The end of mediation
‘In Genoa, we have seen the end of political mediation between institutions and movements’, wrote Luca Casarina in Il Manifesto. Casarina, spokesperson of the north-eastern social centres and part of the Genoa Social Forum, was referring to talks held prior to the protests between the GSF and the government, after which it was assumed that the police would not use extreme, let alone lethal, force. Afterwards, around thirty protesters were in intensive care, and one was dead. Throughout Europe, both before and after the protests, people were hunted down and arrested, or simply beaten, on suspicion of being part of the anti-G8 demonstrations. Casarina later described those talks as a ‘trap’ — the mirage of a space in which negotiations on the limits of engagement might occur and bind the participants, the existence of, as he terms it, a ‘pact’. In announcing the end of mediation, Casarina could (perhaps should) have been speaking of a moment that has occurred at each successive anti-summit protest since the J18 protests against the G8 Summit in 1998. The phrase ‘since Genoa’ signals ‘the end of mediation’ made irrefutable, experienced as a shared event — even as it was a long time, perhaps a century, in the making.
In another register, the end of mediation is also the end of ‘civil society’, where ‘civil society’ is defined as the terrain upon which the relations between the state and ‘its’ populations are mediated through various institutional forms: unions, parties, and so on. But mediation, in order to be other than simulation presupposes an effectively sovereign state; one that is capable of mediating between and irreducible to the institutions of ‘civil society’ — hence the motif of the state as ‘umpire’. A sovereign state is one which stands above and outside the divisions of ‘civil society’, composed in turn of fixed, caste-like identities — and for a time, capital and labour composed as identities — whom the sovereign bestows with privileges, or not. In other words, a sovereign state has its subjects. It is monarchical in form and derivation: power is organised hierarchically. This ‘over and above’ capital, then, is the precondition of civil society and thereby the possibility of mediation.
Today there is much talk about ‘the decline of sovereignty’, of the supposed inability of the (nation-)state to counter the interests of something called global capital, as if there is no other way for the (nation-)state to exist and exert its power other than in a sovereign fashion, above all (and) outside of capital, as a distinct subject. This supposes that the absence of sovereign power is the absence of state power per se.
The reverse is the case. The decline of sovereignty implies a state that is emphatically repressive and whose power proceeds and is organised immanently, as morality rather than politics. This is why, for instance, in Genoa, Seattle and Melbourne, any reputed negotiations between protesters and the state could never arrive at something like a ‘pact’, but were a prelude to the use of batons, tear gas and bullets. To put it another way: the ‘social pact’ gives way to ‘mutual obligation’ — a one-way, moralising edict that seeks to re-establish immanent control (i.e. self-policing) of dissent while licensing state violence as virtuous.
The republican state takes its cue from the emergence of the ‘free labourer’ and the techniques of control that are adequate to it, such as the internalisation of the command to work as an ‘ethic’. There is no such thing as a fully accomplished form of the republican state — it is unstable, oscillating between sovereignty and democracy, or majestic sovereignty and announcements of the ‘sovereignty’ of ‘the people’. Its juridical constituents are, initially, subjects without subjection and, increasingly, citizens inscribed with rights and duties. The economic analogue of citizenship is none other than the commodity, where equality and difference are expressed in quantitative terms. Citizenship relegates qualitative differences to the private realm of ‘taste’, just as the market does.
Attempts to revive sovereignty, mediation and the institutions of civil society, in the absence of their ability to deliver something like an actual ‘pact’, results in a decidedly one-sided restoration. The power of the sovereign to be above the law becomes the sovereign exemption as norm, in other words, the abolition of the rule of law. (Hence the conduct of border policing, the camps and migration policy generally). Attempts at mediation between institutions and movements give effect only to control and the re-emergence of mediation in a ghoulish manner.
And so, PR companies are hired by the World Economic Forum (and the G8) to demand that protesters ‘not use violence’ while the government drafts a bill that would legalise the use of the military in situations of civil conflict (and the Carabinieri shoot to kill). Interestingly, the Dutch police are organising an international conference entitled, ‘Global Civil Society, Maintaining Public Order’ at which police from Australia, the US and Europe will — it is advertised — sit down with invited ‘representatives’ of ‘the global civil society’ to plan what is required to maintain global order. This is how ‘civil society’ exists today: as an invitation-only simulation in the service of ‘law and order’.
Struggle by no means disappears merely because long-standing figurations do. It reappears in ways that are more adequate, or simply as experiments in new ways of effectiveness. In a situation which promises only repression what is at stake is the displacement of the question of figuration (the fixed form of the subject as a discrete entity) by the question of mobility and of escape. The question of ‘who’ is replaced by the question of ‘how’ or, as graffiti on Crown Casino declared, ‘How we struggle is the struggle’.
These new possibilities were manifested during the S11 events in Melbourne. Far from being a simple doctrinal difference during S11 between the Leninists of the Alliance (since reformed into the Socialist Alliance for electoral purposes) and others in the Autonomous Web of Liberation, the difference between ‘who’ and ‘how’ was always based on the prior question of composition and determined by it. The former tried to accomplish a passage from Keatingesque corporatism to sovereignty, a recombination of the Many (redefined as discrete subjectivities) into the One, chiefly through the drafting of programmes and demands. The latter maintained a strict indifference to doctrinal disputes that might give effect to the assertion of univocality, of hierarchy and therefore of the possibility of mediation. ‘Dessert capital, dessert the state’ was much more than an incitement to cream-pie the powerful. Organisational forms, strategies also, are not a matter of planning or the force of will, but of composition — organisational forms are passages from this point.
