prepared huge demonstrations for the WTO meetings. When the time
came, somewhere between ten and twenty thousand activists converged in
several days of demonstrations. A Swiss police crackdown turned the city
into a battleground tinged with the smell of tear-gas. There was no dialogue
here, just traditional aloofness and antagonism.
The WTO's account of the situation is quite different. Because it has
allowed some NGOs to attend its ministerial meetings since 1996, it presents
itself as quite open to "external" feedback from "civil society:"
"Throughout the three-day-event NGOs were briefed regularly
by the WTO Secretariat on the progress of the informal working sessions
-- a feature which was welcomed by NGOs as a genuine sign of commitment
to ensure transparency and the recognition of civil society as an entity
which deserves attention in its own right."
A study of the list of NGO participants at this meeting (as well as
at others), however, reveals that the WTO's notion of "civil society" is
not one shared by most grassroots groups. The vast majority of the participants
turned out to be business organizations and other organizations that work
in their behalf. For the WTO, it seems, "civil society" refers to everyone
outside the state. For the grassroots movements organizing against it,
"civil society" --when they use that term-- generally refers to that part
of society which falls outside both the state and business sectors. By
that criteria there were very few participants indeed and the appropriateness
of their "non-business" status is debatable, e.g., trade union organizations
that work as the labor relations arm of business, environmental groups
that accept capitalism as a framework within which to work.
Nevertheless, since the massive confrontation in May 1998, the WTO has
intensified its efforts to give at least the appearance of listening to
its critics. It has adopted a few measures to improve the transparency
of its activities and is talking about making its documents available to
the public a little sooner. It will provide regular briefings for NGOs,
invite NGOs to more meetings and distribute NGO papers to member countries.
It is even engaging in a bit of "netwar" by creating a special NGO page
at its web site. All these measures WTO Director General Renato Ruggiero
calls "a genuine sign of commitment . . . to the recognition of civil society
as an entity which deserves attention in its own right." However, given
the character of the NGOs the WTO has seen fit to engage to date, it seems
unlikely that this rhetoric signals a real opening to those opposed to
its policies. One thing is clear: willingness to enter into dialogue with
one's critics in civil society is by no means a hegemonic tactic and is
often tentative at best, except in the case of the World Bank's effort
to lead the way.
There are two things about his new "offensive of smiles" on the part
of major supranational capitalist institutions that I want to discuss further.
First, while serious invitations to a dialogue between grassroots activists
and supranational institutions are certainly a measure of the growing power
of grassroots opposition we must also ask ourselves about the nature and
sources of that power. Second, while in every case those being invited
to dialogue are representatives of NGOs, "civil society" --defined as the
mass of society outside the state and the business sector-- encompasses
a much more comprehensive set of actors. The concept itself, moreover,
has important limitations.
Dialogue and Power
The power to provoke invitations to dialogue with supranational capitalist
institutions was not always there. Before social movements demonstrated
their ability to organize an embarrassing amount of public pressure, they
were ignored. To build such a level of pressure opposition movements organized
themselves internationally, or globally, in ways that bypassed all the
layers of mediation that previously protected these institutions. In this
way the movements were able to confront the institutions at their own supranational
level.(28) In the case of the OECD (or the WTO) the international
character of mobilization is obvious. But even cases that appear purely
local, such as the IMF talks with the South Korean labor movement, turn
out at least partially to be a response to international struggle. Beginning
with the general strike in December 1996, South Korean workers reached
out to the rest of the world through various means, especially the Internet,
and succeeded in mobilizing considerable support --in a manner similar
to the Zapatista effort in Mexico.
At the heart of such efforts was the mobilization of power against Power.
That is to say, the elaborate pattern of connections and linkages within
social movements bring vast numbers of imaginative people into a collective
endeavor where their joint creativity challenges that of a Power often
organized in a more rigid and less-flexible manner.(29)
Against a Power-ful rule-making and enforcing institution, grassroots power
pits a rhizomatic constituent force, more capable of innovating and elaborating
new lines of flight in struggle. The problem for Power is to divide and
to harness power for its own purposes, to give itself life.(30)
The constitution of a multitude of alternative, linked nodes of antagonistic
power by-passing mediations, undermines that division and makes the harnessing
Although the bypassing of mediation by grassroots opposition has been
achieved through similar organizational forms, history and policy shifts
have dictated that the pattern of confrontation would vary from institution
to institution. Ever since the 1960s the World Bank, for example, had come
under attack from Nationalist and Left-wing intellectuals for its role
in American imperialism and/or capitalist exploitation in the Third World.
But such critiques failed to stir any widespread movement against the institution.(31)
It was not until environmentalists and indigenous rights groups widely
disseminated horror stories about the suffering caused by particular projects
along with appealing information about the peoples and cultures being destroyed,
that Bank activities were brought to critical public awareness and challenge.
