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<nettime> We Plebeians
Brian Holmes on Wed, 19 Feb 2003 03:48:52 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> We Plebeians

We Plebeians

But for a few lone wolves, the Aristocrats are weary, recalcitrant, 
suspicious. Dissension has broken out within the very ranks of the 
Monarchy. And the eternal muttering of the Plebe has swollen to a 
tremendous roar. Such is the world situation in the tripartite terms 
of Empire.
	Still reeling from the largest deflationary shock and the 
worst overcapacity crisis since 1929, the great corporate Houses - 
excepting the oil and defense industries - see nothing to be gained 
from unleashing the dogs of war. After a bullish exile to New York 
they returned to Davos last month on their knees, begging to regain 
our "trust." The world military Powers, after swearing fealty to the 
United States in the wake of September 11, are now facing the 
inherent contradictions of their regional interests once again; thus 
the dissension within the two primary courts of the transnational 
police, the United Nations and NATO. And to make matters worse from 
these two viewpoints, the unprecedented success of the February 15 
demonstrations finally renders it impossible to ignore the presence 
of a new actor on the world stage: transnational civil society, or 
better, the Multitudes.
	Beyond the ongoing collapse of globalized finance, which has 
hardly wreaked the last of its effects, two things are of compelling 
interest. The first is the continuing, seemingly unstoppable rise in 
the self-organizational powers of the Plebe. Since the first Day of 
Global Action not even five years ago, in May of 1998 - which seemed 
astounding, because 150,000 people demonstrated in Hyderabad, 50,000 
in Brasilia, and a few thousand in Geneva, all against the WTO - we 
have now reached a situation where tens of millions can summon 
themselves simultaneously into the streets, and into the screens of 
the global media. The February 15 preemptive strikes against the war 
were "called for" by the movement of the Social Forums. But what are 
the Social Forums, if not a collective name, a collective phantom - 
the Luther Blissett of world politics? Anyone can constitute a forum, 
and no one can speak in their name; the social forums are tools which 
the movements have given themselves, vectors we have invoked from the 
historical latencies of solidarity, critique and rebellion. The 
strength of the new social movements is to go beyond both the 
twentieth-century form of the political party and its mass 
megaphones: radio and TV. The February 15 protests were organized 
through every imaginable network of tactical media, from word of 
mouth and intimate dreams to the Internet. And despite all the chaos, 
despite the "lack" of representation, it is overwhelmingly obvious 
that these movements speak the truth, which has become too simple to 
refuse: intolerable war, intolerable inequality.
	There will be more to this story, it's sure: there will be 
political crises brought on by this new self-organizing force, and 
severe organic crises within the movements themselves, as soon as the 
emerging counterpowers begin to divide, to adopt positions of 
practical power, forcing us to deal with the differences between what 
Miguel Benasayag would call a "situation" of critique and a 
"situation" of management. There are no guarantees whatsoever as to 
how a post-party politics might work, nor even as to how it might 
survive in a hostile world. But setting that aside for the moment, 
let us look rather at the shorter term, at the second question of 
compelling interest in this ugly present situation. Will the Imperial 
Monarchy survive this crisis? By that I mean: Will the seemingly 
rational tendency to accompany the globalization of capital through 
the construction of a legitimating legal and military governance of 
the world succeed in weathering the irrational outburst of aggression 
and regional self-interest currently being spat out by the ruling 
oligarchy of the United States?
	Of course, the Europeans have now "resolved" their crisis 
within NATO; of course they have now presented a "united" front for 
continuing negotiations within the framework of the UN. This kind of 
consensus is the European credo, the bare minimum of European 
existence, it will always be obtained between the leaders. And one 
can be sure it will be obtained in a way that leaves an open door to 
cooperation with the United States, and to military cooperation above 
all - the monarchical function par excellence. As much as the two 
historical founders of Europe, France and Germany, wish 
philosophically to institute a continental power that can achieve 
some economic and political autonomy, still they all want desperately 
to maintain the reality of a global military policy, as a bulwark 
against the increasingly real possibility of global chaos. This too 
is part of the wider consensus. But can this common front of the 
political classes be held, in electoral terms, when approximately 80 
percent of populations throughout Europe are opposed to the imminent 
specter of war? In other words: Will the EU be forced by its people 
into creating a division within the Occidental heart of Empire?
	To be sure, those 80 percent are opposed to a war outside the 
UN framework; and despite Chirac's posturing and Schroeder's pollling 
strategies, the miserable probability is that the European leaders 
will finally bow to US pressure from within the UN, pushed on by the 
imperative to maintain the monarchical courts of transnational 
military cooperation. After all (propaganda is when you repeat) 80 
percent are opposed to a conflict *outside* the UN framework....
	But what if the advance information proves correct: what if 
the onslaught in Iraq will be inaugurated by what military strategist 
Harlan Ullman calls the principle of "Shock and Awe," whereby the 
"Allies" launch up to 800 cruise missiles in two days - more than all 
that fell in the forty days of the first Gulf War? This is a strategy 
for the massacres of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of Guernica and Dresden, 
in our time, for no justifiable reason. Peter Turnley's photographs 
from the Mile of Death during the last Gulf War already show what 
this can mean. This is not a "just war." The Texas Crown is opening 
the door to hell on earth.
	What we plebeians must envision is a general strike on a 
world scale, if it comes to such a day. An urban strike, a blockage 
of our cities, like the piqueteros in Argentina, but everywhere. We 
no longer need to wait for the unions, we no longer need to wait for 
the political parties, their members will be ahead of them, in the 
streets. Only a credible threat from below can stave off the 
treachery of our so-called leaders. We must prepare with every 
possible form of communication, in whispers that become a roar. 
Prepare for what? A total stoppage of all the world's cities in the 
event of war: an exodus from hell on earth, reasonable, deliberate, 
peaceful and unbending. We plebeians can break the power that calls 
for a world of war.

Brian Holmes

Essential links:

- Harlan Ullman et al., "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance":

- Peter Turnley's photographs of the Gulf War:

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