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lotu5 on Sat, 13 Oct 2007 00:34:55 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Fwd: [pga na] Shock of Victory

Making up for my silly reply this morning, hopefully, by sending on
this essay from Militant Researcher David Graeber on the current state
of the anti-corporate-globalization movement.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [pga na] Shock of Victory
Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2007 14:29:20 +0100
From: David Graeber <david.graeber {AT} mac.com>
To: pga {AT} lists.riseup.net, nymaa {AT} lists.riseup.net,
mds-nyc {AT} studentsforademocraticsociety.org, smygo {AT} yahoogroups.com

hello. Here's a piece I wrote for Rolling Thunder - I don't think  
they mind if I put this (less edited)
version out there. Feel free to bounce it around as you see fit

	by David Graeber

             The biggest problem facing direct action movements
is that we donât know what to do when we win. This might seem
an odd thing to say because of a lot of us havenât been feeling
particularly victorious of late. Most anarchists today feel the
global justice movement was kind of a blip: inspiring, certainly,
while it lasted, but not a movement that succeeded either in putting
down lasting organizational roots or transforming the contours of
power in the world. The anti-war movement was even more frustrating,
since anarchists and anarchist tactics were largely marginalized. The
war will end, of course, but thatâs just because wars always do.
No one is feeling they contributed much to it. I want to suggest an
alternative interpretation. Let me lay out three initial propositions

1) Odd though it may seem, the ruling classes live in fear of us.
They appear to still be haunted by the possibility that, if average
Americans really get wind of what theyâre up to, they might all end
up hanging from trees. It know it seems implausible but itâs hard to
come up with any other explanation for the way they go into panic mode
the moment there is any sign of mass mobilization, and especially mass
direct action, and usually try to distract attention by starting some
kind of war.

2) In a way this panic is justified. Mass direct actionâespecially
when organized on democratic linesâis incredibly effective. Over
the last thirty years in America, there have been only two instances
of mass action of this sort: the anti-nuclear movement in the late
â70s, and the so called âanti-globalizationâ movement from
roughly 1999-2001. In each case, the movementâs main political goals
were reached far more quickly than almost anyone involved imagined

3) The real problem such movements face is that they always get taken
by surprise by the speed of their initial success. We are never
prepared for victory. It throws us into confusion. We start fighting
each other. The ratcheting of repression and appeals to nationalism
that inevitably accompanies some new round of war mobilization then
plays into the hands of authoritarians on every side of the political
spectrum. As a result, by the time the full impact of our initial
victory becomes clear, weâre usually too busy feeling like failures
to even notice it.

Let me take the two most prominent examples case by case:


             The anti-nuclear movement of the late â70s marked the
first appearance in North America of what we now consider standard
anarchist tactics and forms of organization: mass actions, affinity
groups, spokescouncils, consensus process, jail solidarity, the very
principle of decentralized direct democracy. It was all somewhat
primitive, compared to now, and there were significant differencesâ
notably a much stricter, Gandhian-style conceptions of non-violenceâ
but all the elements were there and it was the first time they
had come together as a package. For two years, the movement grew
with amazing speed and showed every sign of becoming a nation-wide
phenomenon. Then almost as quickly, it distintegrated.

             It all began when, in 1974, some veteran peaceniks turned
organic farmers in New England successfully blocked construction of
a proposed nuclear power plant in Montague, Massachusetts. In 1976,
they joined with other New England activists, inspired by the success
of a year-long plant occupation in Germany, to create the Clamshell
Alliance. Clamshellâs immediate goal was to stop construction of
a proposed nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire. While
the alliance never ended up managing an occupation so much as a
series of dramatic mass-arrests, combined with jail solidarity, their
actionsâinvolving, at peak, tens of thousands of people organized
on directly democratic linesâsucceeded in throwing the very idea
of nuclear power into question in a way it had never been before.
Similar coalitions began springing up across the country: the Palmetto
alliance in South Carolina, Oystershell in Maryland, Sunflower in
Kansas, and most famous of all, the Abalone Alliance in California,
reacting originally to a completely insane plan to build a nuclear
power plant at Diablo Canyon, almost directly on top of a major
geographic fault line.