The power of their protests was also augmented in the 1980s by attacks
on the closely related role of the World Bank in the structural adjustment
approach to the international debt crisis.(32)
The International Monetary Fund had also been long critiqued for the
deflationary adjustment it sometimes demanded of its member states. The
Right critiqued the assault on national sovereignty and the Left critiqued
the imposition of unemployment, falling wages and poverty on the working
class. But it only became widely known, and truly hated, in the 1980s for
its central role in the international debt crisis.(33)
Totally devoted to the interest of international banks in achieving complete
repayment for all loans, the Fund demanded the repeated imposition of killing
austerity and neoliberal structural adjustments in exchange for its official
sanction of debt roll-over loans. That austerity was imposed against people
who were not responsible for having borrowed outstanding debt or for the
difficulties of repayment.(34) As a major agent of the
spread of neoliberal policies, i.e., pro-market, pro-business, anti-regulation,
anti-worker, the IMF has promulgated increased unemployment, falling wages
and increased suffering around the world. In its wake a legion of antagonists
have been active in crafting international linkages and developing new
forms of opposition.
Opposition to the World Trade Organization emerged out of a history
of grassroots perceptions that a primary goal of trade agreements has been
to hammer down trade barriers in ways that facilitate corporate circumvention
of local controls. The recent creation of the WTO and its use by corporations
to attack local constraints has hastened the extension of local struggles
to the international level. For grassroots environmental movements that
have fought and gained some local protections for nature from corporate
rapaciousness, the dangers of an MAI or a WTO being used to undercut their
successes became quickly apparent. For human rights activists who have
fought for local laws against public contracts with corporations that support
repressive regimes, the WTO is now seen as a primary vehicle for corporations
to attack such constraints.(35) For workers who have
seen falling trade barriers lead to runaway shops, there has been a shift
from a struggle for protection to one for global organization.(36)
The WTO has not only increased the centralization of global economic
policymaking, but has also provided a central object of protest as well.
Finally, the Organization for Economic and Cultural Development was
long, for most people, merely a quasi-governmental institution that periodically
issued country and topical reports. For the Third World it was the Rich
Country's Club, for the Right a part of the conspiracy for a world government
and for the Left it was one more gathering place of capitalist policymakers.
But the discovery of obscure negotiations to craft a Multilateral Agreement
on Investment that would, like some trade agreements, undercut local and
even national victories by grassroots movements focused the attention and
anger of thousands of activists all over the world. Myriad individuals
and groups with little previous interest in the OECD gathered information,
linked up and shared ideas and methods for a campaign of global proportions.
This transition, however, from the local to the global has not always
been direct. Sometimes it has passed through a regional phase. This can
be illustrated with two examples.
In North America an important phase of this transition from local to
the global organizing was the battle over the negotiation and passage of
the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As with the later case
of the MAI, negotiations for NAFTA were carried on in secret. But the discovery
of this behind-closed-doors deal making led to the formation of tri-national
collaborative networks of opposition in Canada, the United States and Mexico.
This anti-NAFTA movement, operating through direct meetings and the Internet,
forced the negotiations into public view and almost defeated this top-down
trade agreement. The subsequent formation of the World Trade Organization
caught the attention of these grassroots trade activists and made them
realize that a purely regional approach was not enough. Many of them have
since formed the North American backbone of the anti-WTO movement.
In Western Europe we find another progression from the local through
the regional to the global. The recent, increasingly tight interlinking
of economic and social policy --from the Maastricht treaty and Schengen
Agreement, to the monetary union-- has met with growing challenge by grassroots
movements. Those movements, one after another, have become convinced that
these regional arrangements are aimed at a fundamental augmentation in
the power of business and a parallel decrease in that of rank and file
labor, immigrants, peasants, the Green movement and other grassroots self-organization.
But the mobilization against these regional arrangements has come in a
period where others have already been intensely involved in confrontations
with supranational state institutions. Thus European activists have been
quick to join a more global organization of grassroots opposition. The
European response was particularly strong in response to the Zapatista
program that attacks globalisation while supporting the elaboration of
globally interlinked local and regional alternatives to capitalism.
These new global conflicts have involved cross-fertilization and the
combination of energies generated by local roots. In general we can say
that local conflicts between citizen groups and governments have expanded
into global efforts in response to two things: first, to a spreading uniformity
of policies and international agreements among governments to implement
world-wide sets of rules and second, to the resultant perception of common
interests in challenging not only those rules but any set of uniform mandates
unrelated to local situations.
The spreading uniformity of economic and social policies has been re-crafted
over the last twenty years from the top down in ways more and more in line
with "neoliberalism". The increasingly homogeneous character of policy
across the face of the earth has created a situation where more and more
people, over wider and wider areas, despite geographic, linguistic and
cultural differences, have come to formulate a common opposition to these
policies and to take more and more widely linked action against them.
In earlier years, abstract theories confronted an abstract system. The
very existence of "a system" was sometimes hard to recognize in its diverse
manifestations and policies. As a result critical theories had little capacity
to galvanize widespread oppositional action. Today, the reduction of that
diversity into a common array of policies has given new life to such theories,
which, in turn, have informed the emergence of a common resistance on a
scale never before known. As the central roles of institutions such as
the World Bank, the OECD, the WTO and the IMF in the crafting and implementation
of these policies have become clear, they have also offered focal points
for protest.(37) In turn, the power of this mobilization
has been forcing supranational institutions such as the World Bank and
the OECD reluctantly to open their doors to "civil society."
