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The Shock Of Victory
David Graeber
The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
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Table of Contents
The Movements of Movements
MOMBOP Advance Pre-Final Movement Edition, 2016-17
Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
Proem :
Shailja Patel What Moves Us
Introduction :
Jai Sen The Movements of Movements : An
Introduction and an Exploration
1.1 David McNally From the Mountains of Chiapas to the Streets
of Seattle : This is What Democracy Looks Like
1.2 Fouad Kalouche and Eric Mielants Antisystemic Movements
and Transformations of the World-System, 19681989
1.3 André C Drainville Beyond
: Anti-Capitalist
Dialectic of Presence
1.4 Tariq Ali Storming Heaven : Where Has The Rage Gone ?
1.5 Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel - Being Indigenous :
Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism
1.6 Andrea Smith Indigenous Feminism and the Heteropatriachal
1.7 Xochitl Leyva Solano Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Neo-
Zapatista Social Movement Networks
The Movements of Movements :
Struggles for Other Worlds
2.1 Anand Teltumbde Anti-Imperialism, Dalits, and the
Annihilation of Caste
2.2 Jeff Corntassel Rethinking Self-Determination : Lessons from
the Indigenous-Rights Discourse
2.3 Xochitl Leyva Solano and Christopher Gunderson - The Tapestry
of Neo-Zapatismo : Origins and Development
2.4 Roma and Ashok Choudhary - Ecological Justice and Forest
Right Movements in India : State and Militancy - New
2.5 Emilie Hayes Open Space in Movement : Reading Three
Waves of Feminism
2.6 Virginia Vargas International Feminisms : New Syntheses,
New Directions
2.7 Lee Cormie Re-Creating the World : Communities of Faith in
the Struggles for Other Possible Worlds
2.8 François Houtart Mahmoud Mohamed Taha : Islamic Witness
in the Contemporary World
2.9 James Toth Local Islam Gone Global : The Roots of Religious
Militancy in Egypt and its Transnational Transformation
2.10 Roel Meijer Fighting for Another World : Yusuf Al-‘Uyairi’s
Conceptualisation of Praxis and the Permanent Salafi Revolution
2.11 Peter Waterman The Networked Internationalism of Labour’s
2.12 Cho Hee-YeonFrom Anti-Imperialist to Anti-Empire : The
Crystallisation of the Anti-Globalisation Movement in South
2.13 Emir Sader The Weakest Link ? Neoliberalism in Latin America
2.14 Daniel Bensaïd The Return of Strategy
2.15 Peter North and David Featherstone Localisation as Radical
Praxis and the New Politics of Climate Change
2.16 Guillermo Delgado-P Refounding Bolivia : Exploring the
Possibility and Paradox of a Social Movements State
2.17 Alex Khasnabish - Forward Dreaming : Zapatismo and the
Radical Imagination
Laurence Cox ‘Learning to be Loyal to Each Other’ :
Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of
Compiled, comprehensive Bibliography for The Movements of
Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
Proem :
Shailja Patel Offerings
Introduction :
Jai Sen On Rethinking Our Dance : Some
Thoughts, Some Moves
Interrogating Movement, Problematising
3.1 Rodrigo Nunes Nothing Is What Democracy Looks Like :
Openness, Horizontality, and The Movement of Movements
3.2 The Free Association Worlds in Motion : Movements,
Problematics, and the Creation of New Worlds
3.3 Jai Sen Break Free ! Engaging Critically with the Concept and
Reality of Civil Society (Part 1)