             Clamshell first three mass actions, in 1976 and 1977,
were wildly successful. But it soon fell into crisis over questions
of democratic process. In May 1978, a newly created Coordinating
Committee violated process to accept a last-minute government offer
for a three-day legal rally at Seabrook instead of a planned fourth
occupation (the excuse was reluctance to alienate the surrounding
community). Acrimonious debates began about consensus and community
relations, which then expanded to the role of non-violence (even
cutting through fences, or defensive measures like gas masks, had
originally been forbidden), gender bias, and so on. By 1979 the
alliance split into two contending, and increasingly ineffective,
factions, and after many delays, the Seabrook plant (or half of it
anyway) did go into operation. The Abalone Alliance lasted longer,
until 1985, in part because its strong core of anarcha-feminists, but
in the end, Diablo Canyon too got its license and went into operation
in December 1988.

             On the surface this doesnât sound too inspiring. But
what was the movement really trying to achieve? It might helpful here
to map out its full range of goals:

1) Short-Term Goals: to block construction of the particular nuclear
plant in question (Seabrook, Diablo Canyonâ)

2) Medium-Term Goals: to block construction of all new nuclear plants,
delegitimize the very idea of nuclear power and begin moving towards
conservation and green power, and legitimate new forms of non- violent
resistance and feminist-inspired direct democracy

3) Long-Term Goals: (at least for the more radical elements) smash the
state and destroy capitalism

If so the results are clear. Short-term goals were almost never
reached. Despite numerous tactical victories (delays, utility company
bankruptcies, legal injunctions) the plants that became the focus of
mass action all ultimately went on line. Governments simply cannot
allow themselves to be seen to lose in such a battle. Long-term goals
were also obviously not obtained. But one reason they werenât is
that the medium-term goals were all reached almost immediately. The
actions did delegitimize the very idea of nuclear powerâraising
public awareness to the point that when Three Mile Island melted down
in 1979, it doomed the industry forever. While plans for Seabrook and
Diablo Canyon might not have been cancelled, just about every other
then-pending plan to build a nuclear reactor was, and no new ones have
been proposed for a quarter century. There was indeed a more towards
conservation, green power, and a legitimizing of new democratic
organizing techniques. All this happened much more quickly than anyone
had really anticipated.

             In retrospect, itâs easy to see most of the subsequent
problems emerged directly from the very speed of the movementâs
success. Radicals had hoped to make links between the nuclear industry
and the very nature of the capitalist system that created it. As it
turns out, the capitalist system proved more than willing to jettison
the nuclear industry the moment it became a liability. Once giant
utility companies began claiming they too wanted to promote green
energy, effectively inviting what weâd now call the NGO types to a
space at the table, there was an enormous temptation to jump ship.
Especially because many of them only allied with more radical groups
so as to win themselves a place at the table to begin with.

             The inevitable result was a series of heated strategic
debates. But itâs impossible to understand this though without first
understanding that strategic debates, within directly democratic
movements, are rarely conducted as such. They almost always take
the form of debates about something else. Take for instance the
question of capitalism. Anti-capitalists are usually more than happy
to discuss their position on the subject. Liberals on the other hand
really donât like to have to say âactually, I am in favor of
maintaining capitalismâ, so whenever possible, they try to change
the subject. So debates that are actually about whether to directly
challenge capitalism usually end up getting argued out as if they
were short-term debates about tactics and non-violence. Authoritarian
socialists or others who are suspicious of democracy itself donât
like to make that an issue either, and prefer to discuss the need to
create the broadest possible coalitions. Those who do like democracy
but feel a group is taking the wrong strategic direction often find it
much more effective to challenge its decision-making process than to
challenge its actual decisions.