Civil Society: Networks, Rhizomes and Currents
The development and deployment of this power has not gone unnoticed by
national security analysts. Nor have the participants in its elaboration
failed to articulate visions of what they were crafting. There has, however,
been a tendency among many on all sides to reduce the meaning of "civil
society" to formal NGOs.(38) This reduction has been
more or less severe, largely depending on the interests of those using
the words. For the WTO, as we have seen, the term NGO is used so broadly
as to include the private business sector, while for most in the grassroots
movements, the term refers only to non-governmental and non-business organizations.
Nevertheless, in both cases references to "civil society" become concrete
only in the form of NGOs. Such reductionism is not surprising in a society
where political Power is usually vested in formal institutions. It is not,
Within the development of the kinds of grassroots movements I been describing,
NGOs should be seen as only particular organizational crystallizations
of a much more general and fluid "civil society." Indeed, partly in reaction
to the growth and behavior of some transnational NGOs, various critiques
emerged along with a quite conscious search for alternative ways of organizing.
One such critique has been of an observed tendency for NGOs to become bureaucratic
and self-preserving institutions, increasingly operating above and independently
from their supporters. This critique parallels similar ones that have been
directed at traditional labor unions and political parties by the Zapatistas
who have been unusually successful in articulating this critique in ways
that have resonated widely through their networks. A second critique has
been that such NGOs have cut deals with the state and with business in
ways that have betrayed the purposes for which the organizations were formed.
Here again, parallels can be drawn with the behavior of "business" unions
and political parties.
These critiques have effectively reformulated the notion of "civil society"
in a broader new sense. "Civil society" becomes a term applied to all those
moments and movements within society that resist, intentionally or not,
subordination to capitalist institutions and, in many cases, fight for
alternative ways of organizing society.(39)
The conceptualization of networking used by the theoreticians of "netwar"
do not quite grasp the reality being evoked here. A "net" is a woven fabric
made up interlinked knots --which in social terms means interlinked groups.
This is applicable enough where there are easily identifiable, cooperating
groups, such as NGOs. What is missing, however, is the sense of ceaseless,
fluid motion within "civil society" in which "organizing" may not take
the form of "organizations" but of an ebb and flow of contact at myriad
The same critique can be made of the concept of "rhizome." Despite its
power of evocation the rhizome evokes a fixed form, albeit growing horizontally
in various directions. The cattail rhizome in ponds, for instance, elaborates
itself and sends up shoots from old and new nodes, year after year. The
shoots, however, with their long sharp leaves and heavy head of pollen,
are always the same. So here too restlessness exists only at the margins.
As a metaphor for thinking about the ceaseless movement that forms the
political life and historical trajectory of those resisting and sometimes
escaping the institutions of capitalism, I have come to prefer that of
water, of the hydrosphere, especially of oceans with their ever restless
currents and eddies, now moving faster, now slower, now warmer, now colder,
now deeper, now on the surface. At some points water does freeze, crystallizing
into rigidity, but mostly it melts again, undoing one molecular form to
return to a process of dynamic self-organizing that refuses crystallization
yet whose directions and power can be observed and tracked. Thus too with
"civil society." It is fluid, changing constantly and only momentarily
forming those solidified moments we call "organizations." Such moments
are constantly eroded by the shifting currents surrounding them so that
they are repeatedly melted back into the flow itself.
Such phenomena, so characteristic of the history of social movements,
have been a source of endless frustration to those who would harness the
power of those flows, whether the institutions of capitalism or the Leninist
party. Power would harness power, but power lies in the flow itself, in
the broad and deep currents that transverse society. Indeed, in its more
genial moments capitalism has understood something of this and sought to
harness the flows (class struggle) without trying to freeze them.(40)
Marx captured this in his application of the metaphor of circulation to
sketch the "circuits of capital." The metaphor returned in mainstream macroeconomics'
portrayal of the circular character of economic relationships and its sharp
distinction between flows and stocks. But in both cases the flows in question
are harnessed flows, like rivers or ocean tides diverted into hydroelectric
plants to drive turbines. And this harnessing, this constraint, is endlessly
resisted by the restlessness of a humanity that has so many, many different
ideas about interesting forms of self-organization. This resistance and
this proliferation of ideas have characterized precisely those social movements
In line with this metaphor we can think about the conflicts described
above not so much in terms of wars between set pieces (chess, go, military
confrontations) or wars between classes for Power (Leninist revolution
versus the capitalist state), but rather in terms of the vast imagination
and capability of self-organization of society straining against the capitalist
rules that bind, limit and distort.(41) There is a kind
of class war here that involves increasingly resistance to the unity of
global capitalism. But the resistance flows not from a unified class seeking
a new unified hegemony, but rather from myriad currents seeking the freedom
of the open seas where they can re-craft their own movement and their interactions
free of a single set of constraining capitalist rules.
Technology, conflict & politics
Increasingly the self-organization of social movements risen in opposition
to neoliberalism has used a mixture of traditional and modern forms of
communication to connect their diverse moments. Traditional forms have
included face-to-face encounters in village assemblies and transnational
meetings. Of the modern forms of communication that have been used, the
computer-based Internet has emerged as a favored space. In conflict after
conflict, e-mail and web pages have been cited by protagonists on both
sides as playing key roles.