There is no ‘anti-globalisation movement’ that assembled to protest at S11 (or at the other summit protests) — no movement, singular; and barely anything resembling a movement that is anti-globalist in political perspective. Instead there were different networks, groups and sometimes just groups of friends who gathered to protest for various, often contrary, reasons. Moreover, the ‘anti-globalisation movement’ was a fiction assembled on the terrain of mediation. Whether announced by determined anti-globalist lobbyists such as the International Forum on Globalisation, or repeated by archaic opportunists such as the International Socialist Organisation, the ‘anti-globalisation’ label was a necessary moment in asserting that one was at the helm of said movement and could therefore speak (to the media) and mediate on its behalf. Without a label that made it seem as if there was one set of aims shared by protesters, any claims to mediation would fall flat. The lobbyists would not be granted a seat at the table, as it were; and the Leninists could not assert their claim to be the vanguard of something that, prior to S11, they had related to only in its most mediated (or better: televisual) forms.
It should be no surprise, then, that some are confused by the fact that the no border networks emerged in Australia at S11. When Paul James writes, in response to three articles which seek to critique the very notion and practice of migration controls, that he agrees with ‘the anti-globalist critique of capitalism’, and wishes to ‘turn that critique back on the no border advocates’, I admit to being a little confused as to his assumption that either Maksimovic (Arena Magazine No. 52), Bhuta and Costello (Arena Magazine No. 53) or my piece in the ‘Rogue States’ reader is anti-globalist. He could not have been more mistaken.
As regards form, if not always content, the anti-summit protests were globalised and globalising protests, occurring on the terrain of a global circulation of struggles and precepts that is unprecedented in scope and magnitude. Moreover, pro-migration actions have always been a significant part of the anti-summit protests, at both anti-WEF protests (in 1999 in the EU and Melbourne in 2000), and at both anti-G8 protests (J18 in 1998 and Genoa in 2001). The exception to this is Seattle and the anti-WTO protests, where it was more a case of the overwhelming resources brought to bear, with the alliance between Ralph Nader and Patrick Buchanan given more credit than the politics of the anti-sweatshop and anti-third world debt campaigners without whom there would have been no blockade. But this should be a source of amusement rather than an uncritical repetition. Why would anyone in the US complain about the supposed decline of ‘American sovereignty’? For my part, I have never been persuaded that a critique of capitalism from the standpoint of the nation is not an updated version of national socialism, reconfigured in the manner of Patrick Buchanan (or Pauline Hanson) as a multicultural defence of the inherent separateness of authentic ‘cultures’ — that is as an upbeat global apartheid.
‘Civilisation’ and ‘barbarism’ are two sides of the same construct, the vocabulary of an initial encounter and conflict between empires and what remained ‘outside’ but was in the process of being colonised by them. In time, this distinction was replaced by that of ‘third’ and ‘first’ worlds, no longer an outside of empires but a geopolitical distinction created by a bipolar war that was proxied onto and constitutive of the ‘third world’. This war was, in the main, conducted over the seizure and flows of a globally produced surplus. Here, the ‘third world’ becomes characterised by a permanent state of war, a ‘barbarism’ that was the necessary and inseparable counterpart of civilisation. The civilisation of the ‘first world’ was funded on the basis of this distinction, allowing for an increasing level of debt and the deferral of debt repayments so as to fund the results of mediation, of civil society.
But today, the distinction between ‘third’ and ‘first’ worlds has been traversed by decades of struggle marked by the globalisation of nation-states as a prelude to the enclosure of land and an accompanying, unprecedented flight from the ‘third’ to the ‘first’ world. In other words, the distinction was traversed by the globalisation of wage labour, where capital was subsequently globalised not as a subject, but as an intrinsic element of sociality, as the means by which people are related to each other and to life itself.
What is usually defined as the globalisation of capital (which in institutional terms consists of the first tentative formation of only some of the apparatuses of a global state) is a response to this globalisation of labour that was unleashed by the end of the Cold War. Since 1989, there have been attempts to secure a level of political, military, juridical and, not least, moral authority that corresponds to, and is capable of delimiting and conditioning the movements of people. In particular, this is a question of ensuring that people move only as labour, as commodities on the world (labour) market; and by implication that if they do not they are ‘excluded’ as ‘surplus populations’. So, far from being a mere instance of hypocrisy, the paradoxical deregulation of capital movements and the re-regulation of the movements of people since the early 1990s is an abiding mark of the peculiarity of the commodity called labour-power. This is why, contrary to a rather naive view of border controls, the border is both porous and exclusionary at the same time. Likewise immigration controls recreate the segmentations of the global labour market in the face of a globalised proletariat that, unlike every other commodity, strives toward equality as a political rather than a merely quantifiable concept. Likewise, they reinstate the principle that movement must be the movement of commodities (or capital), conducted as tourism, ‘guest work’ and the like. In this, the boundaries of citizenship serve to actively create the lowest rungs of the labour market as well as to establish the concentration camps where those deemed ‘surplus’ to production are relegated, whether in Australia or in Pakistan, and always treated as deserters. Today, it is a stark choice, but hardly an abstract one: either open the borders or resort to more lethal, exceptional means to halt the movements of people as human beings.
Neo-liberalism does not have a vision of a borderless world. It has a vision of a world that is capitalist, where borders exist or do not at those points where they are necessary. If Microsoft deploys images of a borderless world, it does so in order to take up desires that already exist, with a twist: the concealment of bodies. Therefore, fortresses are the order of the day — from ‘Fortress Australia’ to the barbed wire citadels of the various summit meetings. What is at stake here is whether or not bodies might be arranged or move as something other than factors of production or commodities in circulation, as something more and other than things. ‘Since Genoa’, and ‘since the Tampa’. Now this is the question.
Angela Mitropoulos is a Melbourne-based writer and activist.