3.4 Anila Daulatzai - Believing in Exclusion : The Problem of
Secularism in Progressive Politics
3.5 Josephine Ho Is Global Governance Bad for East Asian Queers
3.6 Jeffrey S Juris and Geoffrey Pleyers Incorporating Youth or
Transforming Politics ? Alter-Activism as an Emerging Mode of
Praxis among Young Global Justice Activists
3.7 Tomás Mac Sheoin and Nicola Yeates The Anti-Globalisation
Movement : Coalition and Division
3.8 Stephanie Ross The Strategic Implications of Anti-Statism in
the Global Justice Movement
3.9 Michael Löwy Negativity and Utopia in the Alterglobalisation
3.10 Rodrigo Nunes The Global Moment : Seattle, Ten Years On
3.11 Ezequiel Adamovsky Autonomous Politics and its Problems :
Thinking the Passage from Social to Political
3.12 John Brown Childs Boundary as Bridge
3.13 Chris Carlsson Effective Politics or Feeling Effective ?
3.14 Massimo De Angelis PR like PRocess ! Strategy from the
Bottom Up
3.15 Matt Meyer and Oussenia Alidou The Power of Words :
Reclaiming and Re-Imagining ‘Revolution’ and ‘Nonviolence’
3.16 Jai Sen Break Free ! Engaging Critically with the Concept and
Reality of Civil Society (Part 2)
Reflections on Possible Futures
4.1 Michal Osterweil “Becoming-Woman ?” : Between Theory,
Practice, and Potentiality
4.2 John Holloway The Asymmetry of Revolution
4.3 David Graeber The Shock of Victory
4.4 Kolya Abramsky Gathering Our Dignified Rage : Building New
Autonomous Global Relations of Production, Livelihood, and
4.5 Muto Ichiyo Towards the Autonomy of the People of the
World : Need for a New Movement of Movements to Animate
People’s Alliance Processes
4.6 Samir Amin Towards a Fifth International ?
4.7 Rodrigo Nunes The Lessons of 2011 : Three Theses on
4.8 François Houtart – ‘We Still Exist’
Lee Cormie - Another World Is Inevitable… But Which Other
World ?
Complied, comprehensive Bibliography for The Movements of
Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
MOMBOP Advance Pre-Final Movement Edition
made freely available for Discussion and Debate on a Not-for-Re-Publication / Distribution basis !
The Shock Of Victory
David Graeber
The biggest problem facing direct action movements is that we don’t know how to handle victory.
This might seem an odd thing to say because a lot of us haven’t 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
organisational 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 marginalised. The war will
end, of course, but that’s 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 here :
1. Odd though it may seem, the ruling classes live in fear of us. They appear haunted by the
possibility that, if average US Americans really get wind of what they’re up to, they might
all end up hanging from trees. I know this seems implausible but it’s hard to come up
with any other explanation for the way they go into panic mode the moment there is any
sign of mass mobilisation, 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 action especially when organised on
democratic lines is incredibly effective. Over the last thirty years in the US, there have
been only two instances of mass action of this sort : The anti-nuclear movement in the
late 70s, and the so-called ‘anti-globalisation’ movement from roughly 1999-2001. In
each case, the main political goals were reached far more quickly than almost anyone
involved imagined possible.
3. The real problem such movements face is that they always get surprised by the speed of
their initial success. We are never prepared for victory. It throws us into confusion. We
start fighting each other. The rachetting of repression and appeals to nationalism that
inevitably accompanies some new round of war mobilisation 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, we’re usually too busy feeling like failures to
Let me take the two most prominent examples, case by case : The anti-nuclear movement,
and the global justice movement.
The Anti-Nuclear Movement
The anti-nuclear movement of the late 70s marked the first appearance in North America of what we
now consider standard anarchist tactics and forms of organisation : Mass actions, affinity groups,
spokescouncils, consensus process, jail solidarity, and the very principle of decentralised direct
democracy. It was all somewhat primitive, compared to now, and there were significant differences
notably a much stricter, Gandhian-style conceptions of non-violence but all the elements were
there, and for 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 disintegrated.
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. Clamshell’s immediate goal was to stop
construction of a proposed nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire. While the alliance never
managed an occupation, more a series of dramatic mass-arrests, combined with jail solidarity, their
actions involving, at peak, tens of thousands of people organised on directly democratic lines
succeeded in throwing the very idea of nuclear power into question in a way it had never been
before. Similar coalitions sprang 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 the completely insane plan of building a nuclear power plant at Diablo
Canyon, almost directly on top of a major geographic fault line.
Clamshell’s 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, were originally 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 of
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 doesn’t sound too inspiring. But what was the movement really trying to
achieve ? It might helpful here to map out its full range of goals :
Short-Term Goals : To block construction of the particular nuclear plant in question
(Seabrook, Diablo Canyon…).