But what, exactly are those roles and what do they tell us about the
nature of the conflicts? While the roles have been diverse and changing,
I would argue that the most important ones have been the sharing of otherwise
hard to obtain information and the self-organizing of resistance and innovation
that information has made possible.
1. Given well-documented constraints of flows of information designed
to keep people in the dark, and decisions in the undemocratic hands of
policy-making elites, the first task in virtually all these social conflicts
has been to obtain accurate information on a given situation and then circulate
it widely. This requires bypassing the elite-controlled mass media in terms
of both obtaining information and getting it out. The preferred vehicles
for such circulation have been, precisely, electronic mail and the web.
2. Information, however, is often of limited value until it has been
placed within context and interpreted. Therefore, the circulation of information
has always involved the circulation of interpretation and evaluation. This
in turn has led to discussion and debate among those with different interpretations.
Carried out through web pages, the presentation of interpretations can
become quite one-sided --each position has its own page.(42)
But in electronic mail, especially in the usual form of mailing lists and
conferences, access is free and all sides have the possibility of articulating
their own position. Unlike newspapers, radio and television media where
feedback is slow or non-existence, these electronic forums insure quick
interaction among varying interpretations. These lists then, with their
ongoing flows of conversation (which are often archived on web pages) constitute
a kind of alternative, oppositional community of discussion and debate
outside of and operating much more democratically than traditional policymaking
3. What precipitates out of this community are various kinds of off-line
activities, sometimes of protest and objection, sometimes of the positive
elaboration of alternatives. This precipitation takes place as discussion
and debate about what is going on passes over into questions of what is
to be done. So, for example, knowledge about the Zapatista uprising led
to mobilization to prevent its extermination. Similarly, examination of
and debate about the drafts of NAFTA and the MAI led to discussion and
debate about how to block them. Such discussion has ranged from general
questions of strategy and tactics to the crafting of particular efforts.
In the case of NAFTA, for example, there was a debate over whether opposition
should be mobilized against agreement itself or against its fast-track
negotiation and implementation. (The latter was chosen and the battle was
lost.) In the case of the MAI there was a similar debate over whether to
fight for its abandonment or to participate in its reform. The former was
chosen and the battle was won --at least temporarily.) In the case of the
NAFTA, there was considerable discussion of possible alternative principles
for "fair" trade. In the case of the MAI what discussion there has been
about alternative approaches to corporate rights have concerned their limitation
rather than their extension.
But the medium is also the message and throughout the electronic fabric
of these computer communications we find discussion and debate about best
uses and possible abuses of the medium itself. Partly this has emerged
directly from the interactions -- as in recurrent discussions of netiquette.
Partly it has come in reaction to outside attempts to limit or censure
the content of the interactions as in efforts to outlaw pornography (U.S,
Europe), to forbid political use (Singapore, Burma, China) or to interfere
with political use (Germany, Italy). The debate over proper use has also
emerged at the interface between these new movements and older forms of
As social conflicts have moved into cyberspace, not surprisingly, many
tactics, well known in other areas, have been adapted to electronic environment.
For instance, protest letter-writing campaigns to politicians, governments
or corporations have been reproduced in the form of e-mail protest campaigns
where decision-makers' e-mail boxes have been deluged with messages objecting
to some particular policy. Or computer fax capability has facilitated similar
campaigns via that media. Another example has been the adaptation of the
tactics of graffiti and billboard art-modification protests to the World
Wide Web. Those who have combined, either in an individual or a group or
a movement, both political sensibility and technical skills have hacked
into various web sites --usually those of institutions whose actions are
being contested and whose web pages could be altered to make a political
point. The CIA website was hacked and modifications imposed, much to the
embarrassment of the agency.(44) In Mexico, someone unconnected
with the Zapatistas but critical of the government broke into an official
government web page and modified it.(45) While seen by
most people as primarily humorous, such acts have been taken by governments
as attacks on their competence and security --quite independently of the
content of the hacks.(46)
More recently, there has been an adaptation of the strategy of civil
disobedience to cyberspace. In quite conscious imitation of 1950s-style
civil rights sit-ins,1960s-style draft board blockades, or 1990s-style
indigenous blockades of logging on claimed lands, a handful of self-styled
"hactivists" have created a web engine that others can use to launch "ping"
attacks against web sites they wish to "blockade" by overtaxing its server's
"reload" function. The engine sends "load" signals over and over again
in ways that block the site's intended role, e.g., state or corporate propaganda.(47)
The responses to such actions on the part of various social activist
movements have often been highly critical. One criticism has been that
the hacktivists have choosen bad targets and have done so because they
are neither connected to, nor did they consult with, the particular movement
their actions were aimed at supporting. A second criticism has been that
the use of such tactics could open movements to the charge of violating
their own rules of free speech and set them up for being attacked in the
same way.(48) A third objection has revolved around the
difficulty in demonstrating that such actions are not the rogue actions
of a few individuals but do indeed involve thousands of people and are
thus politically significant. Although the ping engines can generate information
about the numbers and addresses of those who logged into a site and used
it, there remain the questions of circulating that information, making
it believable and gaining legitimacy for such actions.(49)
When this tactic was used by U.S. activists to attack Mexican government
and financial websites, there was protest from within Mexico by activists
who had not been consulted and who felt placed at risk by these actions.