             There is another factor here that is even less remarked,
but I think equally important. Everyone knows that faced with a broad
and potentially revolutionary coalition, any governmentsâ first
move will be to try to split in it. Making concessions to placate
the moderates while selectively criminalizing the radicalsâthis is
Art of Governance 101. The US government, though, is in possession
of a global empire constantly mobilized for war, and this gives it
another option that most governments do not. Those running it can,
pretty much any time they like, decide to ratchet up the level of
violence overseas. This has proved a remarkably effective way to
defuse social movements founded around domestic concerns. It seems
no coincidence that the civil rights movement was followed by major
political concessions and a rapid escalation of the war in Vietnam;
that the anti-nuclear movement was followed by the abandonment of
nuclear power and a ramping up of the Cold War, with Star Wars
programs and proxy wars in Afghanistan and Central America; that the
Global Justice Movement was followed by the collapse the Washington
consensus and the War on Terror. As a result early SDS had to put
aside its early emphasis on participatory democracy to become a mere
anti-war movement; the anti-nuclear movement morphed into a nuclear
freeze movement; the horizontal structures of DAN and PGA gave way
to top-down mass organizations like ANSWER and UFPJ. From the point
of view of government the military solution does have its risks. The
whole thing can blow up in oneâs face, as it did in Vietnam (hence
the obsession, at least since the first Gulf War to design a war that
was effectively protest-proof.) There is also always a small risk some
miscalculation will accidentally trigger a nuclear Armageddon and
destroy the planet. But these are risks politicians faced with civil
unrest appear to have normally been more than willing to takeâ if
only because directly democratic movements genuinely scare them, while
anti-war movements are their preferred adversary. States are, after
all, ultimately forms of violence. For them, changing the argument
to one about violence is taking things back to their home turf, what
they really prefer to talk about. Organizations designed either to
wage, or to oppose, wars will always tend to be more hierarchically
organized than those designed with almost anything else in mind. This
is certainly what happened in the case of the anti- nuclear movement.
While the anti-war mobilizations of the â80s turned out far larger
numbers than Clamshell or Abalone ever had, but it also marked a
return to marching along with signs, permitted rallies, and abandoning
experiments with new forms of direct democracy.


             Iâll assume our gentle reader is broadly familiar with
the actions at Seattle, IMF-World Bank blockades six months later in
Washington at A16, and so on.

             In the US, the movement flared up so quickly and
dramatically even the media could not completely dismiss it. It also
quickly started eating itself. Direct Action Networks were founded
in almost every major city in America. While some of these (notably
Seattle and L.A. DAN) were reformist, anti-corporate, and fans of
strict non-violence codes, most (like New York and Chicago DAN)
were overwhelmingly anarchist and anti-capitalist, and dedicated to
diversity of tactics. Other cities (Montreal, Washington D.C.) created
even more explicitly anarchist Anti-Capitalist Convergences. The
anti-corporate DANs dissolved almost immediately, but very few lasted
more than a couple years. There were endless and bitter debates:
about non-violence, about summit-hopping, about racism and privilege
issues, about the viability of the network model. Then there was
9/11, followed by a huge increase up of the level of repression and
resultant paranoia, and the panicked flight of almost all our former
allies among unions and NGOs. By Miami, in 2003, it seemed like weâd
been put to rout, and a paralysis swept over the movement from which
weâve only recently started to recover.

             September 11th was such a weird event, such a
catastrophe, that it makes it almost impossible for us to perceive
anything else around it. In its immediate aftermath, almost all of
the structures created in the globalization movement collapsed. But
one reason it was so easy for them to collapse wasânot just that
war seemed such an immediately more pressing concernâbut that
once again, in most of our immediate objectives, weâd already,
unexpectedly, won.

             Myself, I joined NYC DAN right around the time of A16.
At the time DAN as a whole saw itself as a group with two major
objectives. One was to help coordinate the North American wing of a
vast global movement against neoliberalism, and what was then called
the Washington Consensus, to destroy the hegemony of neoliberal
ideas, stop all the new big trade agreements (WTO, FTAA), and to
discredit and eventually destroy organizations like the IMF. The
other was to disseminate a (very much anarchist-inspired) model of
direct democracy: decentralized, affinity-group structures, consensus
process, to replace old-fashioned activist organizing styles with
their steering committees and ideological squabbles. At the time we
sometimes called it âcontaminationismâ, the idea that all people
really needed was to be exposed to the experience of direct action and
direct democracy, and they would want to start imitating it all by
themselves. There was a general feeling that we werenât trying to
build a permanent structure; DAN was just a means to this end. When
it had served its purpose, several founding members explained to me,
there would be no further need for it. On the other hand these were
pretty ambitious goals, so we also assumed even if we did attain them,
it would probably take at least a decade.

