The Auto-erotic Politics of Dissent

“Talking about ‘achieving something’ misses the point; people fight to feel like they’re doing something”
-Prominent British activist, August 2005

For those of you who weren’t paying attention, last summer’s G8 conference brought together politicians, civil servants, international financiers, World Bank and IMF technocrats, international business leaders, and Bob Geldoff. It was immediately seized upon by Europe’s activist community as the representation of all that is evil and the attempt to stop it became, for a moment, the definition of action against the evils of the contemporary world. As thousands of Europe’s angry and beautiful poured into Central Scotland, living and resisting together for the week of the conference, one picture of this movement of movements emerged which was not that of ‘naïve idealists fighting inexorable capitalism’ but closer to our own, home-grown version of Sir Bob’s much derided white-band wankathon.

auto_erotic

This picture began to emerge unreasonably early on the conference’s first day, as 200 blockaders, tired and wet – yet still elated, reached the main road into the conference venue, with no way of actually closing the road in the face of several thousand police officers. Some people are dismayed …

…”Where are the fucking arm tubes? Where are the lock-ons? How on earth do you expect to block a road for any length of time with no plan and no kit?!”

But as a few vans worth of overtime-happy riot police chase the would-be blockaders off the road and into a field, most people are still pretty content. No-one really expected to block the road anyway, let alone stop the conference. The important thing for the nearly 200 individuals was that they had each braved rain, darkness and police patrols in hiking the 15 miles across the Ochil hills to be there. A combination of major effort expended and suitably dramatic context, and the moment is sufficient to constitute oneself as a noble resistor. Whether or not the conference was stopped, whether or not stopping the conference would have achieved anything anyway, we had each fought the good fight.

Too harsh? Horrendous generalisation? The same attitude was observed at many workshops and conversations in the camp as well as at demonstrations where one observer described this form of activism as…

…”essentially masturbatory”, a mise-en-scene for self and peers which substitutes revolutionary kicks for a genuine program of change and sees the experience as an end in itself…

I confess that this resonates with my own experience of Gleneagles. With no clear understanding of what I wanted to achieve, I was happy just taking part, enjoying the high drama of riot police and helicopters and the atmosphere back at Stirling: a festival with intellectual and political pretensions that suited me down to the ground.

All well and good, you may say. Each to their own, whatever floats your boat. There’s nothing new about describing this as a primarily cultural movement, and there’s nothing illegitimate about it incorporating political postures and practices. Indeed, at what point has there been an exclusively ‘political’ movement, one devoid of self-referential goals?

But not all are able to find fulfilment in the tragic yet noble role ascribed to them by this joyful defeatism. Some are unable to swallow the ‘I do what I can’ discourse when it refers to civil disobedience any more than when it refers to buying the odd fair trade banana and giving some loose change to Oxfam. Among these people a there is different analysis of how the fight is too be waged and it starts with a rejection of the closet defeatism which characterised resistance to the G8 at Gleneagles.

This defeatism is argued to rest upon the internalization of the idea that neo-liberalism (the concentration of political power and economic wealth in the hands of those controlling and closest to trans-national financial capital) is synonymous with or endemic to ‘globalisation’. ‘That’s bullshit’ say the new dissenters.

“Contemporary neo-liberal dominance is like any other political movement, a collection of networks of those who are aware of their own interests and of those people whose interests match theirs, acting (with a greater or lesser degree of coordination) to further those interests. They’re like the countryside alliance, only better organized.”

This argument has obvious value. Outside of the West, those whose interests are served by the neo-liberal concentration of power and resources are vastly outnumbered by those whose interests are directly impinged upon. At all levels, the only way that elites can retain their power in this context is superior organization. There is no inevitability surrounding their success in this endeavour. The networks which facilitate their class consciousness, consensus-building and collective action can be dismantled by the same means that have been used to dismantle (usually populist) movements in failed political struggles in the world over.

However, this analysis marginalizes the role of western activists in positive change: hardly an ideal platform from which to be recruiting them to its cause.

Anonymous Activist

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