When it was used within the U.S. to attack newspapers about coverage of
the Mumia case, it was severely attacked by lawyers defending Mumia as
counterproductive. As a result of such criticisms, no social movement that
I know of has generalized the use of this tactic.(50)
Such cases of discussion and debate over general principles, or even
over the application of a specific tactic, are key elements in the democratic
and transparent character of organizing in cyberspace. Projects as small
as the writing of a single letter of protest often circulate for collective
critique and rewriting before ever being sent out.(51)
Moreover, because the phenomena being discussed here are social "movements,"
on-going currents in the social sea, they take place over such time and
such spaces as to generate diverse experiences of struggle. The Internet
has proved a quick and efficient means to share those experiences and to
evaluate, for example, the effectiveness of particular tactics in various
situations. It has been such evaluation that seems to have limited the
adoption of "electronic civil disobedience."
What we see in the above sketch of computer-linked social conflicts
is the emergence of closely connected communities of struggle working out
new forms of political interaction and self-organization. As the contents
of these struggles have become more and more global, so have the communities
and their politics. To some degree these communities and their interaction
constitute a counterpart to the usual institutional structures of contemporary
capitalism. But they also, obviously, are not only in opposition to it
but seek to go beyond it to alternative and more democratic forms of social
The fundamental character of these social movements and their struggles,
it seems to me, cannot but recall the ideological dimension of the Cold
War. Although many have argued that the US - USSR bipolarity was one of
form and not content, there was rightly or wrongly, a sense of opposition
of two alternatives, two possible ways of organizing society.(52)
In that Cold War, understood by many in the West as a fight for the survival
of capitalism, weapons were wielded of both guns and rhetoric, bullets
and words. Weapons were built, armies were assembled, think tanks were
funded and journalists were bought (or rewarded) in a combined war of ideas
and arms. In the end, words had the most effect through the ideologies
of capitalist freedom, of national liberation or of freedom from capitalism.
In the end the Communist Bloc collapsed primarily from pressures within
rather than from without. However, those struggles had fed, in part, on
words from without (rather than guns), even though their opposition and
desires were primarily articulated in local terms.
Today there is no bipolarity. There is no international communist movement
of Leninist bands out to overthrow violently the capitalist state and therefore
no singular target for guns and bullets. But there is certainly an opposition
between the current hegemonic capitalist order and its critics and their
alternatives. Instead of a facing off of Eagle and Bear, we have, perhaps,
a shark surrounded by increasingly powerful and increasingly cooperative
little fishes.(53) The shark may flay about with sharp
teeth and kill quite a few fish in the process --say as the Mexican government
has been doing in Chiapas-- but as the fish multiply, coordinate and threaten
to clog the shark's gills, the futility of such desperate and wanton destruction
So, today the real battle for the future is one of "words and the Internet,"
one of conflicting visions of social organization. (54)
The defenders of capitalism may strike at their opponents with violence
but in the end their only real defense, as the more sophisticated among
them realize, is finding ways to re-internalize and harness the opposition.
This has always been capitalism's strength, the way it has absorbed human
energy and imagination. Can it do it again? Current restructuring within
capitalist industry, combined with a general shift to information and communication
that involves the conversion of ideas and imagination into commodities,
is one approach. The steps taken to listen to and incorporate criticism
into programs of action on the part of the World Bank, the OECD and the
IMF have a similar logic. But this logic is being more and more widely
understood and refused. Will co-optation and instrumentalization outrun
and absorb the opposition, or will the opposition out think and out flank
such absorption through the creation and defense of proliferating attractive
alternatives. The survival or transcendence of capitalism will be determined
through these struggles and the responses to them.
1. Even reversals in the widespread opening of financial
markets and the rapid movement of "hot money" among them caused by the
imposition of currency and capital controls are unlikely to have any long
run effects --despite the fears of George Soros and others to the contrary.
George Soros, "Capitalism's Last Chance?" Foreign Policy, Winter
1998-99, pp. 55-65.
2."Rhizome" in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari,
A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia, Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1987, pp. 3-25
3. See, for example, Rolando Perez, On An(archy)
and Schizoanalysis, Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1990.
4. In Mexico there has been objection to the use of
"network" because it evokes "nets" and the "capturing" one does with nets.
Instead, some use the term "hammock" which has the structure of a net but
which is designed to support not capture, and adapts itself to the body
of each user. See Gustavo Esteva, "Regenerating People's Space," Alternatives,
XII, 1987, pp. 125-152.
5. A useful overview of the development of network
theory, from mathematics to sociology, can be found in the introduction
to J. Clyde Mitchell, Social Networks in Urban Situations: Analyses
of Personal Relationships in Central African Towns, Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 1969, pp. 1-50. An adaptation of this approach to the
understanding of social struggles was made in Italy by the Marxist sociologist
Romano Alquati in his studies of workers conflicts with the Italian auto
giant FIAT. Alquati meshed the Marxist analysis of class composition with
the sociological one of networks, at factory, national and international
levels. See: Romano Alquati, Sulla FIAT, Milano: Feltrineli, 1975.