             As it turned out it took about a year and a half.

             Obviously we failed to spark a social revolution.
But one reason we never got to the point of inspiring hundreds of
thousands of people to rise up was, again, that we achieved our
other goals so quickly. Take the question of organization. While the
anti- war coalitions still operate, as anti-war coalitions always
do, as top-down popular front groups, almost every small-scale
radical group that isnât dominated by Marxist sectarians of some
sort or anotherâ and this includes anything from organizations of
Syrian immigrants in Montreal or community gardens in Detroitânow
operate on largely anarchist principles. They might not know it.
But contaminationism worked. Alternately, take the domain of ideas.
The Washington consensus lies in ruins. So much so itâs hard no
to remember what public discourse in this country was even like
before Seattle. Rarely have the media and political classes been so
completely unanimous about anything. That âfree tradeâ, âfree
marketsâ, and no-holds- barred supercharged capitalism was the only
possible direction for human history, the only possible solution for
any problem was so completely assumed that anyone who cast doubt
on the proposition was treated as literally insane. Global justice
activists, when they first forced themselves into the attention of CNN
or Newsweek, were immediately written off as reactionary lunatics.
A year or two later, CNN and Newsweek were saying weâd won the

             Usually when I make this point in front of anarchist
crowds someone immediately objects: âwell, sure, the rhetoric has
changed, but the policies remain the same.â

             This is true in a manner of speaking. That is to say,
itâs true that we didnât destroy capitalism. But we (taking the
âweâ here as the horizontalist, direct-action oriented wing of
the planetary movement against neoliberalism) did arguably deal it
a bigger blow in just two years than anyone since, say, the Russian
Revolution. Let me take this point by point

ÂFREE TRADE AGREEMENTS. All the ambitious free trade treaties planned
since 1998 have failed, The MAI was routed; the FTAA, focus of the
actions in Quebec City and Miami, stopped dead in its tracks. Most of
us remember the 2003 FTAA summit mainly for introducing the âMiami
modelâ of extreme police repression even against obviously non-
violent civil resistance. It was that. But we forget this was more
than anything the enraged flailings of a pack of extremely sore losers
âMiami was the meeting where the FTAA was definitively killed.
Now no one is even talking about broad, ambitious treaties on that
scale. The US is reduced to pushing for minor country-to-country
trade pacts with traditional allies like South Korea and Peru, or at
best deals like CAFTA, uniting its remaining client states in Central
America, and itâs not even clear it will manage to pull off that.
ÂTHE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION. After the catastrophe (for them) in
Seattle, organizers moved the next meeting to the Persian Gulf island
of Doha, apparently deciding they would rather run the risk of being
blown up by Osama bin Laden than having to face another DAN blockade.
For six years they hammered away at the âDoha roundâ. The problem
was that, emboldened by the protest movement Southern governments
began insisting they would no longer agree open their borders to
agricultural imports from rich countries unless those rich countries
at least stopped pouring billions of dollars of subsidies at their own
farmers, thus ensuring Southern farmers couldnât possibly compete.
Since the US in particular had no intention of itself making any of
the sort of sacrifices it demanded of the rest of the world, all
deals were off. In July 2006, Pierre Lamy, head of the WTO, declared
the Doha round dead and at this point no one is even talking about
another WTO negotiation for at least two yearsâat which point the
organization might very possibly not exist.

amazing story of all. The IMF is rapidly approaching bankruptcy, and
it is a direct result of the worldwide mobilization against them. To
put the matter bluntly: we destroyed it. The World Bank is not doing
all that much better. But by the time the full effects were felt, we
werenât even paying attention.

