A new-old word began to appear in reports of carnivals and creative insurrections after the events in 1999 outside the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle. Anticapitalism: how did this deeply unfashionable word make its brazen return? This smooth anarchist product, a book about the size of a postcard, traces a decade in the development of anticapitalist protest around the world.
In 80 short chapters, edited by British and American activists, global voices present us with alternative visions of democracy. The book is "copyleft", meaning free for non-profit reproduction. A detailed timeline at the bottom of each page traces almost daily insurrections. (There are ideological limits to this chronology: no entry for those nation-blocking fuel tax protests in Britain, nor for the events of 9/11.) Photographs emblazoned with slogans, how-to sections and internet resources complete the propagandist intent.
The anticapitalist movement has rekindled "the idea of a global political project defined by notions of diversity, autonomy, ecology, democracy, self-organisation and direct action", say the editors. They embrace guerrilla gardeners planting cannabis seeds outside Parliament and farmers from Karnataka in southern India, destroying GM trial crops, West African sans-papiers taking refuge in a Paris church and Afghan refugees detained in the South Australian desert. If this book does not convincingly show how global anticapitalism adds up to more than the sum of its parts, it does, through its inspiring micro-narratives, chart their variety, energy and, most impressively, global scope.
The role and definition of violence is less than fully explored (except when handed out by the authorities, notably the shocking death of activist Carlo Giuliani in Genoa in 2001). Instead irony and humour play a big part. French unemployed workers wave placards demanding "A Shitty Job for Peanuts"; Indian peasant farmers hold a "Laugh Parade" (rather than the ravers' Love Parade) at a world summit in Germany. After all, ask the editors, "Who wants the tedium of traditional demonstrations and marches?"
In place of such "tedium", carnival is posited as the reinvented "tactics of resistance". This is the inversion of society's norm, utopia made manifest in creative challenge to the dominant order. But are the gestures and spectacles of street party the culminating achievement of the movement? One danger of overwriting such temporary reclamations is that it undervalues the organisation necessary to make the events happen, and forgets that this structure is the real achievement .
The conclusion acknowledges a switch away from "the rapid explosions of the days of action ... to the politics of [daily] necessity". Anarchists will recognise such a shift from the 19th century: the leap to maturity from Bakunin ("The urge to destroy is also a creative urge") to Kropotkin ("the practice of mutual aid"). But the shift doesn't look quite so exciting.
Anticapitalism is such a big word, and capitalism itself is so sprawling, invasive, successful and in demand. Surely to resist it radically is doomed to failure? But disobedient voices throughout this compelling collection whisper: "If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito".
The author is co-editor of 'Social Movement Studies'
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