6. An influential moment of this literature is Walter
W. Powell, "Neither Market nor Hierarchy: Network Forms of Organization,"
Research in Organizational Behavior, 12 (1990), pp. 295-336.
7. Of particular relevance here is Margaret E. Keck
and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in
International Politics, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998. See
also the earlier work by Cathryn Thorup, "The Politics of Free Trade and
the Dynamics of Cross-border Coalitions in U.S.-Mexican Relations,"
Columbia Journal Of World Business, Vol. XXVI, No. 11, Summer 1991,
8. The RAND researchers are by no means alone in being
concerned about the growing power of such networks. Reviewing the Keck
and Sikkink book on transnational advocacy networks for the elite journal
Foreign Affairs, Francis Fukuyama warned: "Like Stalin, one might ask 'how
many divisions do transnational networks have?' The answer is that they
have information, greatly abetted by modem communications technology, and
thus the ability to set agendas for nation-states and transnational organizations
like the World Bank, Shell Oil Corporation, or Nestle." Francis Fukuyama,
Review of Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International
Politics, in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 77, no. 4, July-August 1998,
9. Harry Cleaver, "The Chiapas Uprising and the Future
of Class Struggle in the New World Order," ", Riff-Raff: attraverso
la produzione sociale (Padova, Italy), marzo 1994, pp. 133-145. This
early essay has been followed by a series of others most of which are available
on the web at URL: http://www.eco.utexas.edu/faculty/Cleaver/hmchtmlpapers.html
10. Charles Swett, "Strategic Assessment: The Internet",
July 17, 1995. (Available on-line at the Federation of American Scientists
11. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, The Advent
of Netwar, Santa Monica: RAND, 1996, p. 73. The Zapatista struggle
was also dealt with in David Ronfeldt and Armando Martínez, "A Comment
on the Zapatista 'Netwar'" which appeared in John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt,
In Athena's Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age,
Santa Monica: RAND, 1997, p. 371. Finally, the Zapatista movement and its
international ramifications became a full-blown case study in David Ronfeldt,
John Arquilla, Graham Fuller and Melissa Fuller, The Zapatista "Social
Netwar" in Mexico, RAND Publication MR-994-A, 1998, available in hardcopy
or on the web (henceforth referred to as Ronfeldt et al.). John Arquilla
and David Ronfeldt had already published an article that analysed "netwar"
prior to the Zapatista uprising, but that analysis was little noticed in
activist circles until the uprising in Chiapas. When it was circulated
on the Net, it provoked considerable discussion. See Arquilla & Ronfeldt,
"Cyberwar is Coming!" (http://gopher.well.sf.ca.us:70/0/Military/cyberwar)
Originally published in Comparative Strategy, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1993, pp.
12. Keck and Sikkink, op. Cit., p. 115.
13. "Terrorism," might seem a harsh word to apply
to Mexican government actions, but as a word that evokes the spreading
of fear, of terror, for political purposes, it seems quite appropriate
in Chiapas. Not only have the police and army been involved in the harassment
of communities, rape, torture, and arbitrary arrest, but the paramilitaries
that we now know to be an integral part of the state's counter-insurgency
strategy have engaged in all of these plus mass murder (Acteal) and the
forcing of tens of thousands of people from their homes and communities.
When soldiers gang-rape peasant girls with impunity, or the police take
away living prisoners and later return mutilated, rotten corpses to a community,
as has happened, what other word is appropriate than "terrorism"? When
paramilitaries slash open the womb of their victim to savage the unborn
child, what other word can we use?
14. See the article by an ex-CIA chief John Deutch,
"Terrorism," Foreign Policy, No. 108, Fall 1997, p.14. Ronfeldt
and co-workers' perceptions that transnational social netwars might have
a positive role in pushing forward declared US foreign policy interests
(e.g., expansion of democracy) is reminiscent of William O. Douglas's cry,
back in the 1950s "Revolution is Our Business!" by which he meant that
the US should support revolution if that was what was required to stabilize
a country. Unfortunately, his voice was alone in the wilderness and John
Foster Douglas' views prevailed, producing a generation of counterinsurgency
and massive bloodletting. One can only hope Ronfeldt et al will not have
the same fate.
15. Op cit. p. 383. These words are repeated, almost
verbatim, in Ronfeldt et al, The Zapatistas "Social Netwar" in Mexico,
RAND 1998, p. 80.
16. Ronfeldt et al., p. 78.
17. The supposed flip side of such terrorism has
been the distribution of food and medical supplies by the Army under the
rubric of social work (what the US counterinsurgency experts used to call
"civic action.") The heavy hand of the state has remained visible, however,
as relief has been distributed primarily to reward PRIista communities
and withheld from those viewed as sympathetic with the Zapatistas. Or,
where aid has been offered to such communities, it has been aimed at either
splitting the community or simple intimidation by the Army's presence.
18. Detailed accounts on the Chiapas lists have followed
many of these expulsions and the court cases that have been fought in response.
As might be expected, no such actions have been taken against foreigners
supporting the Mexican government repression of its political opponents
--such as US military advisors.
19. Not only are there repeated reports of paramilitary
bands operating with the tolerance or active support of the police and
the Army, but evidence has surfaced of state government financial aid to
such groups and of Army planning for such operations as early as 1994.