This last story is worth telling in some detail, so let me leave the
indented section here for a moment and continue in the main text:

              The IMF was always the arch-villain of the struggle. It
is the most powerful, most arrogant, most pitiless instrument through
which neoliberal policies have, for the last 25 years been imposed on
the poorer countries of the global South, basically, by manipulating
debt. In exchange for emergency refinancing, the IMF would demand
âstructural adjustment programsâ that forced massive cuts in
health, education, price supports on food, and endless privatization
schemes that allowed foreign capitalists to buy up local resources
at firesale prices. Structural adjustment never somehow worked to
get countries back on their feet economically, but that just meant
they remained in crisis, and the solution was always to insist on yet
another round of structural adjustment.

             The IMF had another, less celebrated, role: of global
enforcer. It was their job to ensure that no country (no matter how
poor) could ever be allowed to default on loans to Western bankers
(no matter how foolish). Even if a banker were to offer a corrupt
dictator a billion dollar loan, and that dictator placed it directly
in his Swiss bank account and fled the country, the IMF would ensure
billion dollars (plus generous interest) would have to be extracted
from his former victims. If a country did default, for any reason, the
IMF could impose a credit boycott whose economic effects were roughly
comparable to that of a nuclear bomb. (All this flies in the face
of even elementary economic theory, whereby those lending money are
supposed to be accepting a certain degree of risk, but in the world of
international politics, economic laws are only held to be binding on
the poor.) This role was their downfall.

             What happened was that Argentina defaulted and got away
with it. In the â90s, Argentina had been the IMFâs star pupil in
Latin Americaâthey had literally privatized every public facility
except the customs bureau. Then in 2002, the economy crashed. The
immediate results we all know: battles in the streets, popular
assemblies, the overthrow of three governments in one month, road
blockades, occupied factoriesâ âHorizontalismââbroadly
anarchist principlesâwere at the core of popular resistance. The
political class was so completely discredited that politicians were
obliged to put on wigs and phony mustaches to be able to eat in
restaurants without being physically attacked. When Nestor Kirchner,
a moderate social democrat, took power in 2003, he knew he had to do
something dramatic in order to get most of the population even to
accept even the idea of having a government, let alone his own. So he
did. He did, in fact, the one thing no one in that position is ever
supposed to do. He defaulted on Argentinaâs foreign debt.

             Actually Kirchner was quite clever about it. He did not
default on his IMF loans. He defaulted on Argentinaâs private debt,
announcing that for all outstanding loans, he would only pay 25 cents
on the dollar. Citibank and Chase of course went to the IMF, their
accustomed enforcer, to demand punishment. But for the first time in
its history, the IMF balked. First of all, with Argentinaâs economy
already in ruins, even the economic equivalent of a nuclear bomb would
do little more than make the rubble bounce. Second of all, just about
everyone was aware it was the IMFâs disastrous advice that set the
stage for Argentinaâs crash in the first place. Third and most
decisively, this was at the very height of the impact of the global
justice movement: the IMF was already the most hated institution on
the planet, and willfully destroying what little remained of the
Argentine middle class would have been pushing things just a little
bit too far.

             So Argentina was allowed to get away with it. After that,
everything changed. Brazil and Argentina together arranged to pay back
their outstanding debt to the IMF itself. With a little help from
Chavez, so did the rest of the continent. In 2003, Latin American IMF
debt stood at $49 billion. Now itâs $694 million. To put that in
perspective: thatâs a decline of 98.6%. For every thousand dollars
owed four years ago, Latin America now owes fourteen bucks. Asia
followed. China and India now both have no outstanding debt to the
IMF and refuse to take out new loans. The boycott now includes Korea,
Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and pretty much every
other significant regional economy. Also Russia. The Fund is reduced
to lording it over the economies of Africa, and maybe some parts of
the Middle East and former Soviet sphere (basically those without
oil). As a result its revenues have plummeted by 80% in four years.
In the irony of all possible ironies, itâs increasingly looking
like the IMF will go bankrupt if they canât find someone willing
to bail them out. Neither is it clear thereâs anyone particularly
wants to. With its reputation as fiscal enforcer in tatters, the IMF
no longer serves any obvious purpose even for capitalists. Thereâs
been a number of proposals at recent G8 meetings to make up a new
mission for the organizationâa kind of international bankruptcy
court, perhapsâbut all ended up getting torpedoed for one reason or
another. Even if the IMF does survive, it has already been reduced to
a cardboard cut-out of its former self.