Medium-Term Goals : To block construction of all new nuclear plants, delegitimise the
very idea of nuclear power and begin moving towards conservation and green power,
and legitimise new forms of non-violent resistance and feminist-inspired direct
Long-Term Goals (at least for the more radical elements) : Smash the state and destroy
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 losing such battles. Long-term goals were also obviously not obtained. But one reason they
weren’t is that the medium-term goals were all reached almost immediately. The actions did
delegitimise the very idea of nuclear power raising 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 were not cancelled, just about every other pending plan to build a nuclear reactor was, and
no new ones have been proposed for a quarter century. There was indeed a move towards
conservation, green power, and a legitimising of new democratic organising techniques. All this
happened much more quickly than anyone had anticipated.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see most subsequent problems emerged directly from the very speed of
the movement’s 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 we’d now call the
NGO types to a space at the table, there was an enormous temptation to jump ship. Especially
because many only allied with more radical groups to win a place at the table to begin with.
The inevitable result was a series of heated strategic debates. But it’s impossible to understand
this 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 don’t like to have to say, “Actually, I am in
favour of maintaining capitalism”, and whenever possible they try to change the subject. So debates
that are actually about whether or not to directly challenge capitalism usually end up as short-term
debates about tactics and non-violence. Authoritarian socialists or others who are suspicious of
democracy itself don’t 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 (or convenient) to challenge its decision-making
process rather than its actual decisions.
Another factor here is even less noted, but equally important. Everyone knows that faced with a
broad and potentially revolutionary coalition, any government’s first move will be to try to split in it.
Making concessions to placate the moderates while selectively criminalising the radicals this is Art of
Governance 101. The US government, though, is in possession of a global empire constantly
mobilised for war, and this gives it another option that most governments do not have. Those running
it can, pretty much any time they like, decide to ratchet up the level of violence overseas (either by
sending US troops into combat, creating proxy wars, nuclear sabre-rattling, or some combination of
the three). 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 programmes and proxy wars in Afghanistan and Central America; that the global justice
movement was followed by the collapse of the Washington Consensus and the War on Terror. As a
result, the early Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had to put aside its initial 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 the Direct Action Networks (DANs) and
People’s Global Action (PGA) gave way to top-down mass organisations like Act Now to Stop War and
End Racism (ANSWER) and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ).
From the government’s point of view, the military solution does have its risks. The whole thing
can blow up in one’s face, as it did in Vietnam (hence the obsession, at least since the first Gulf War
or, so it has seemed from the protestors’ perspective to design a war that is effectively protest-
proof). There is also always the small risk that some miscalculation will accidentally trigger a nuclear
Armageddon and destroy the planet. But these are risks politicians faced with civil unrest appear to
have been more than willing to take if only because directly democratic movements genuinely scare
them, while anti-war movements are their preferred adversary. States are ultimately, after all, forms
of violence. For them, changing the argument to one about violence is taking things back to their
home turf. Organisations designed either to wage or oppose wars will always tend to be more
hierarchical 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 mobilisations of the 80s turned out far
larger numbers than Clamshell or Abalone ever did, they also marked a return to marching along with
signs, permitted rallies, and abandoning experiments with new forms of direct democracy.
The Global Justice Movement
I’ll assume our gentle reader is broadly familiar with the actions at Seattle in 1999, the IMF-World
Bank blockades six months later in Washington at A16, and so on, which began the ‘anti-globalisation’
In the US, the movement flared up so quickly and dramatically even the media could not
dismiss it completely. It was also quick to start eating itself. DANs were founded in almost every
major US city. While some of these (notably Seattle and LA 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
DC) created even more explicitly anarchist Anti-Capitalist Convergences. The anti-corporate DANs
dissolved almost immediately, but even most of the anti-capitalist ones fell apart in the two years
after 9/11. There were endless, 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 in the level of repression and resultant paranoia, and the panicked flight of almost
all our former allies among unions and NGOs. By the time of the protests against 2003 Free Trade
Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) Summit in Miami, it seemed like we’d been put to rout, and a
paralysis swept over the movement from which we’ve only recently started to recover.
September 11 was such a catastrophe that it makes it almost impossible for us to perceive
anything else around it. In its immediate aftermath, almost all the structures created in the anti-
globalisation movement collapsed. But one reason it was so easy for them to collapse was not just
that war seemed such an immediately more pressing concern, but that once again, in most of our
immediate objectives, we’d already, unexpectedly, won.