20. Ronfeldt and Martinez, op.cit., p. 386.
21. One view that sees "civil society" as having
already been subsumed within the private-state nexus that constitutes capitalism
is that of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. See chapter 6 on "Postmodern
Law and the Withering of Civil Society, " in their book Labor of Dionysus:
A Critique of the State Form, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1994, pp. 217-260.
22. The labor leaders who took the lead in demanding
a meeting with Camdessus were those of the radical Korean Confederation
of Trade Unions (KCTU) that had organized the first General Strike in Korea
(against the IMF agreement) during the winter of 1996-1997. The exchange
between the KCTU and the IMF was documented and reported on their web sites
almost as they occurred.
23. The proposal replicates a local Korean initiative
to re-internalize a rebellious moment of "civil society" into capitalist
planning: a Tripartite Commission that brought together government, labor
and business to discuss policy options. The Tripartite Commission, however,
was rejected by a substantial portion of rank and file workers who subsequently
threw out both the agreement reached by union leaders and then the leaders
24. Typical of the stories about the Internet and
the anti-MAI movement were Madelaine, Drohan, "How the Net Killed the MAI,"
Globe & Mail, April 29, 1998 and "Network Guerrillas," Financial
Times, April 30, 1998. Serious discussion by activists on the relevant
lists, in contrast, has tried to access the real effectiveness of their
efforts versus other influences such as OECD member country disagreements.
25. Stephen J. Kobrin, "The MAI and the Clash of
Globalizations," Foreign Policy, No. 109, Fall 1998, pp. 97-109.
Kobrin's argument that globalization is inevitable and that the anti-MAI
coalitions are themselves an expression of it just as much as the MAI itself
is a fine example of fetishization and normalization. Globalization is
not just a phenomenon, inevitable or not, it is a strategy to achieve
a fundamental shift of power, income and wealth in favor of capital. Resistance
to such a strategy certainly is inevitable given the antagonisms inherent
in the strategy. Recognizing this antagonistic conflict means to also recognize
that the degree to which globalization will be realized will be determined
by the development of the conflict.
26. The three NGOs that participated were the World
Wildlife Federation International, Oxfam Great Britain and (as observer)
Friends of the Earth. All three of these oft-critiqued mainstream environmental
groups have also attended meetings of the WTO (see below).
27. From a letter drafted by Susan George in mid-November
1998. It can be found in the MAI-not list archives on the web. Susan George
has been a well-published critic of the role of institutions such as the
IMF in the international debt crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. See her book
A Fate Worse than Debt: The World Financial Crisis and the Poor, New York:
Grove Press, 1988.
28. When local activists are able to mobilize transnational
movements against individual nation-state policies, as in the Zapatista
case, they push the conflict into the international arena and undermine
local governments' efforts to obfuscate or hide the nature of the conflict.
29. The distinction in metaphysics between Power
(potestas, pouvoir, potere, poder) and power (potentia, puissance, potenza,
potencia) was Spinoza's and has recently been given a class interpretation
by Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics
and Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
30. Thus Karl Marx's repeated use of the metaphor
"vampire" for capital and its domination of society.
31. Two books that are expressions of that era are
Teresa Hayter, Aid as Imperialism, Harmonswort: Penguin, 1971 and
Cheryl Payer, The World Bank: A Critical Analysis, New York: Monthly
Review Press, 1982.
32. World Bank projects supporting export strategies
were quickly seen as contributing factors to ecological devastations as
forests were destroyed to increase supplies of exportable wood to earn
the foreign exchange necessary to repay debts. See for example: Bade Onimode
(ed.) The IMF, the World Bank and the African Debt: the Economic Impact,
Volumes I and II, London: Zed Books, 1989.
33. See Harry Cleaver, "Close the IMF, abolish debt
and end development: a class analysis of the international debt crisis,"
Capital & Class, No. 39, Winter 1989. One result was The Debt
Crisis Network which linked opposition to Fund activities from all over.
Also see: John Walton & David Seddon, Free Markets & Food Riots:
the Politics of Global Adjustment, Cambridge: Blackwell, 1994.
34. The massive accumulation of debt in Latin America
was often the work of undemocratic governments and private or state enterprises
that borrowed the money for purposes of repression or exploitation. The
difficulties of repayment were due to the new tight money policies enacted
in the US at the beginning of the decade. That tight money drove floating
interest rates through the ceiling while throwing the world economy into
such a global depression that export possibilities shriveled --and with
them the ability to earn the foreign exchange necessary for debt repayment.
In Latin America "FMI" (the Spanish language acronym) became, for millions,
the initials of poverty and suffering and an object of derision and anger.
In South Korea, in the wake of the recent program signed by the Korean
government and the Fund, the initials "IMF" and attacks against it can
be seen emblazoned all over the capital city, from store windows to packages
of cigarettes (observed in recent visit).