` The World Bank, which early on took on the role of good cop, is
in somewhat better shape. But emphasis here must be placed on the
word âsomewhatââas in, its revenue has only fallen by 60%, not
80%, and there are few actual boycotts. On the other hand the Bank is
currently being kept alive largely by the fact India and China are
still willing to deal with it, and both sides know that, so it is no
longer in much of a position to dictate terms.

             Obviously, all of this does not mean all the monsters
have been slain. In Latin America, neoliberalism might be on the run,
but China and India are carrying out devastating âreformsâ within
their own countries, European social protections are under attack,
and most of Africa, despite much hypocritical posturing on the part
of the Bonos and rich countries of the world, is still locked in
debt, and now also facing a new colonization by China. The US, its
economic power retreating in most of the world, is frantically trying
to redouble its grip over Mexico and Central America. Weâre not
living in utopia. But we already knew that. The question is why we
never noticed our victories.

             Olivier de Marcellus, a PGA activist from Switzerland,
points to one reason: whenever some element of the capitalist system
takes a hit, whether itâs the nuclear industry or the IMF, some
leftist journal will start explaining to us that really, this is
all part of their planâor maybe, an effect of the inexorable
working out of the internal contradictions of capital, but certainly,
nothing for which we ourselves are in any way responsible. Even more
important, perhaps, is our reluctance to even say the word âweâ.
The Argentine default, wasnât that really engineered by Nestor
Kirchner? What does he have to do with the globalization movement? I
mean, itâs not as if his hands were forced by thousands of citizens
were rising up, smashing banks, and replacing the government with
popular assemblies coordinated by the IMC. Or, well, okay, maybe it
was. Well, in that case, those citizens were People of Color in the
Global South. How can âweâ take responsibility for their actions?
Never mind that they mostly saw themselves as part of the same
global justice movement as us, espoused similar ideas, wore similar
clothes, used similar tactics, in many cases even belonged to the same
confederacies or organizations. Saying âweâ here would imply the
primal sin of speaking for others.

             Myself, I think itâs reasonable for a global movement
to consider its accomplishments in global terms. These are not
inconsiderable. Yet just as with the anti-nuclear movement, they
were almost all focused on the middle term. Let me map out a similar
hierarchy of goals:

1) Short-Term Goals: blockade and shut down particular summit meetings
(IMF, WTO, G8, etc)

2) Medium-Term Goals: destroy the âWashington Consensusâ around
neoliberalism, block all new trade pacts, delegitimize and ultimately
shut down institutions like the WTO, IMF, and World Bank; disseminate
new models of direct democracy.

3) Long-Term Goals: (at least for the more radical elements) smash the
state and destroy capitalism.

Here again, we find the same pattern. After the miracle of Seattle,
short termâtacticalâgoals were rarely achieved. But this was
mainly because faced with such a movement, governments tend to dig in
their heels and make it a matter of principle that they shouldnât
be. This was usually considered much more important, in fact, than the
success of the summit in question. Most activists do not seem to be
aware that in a lot of casesâthe 2001 and 2002 IMF and World Bank
meetings for exampleâpolice ended up enforcing security arrangements
so elaborate that they came very close to shutting down the meetings
themselves; ensuring that many events were cancelled, the ceremonies
were ruined, and nobody really had a chance to talk to each other.
But the point was not whether trade officials got to meet or not. The
point was that the protestors could not be seen to win.

             Here, too, the medium term goals were achieved so quickly
that it actually made the longer-term goals more difficult. NGOs,
labor unions, authoritarian Marxists, and similar allies jumped ship
almost immediately; strategic debates ensued, but they were carried
out, as always, indirectly, as arguments about race, privilege,
tactics, almost anything but as actual strategic debates. Here,
too, everything was made infinitely more difficult by the stateâs
recourse to war.

             It is hard, as I mentioned, for anarchists to take much
direct responsibility for the inevitable end of the war in Iraq, or
even to the very bloody nose the empire has already acquired there.
But a case could well be made for indirect responsibility. Since
the â60s, and the catastrophe of Vietnam, the US government has
not abandoned its policy of answering any threat of democratic mass
mobilizing by a return to war. But it has to be much more careful.
Essentially, they have to design wars to be protest-proof. There is
very good reason to believe that the first Gulf War was explicitly
designed with this in mind. The approach taken to the invasion of Iraq
âthe insistence on a smaller, high-tech army, the extreme reliance
on indiscriminate firepower, even against civilians, to protect
against any Vietnam-like levels of American casualtiesâappears
to have been developed, again, more with a mind to heading off
any potential peace movement at home than one focused on military
effectiveness. This, anyway, would help explain why the most powerful
army in the world has ended up being tied down and even defeated by an
almost unimaginably ragtag group of guerillas with negligible access
to outside safe-areas, funding, or military support. As in the trade
summits, they are so obsessed with ensuring forces of civil resistance
cannot be seen to win the battle at home that they would prefer to
lose the actual war.


             How, then, to cope with the perils of victory? I canât
claim to have any simple answers. Really I wrote this essay more to
start a conversation, to put the problem on the tableâto inspire a
strategic debate.

             Still, some implications are pretty obvious. The next
time we plan a major action campaign, I think we would do well to
at least take into account the possibility that we might obtain
our mid- range strategic goals very quickly, and that when that
happens, many of our allies will fall away. We have to recognize
strategic debates for what they are, even when they seem to be about
something else. Take one famous example: arguments about property
destruction after Seattle. Most of these, I think, were really
arguments about capitalism. Those who decried window-breaking did so
mainly because they wished to appeal to middle-class consumers to
move towards global-exchange style green consumerism, to ally with
labor bureaucracies and social democrats abroad. This was not a path
designed to create a direct confrontation with capitalism, and most
of those who urged us to take this route were at least skeptical
about the possibility that capitalism could ever really be defeated
at all. Those who did break windows didnât care if they were
offending suburban homeowners, because they didnât see them as a
potential element in a revolutionary anti-capitalist coalition. They
were trying, in effect, to hijack the media to send a message that
the system was vulnerableâhoping to inspire similar insurrectionary
acts on the part of those who might considering entering a genuinely
revolutionary alliance; alienated teenagers, oppressed people of
color, rank-and-file laborers impatient with union bureaucrats, the
homeless, the criminalized, the radically discontent. If a militant
anti-capitalist movement was to begin, in America, it would have to
start with people like these: people who donât need to be convinced
that the system is rotten, only, that thereâs something they can do
about it. And at any rate, even if it were possible to have an anti-
capitalist revolution without gun-battles in the streetsâwhich most
of us are hoping it is, since letâs face it, if we come up against
the US army, we will loseâthereâs no possible way we could have
an anti-capitalist revolution while at the same time scrupulously
respecting property rights.

             The latter actually leads to an interesting question.
What would it mean to win, not just our medium-term goals, but our
long term ones? At the moment no one is even clear how that would
come about, for the very reason none of us have much faith remaining
in âtheâ revolution in the old 19th or 20th century sense of
the term. After all, the total view of revolution, that there will
be a single mass insurrection or general strike and then all walls
will come tumbling down, is entirely premised on the old fantasy of
capturing the state. Thatâs the only way victory could possibly be
that absolute and completeâat least, if we are speaking of a whole
country or meaningful territory.