35. In the previously mentioned article by Kobrin
on the anti-MAI movement, he derides such fears as being based on "barely
credible worst-case scenarios." Yet, very real cases are at hand, including
the current battle over the Massachusetts Burma Law that bans contracts
with corporations operating in Burma --currently governed by a highly repressive
military junta renown for human rights violations. Business interests in
the US attacked this law in federal court, while European and Japanese
business has done so in the WTO. For more on this and similar conflicts
36. See Ronalde Munch and Peter Waterman, Globalization,
Social Movements and the New Internationalisms, Washington: Cassel,
1998 as well as Waterman's other writings on this theme at http://www.antenna.nl/~waterman/
37. One of the great weakness of the Soviet-style
socialist state was that it provided a single central object of resentment
and anger, and thus a common enemy for a wide assortment of discontents
and ultimately a focal point for the mobilization of opposition. In the
West, on the other hand, the diversity of nation-states, corporate and
industrial structures, and so on, present a multiplicity of targets for
angry workers or citizens and thus increase the difficulty of opposition
to the whole. The current movement toward uniformity on the part of a triumphant
neo-liberalism anxious to complete its hegemony would seem to undermine
both the diversity and the capacity to diffuse opposition.
38. See, for example, Howard Frederick, "Computer
Networks and the "Emergence of Global Civil Society," in Linda M. Harasim
(ed.) Global Networks: Computers And International Communication,
Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993.
39. The concept of the "working class" has come to
approximate this meaning in some Marxist theory where the label has been
applied to all those, waged or unwaged, whose activity contributes to the
expanded reproduction of capitalism and whose struggles undermine it.
40. An example of such harnessing can be found in
the Keynesian period when workers' wage struggles were used to stimulate
capitalist investment and productivity growth.
41. In one line of contemporary Marxist thought this
imagination and capability is thought of in terms of "a general intellect"
and is manifest not only in the increasingly central role of mental labor,
but in its autonomy. See, for example, Paolo Vierno, "Notes on the General
Intellect," in S.Makdisi, C. Casarino and R. E., Karl, Marxism Beyond
Marxism, New York: Routledge, 1996.
42. This is akin to more traditional "position papers"
or "party programs" where an individual or small group has sifted through
information and come up with an argument presenting some of that information
in a highly mediated manner.
43. One important feature of these lists is the way
widespread networks of people can quickly check out, verify or falsify
reports. Such corrections are common on lists and while sometimes concerned
with minor details, are also very important in moments of crises. In one
now infamous case, during a Mexican military offensive a report went out
on the Internet that many people were being killed and the hospitals were
filling up. This story was quickly checked, recognized as wrong and contradicted
on the Chiapas lists. Critics of the use of the Internet by grassroots
movements have often cited this example to illustrate the contention that
such lists circulate misinformation just like governments. See for example,
Charles Swett, op. cit., who uncritically quotes Todd Robberson, "Mexican
Rebels Using a High-Tech Weapon; Internet Helps Rally Support," Washington
Post, February 20, 1995. But uniformly such accounts have refused to
recognize how quickly the report was corrected --far more quickly and far
more thoroughly than most erroneous news propagated by governments and
the mass media.
44. The hack occurred on September 18, 1996 and has
been preserved on many web pages, e.g., http://www.2600.com/cia/
45. The hack occurred in February 4, 1998 by a group
independent of but sympathetic to the Zapatista rebellion.
46. Corporations have sometimes been more flexible
in response to such efforts. When the movie "Hackers" was released, a corresponding
web page was hacked by real hackers and modified. The corporation replaced
the original page but kept it on-line to amuse fans of the movie.
47. The intellectual background for this tactic was
contained in two books by the Critical Art Ensemble: Electronic Disturbance
and Electronic Civil Disobedience, both published by Autonomedia
48. The September 1998 counterattack by the Pentagon's
Defense Information Systems Agency has demonstrated precisely the kind
of dangers feared. See report by computer security writer Winn Schwartau,
"Cyber-civil disobedience," Network World, January 11, 1999. For
more on the debate see the archives of the Chiapas95 listserv beginning
in May 1998 (http://www.eco.utexas.edu/faculty/Cleaver/chiapas95.html)
and Stephan Wray's webpage on electronic civil disobedience (http://www.nyu.edu/prodjects/wray/ecd.html).
49. See my intervention into the debate on the net
in the Chiapas95 archives: "H. Cleaver, A Contribution to the Discussion
of ECD," May 1 (1998).
50. Such methods have been used from time to time,
especially in Italy where "netstrikes" have been called in support of local
struggles and international ones, e.g. against Turkish government and business
sites in support of Kurdish Rebels in Turkey whose leader had recently
51. This was true of Susan George's letter to the
OECD rejecting participation in discussions about the MAI (see above).
52. Viewed as alternatives of form rather than content,
the US and the USSR represented two different ways of organizing capitalist
society: corporate and state planning together with manipulated markets
versus central planning buttressed by underground markets.
53. The metaphor was once used by Berthold Brecht
and has been recently reappropriated and amplified by the Zapatistas. The
original Brecht use was in his story "If Sharks were People," published
in Bertold Brecht, Tales from the Calendar, 1947. The Zapatista
appropriation can be found in the communiqué "Durito-Brecht Presentation
for Table 7: Culture and Media in the Transition to Democracy" first published
in La Jornada on July 5, 1996.
54. When Mexican government spokesperson Gurria used
this phrase it was to cover up the actual violence being used by the police,
military and paramilitaries in Chiapas. Nevertheless, it was at least an
approximation of the character of the major weapons of the forces of rebellion:
ideas and their circulation.