             In way of illustration, consider this: what would it have
actually meant for the Spanish anarchists to have actually âwonâ
1937? Itâs amazing how rarely we ask ourselves such questions. We
just imagine it would have been something like the Russian Revolution,
which began in a similar way, with the melting away of the old army,
the spontaneous creation of workersâ soviets. But that was in the
major cities. The Russian Revolution was followed by years of civil
war in which the Red Army gradually imposed the new stateâs control
on every part of the old Russian Empire, whether the communities in
question wanted it or not. Let us imagine that anarchist militias in
Spain had routed the fascist army, which then completely dissolved,
and kicked the socialist Republican Government out of its offices
in Barcelona and Madrid. That would certainly have been victory by
anybodyâs standards. But what would have happened next? Would they
have established Spain as a non-Republic, an anti- state existing
within the exact same international borders? Would they have imposed
a regime of popular councils in every singe village and municipality
in the territory of what had formerly been Spain? How exactly? We have
to bear in mind here that were there many villages towns, even regions
of Spain where anarchists were almost non-existent. In some just
about the entire population was made up of conservative Catholics or
monarchists; in others (say, the Basque country) there was a militant
and well-organized working class, but one that was overwhelmingly
socialist or communist. Even at the height of revolutionary fervor,
most of these would stay true to their old values and ideas. If the
victorious FAI attempted to exterminate them allâa task which would
have required killing millions of peopleâor chase them out of the
country, or forcibly relocate them into anarchist communities, or
send them off to reeducation campsâthey would not only have been
guilty of world-class atrocities, they would have had to give up
on being anarchists. Democratic organizations simply cannot commit
atrocities on that systematic scale: for that, youâd need Communist
or Fascist-style top- down organization, since you canât actually
get thousands of human beings to systematically massacre helpless
women and children and old people, destroy communities, or chase
families from their ancestral homes unless they can at least say
they were only following orders. There appear to have been only two
possible solutions to the problem.

1) Let the Republic continue as de facto government, controlled by the
socialists, let them impose government control the right-wing majority
areas, and get some kind of deal out of them that they would leave
the anarchist-majority cities, towns, and villages alone to organize
themselves as they wish to, and hope that they kept the deal (this
might be considered the âgood luckâ option)

2) Declare that everyone was to form their own local popular
assemblies, and let them decide on their own mode of

The latter seems the more fitting with anarchist principles, but
the results wouldnât have likely been too much different. After
all, if the inhabitants of, say, Bilbao overwhelmingly desired to
create a local government, how exactly would one have stopped them?
Municipalities where the church or landlords still commanded popular
support would presumably put the same old right-wing authorities in
charge; socialist or communist municipalities would put socialist or
communist party bureaucrats in charge; Right and Left statists would
then each form rival confederations that, even though they controlled
only a fraction of the former Spanish territory, would each declare
themselves the legitimate government of Spain. Foreign governments
would recognize one or the otherâsince none would be willing to
exchange ambassadors with a non-government like the FAI, even assuming
the FAI wished to exchange ambassadors with them, which it wouldnât.
In other words the actual shooting war might end, but the political
struggle would continue, and large parts of Spain would presumably end
up looking like contemporary Chiapas, with each district or community
divided between anarchist and anti-anarchist factions. Ultimate
victory would have to be a long and arduous process. The only way to
really win over the statist enclaves would be win over their children,
which could be accomplished by creating an obviously freer, more
pleasurable, more beautiful, secure, relaxed, fulfilling life in the
stateless sections. Foreign capitalist powers, on the other hand, even
if they did not intervene militarily, would do everything possible
to head off the notorious âthreat of a good exampleâ by economic
boycotts and subversion, and pouring resources into the statist zones.
In the end, everything would probably depend on the degree to which
anarchist victories in Spain inspired similar insurrections elsewhere.

             The real point of the imaginative exercise is just to    
point out that there are no clean breaks in history. The flip-side of 
the old idea of the clean break, the one moment when the state falls  
and capitalism is defeated, is that anything short of that is not     
really a victory at all. If capitalism is left standing, if it begins 
to market your once-subversive ideas, it shows that the capitalists   
really won. Youâve lost; youâve been coopted. To me this is       
absurd. Can we say that feminism lost, that it achieved nothing,      
just because corporate culture felt obliged to pay lip service to     
condemning sexism and capitalist firms began marketing feminist       
books, movies, and other products? Of course not: unless youâve     
managed to destroy capitalism and patriarchy in one fell blow,        
this is one of the clearest signs that youâve gotten somewhere.     
Presumably any effective road to revolution will involve endless      
moments of cooptation, endless victorious campaigns, endless little   
insurrectionary moments or moments of flight and covert autonomy. I   
hesitate to even speculate what it might really be like. But to start 
in that direction, the first thing we need to do is to recognize that 
we do, in fact, win some. Actually, recently, weâve been winning    
quite a lot. The question is how to break the cycle of exaltation     
and despair and come up with some strategic visions (the more the     
merrier) about these victories build on each other, to create a       
cumulative movement towards a new society.                            

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