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 organisations like the IMF. The other was to disseminate a (very
much anarchist-inspired) model of direct democracy : Decentralised, affinity-group structures,
consensus process; to replace old-fashioned activist organising styles with their steering committees
and ideological squabbles. At the time we sometimes called it ‘contaminationism’, 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 weren’t
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 that 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 organisation. While the anti-war coalitions still operate, as anti-war
coalitions always do, like top-down popular front groups, almost every small-scale radical group that
isn’t dominated by Marxist sectarians of one sort or another and this includes anything from
organisations of Syrian immigrants in Montreal to community gardens in Detroit now operates on
largely anarchist principles. The contaminators themselves might not know it, but contaminationism
Alternatively, take the domain of ideas. The Washington Consensus lies in ruins. So much so
it’s hard now to remember what public discourse in the US was even like before Seattle. Rarely have
the media and political classes been so completely unanimous about anything. That ‘free trade’, ‘free
markets’, 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 to the attention of CNN or Newsweek, were immediately written off as reactionary
lunatics. A year or two later, CNN and Newsweek were saying we’d won the argument.
Usually when I make this point in front of anarchist crowds someone immediately objects :
“Well, sure, the rhetoric has changed, but the policies remain the same”.
This is true in a manner of speaking. That is to say, it’s true that we didn’t destroy capitalism.
But we (taking the ‘we’ 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 :
Free trade agreements
All the ambitious free trade treaties planned since 1998 have failed. The Multilateral Agreement on
Investment (MAI) was routed; the FTAA, the focus of our actions in Quebec City and Miami, stopped
dead in its tracks. Most of us remember the 2003 FTAA summit mainly for introducing the ‘Miami
model’ of extreme police repression against obviously non-violent civil resistance. It was that. But we
forget this was more than anything the enraged flailing of a pack of extremely sore losers Miami
was the meeting where the FTAA was definitively killed. Now no one is even talking about broad,
ambitious treaties of 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 Central American Free
Trade Agreement (CAFTA), uniting its remaining client states in Central America and it’s not even
clear it will manage to pull that off.
The World Trade Organisation
After the catastrophe (for them) in Seattle, WTO organisers moved their 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 face another DAN blockade. For six years they hammered away at the Doha Round.
The problem was that, emboldened by the protest movement, Southern governments began insisting
they would no longer agree to 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 couldn’t possibly compete. Since the US, in particular, had no intention of
making any of the 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 years when the organisation might very
possibly not exist.
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank
This is the most amazing story of all. The IMF is rapidly approaching bankruptcy, as a direct result of
the worldwide mobilisation against it. 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 weren’t even paying
This last story is worth telling in some detail, so let me leave this section for a moment and
continue with the main text.
The Fall of the IMF and the World Bank
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 twenty-five years, been
imposed on the poorer countries of the global South, basically by manipulating debt. In exchange for
emergency refinancing, the IMF would demand Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) that forced
massive cuts in health, education, price supports on food, and endless privatisation 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, which 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 its job to ensure that
no country (no matter how poor) could ever 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 that a billion dollars
(plus generous interest) was extracted from his former victims. If a country did default, for any
reason, the IMF could impose a credit boycott, with economic effects 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 accept a certain degree of risk; but in the world of international politics,
economic laws are only binding on the poor.) This role was its downfall.
What happened was that Argentina defaulted and got away with it. In the 90s, Argentina had
been the IMF’s star pupil in Latin America they had literally privatised 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 factories… ‘Horizontalismbroadly anarchist principles was at the core of popular
resistance. The political class was so completely discredited that politicians were obliged to put on
wigs and phoney moustaches 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 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 Argentina’s foreign debt.
Actually Kirchner was quite clever about it. He did not default on his IMF loans. He defaulted
on Argentina’s private debt, announcing that for all outstanding loans, he would only pay 25 cents on
the dollar. Citibank and Chase went, of course, to the IMF, their accustomed enforcer, to demand
punishment. But, for the first time in its history, the IMF balked. First of all, with Argentina’s economy
already in ruins, even the economic equivalent of a nuclear bomb would do little more than make the
rubble bounce. Second, just about everyone was aware that it was the IMF’s disastrous advice that
set the stage for Argentina’s 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 wilfully destroying what little remained of Argentina’s 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, in 2007, it’s $694 million. That’s a decline of 98.6 per cent. For every thousand dollars owed
four years ago, Latin America now owes fourteen bucks. Asia followed. China and India both now
have no outstanding debt to the IMF, and refuse to take new loans. The boycott 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 the 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, it’s increasingly looking like the IMF will go bankrupt if it
can’t find someone willing to bail it out. Neither is it clear that anyone particularly wants to. With its
reputation as fiscal enforcer in tatters, the IMF no longer serves any obvious purpose even for
capitalists. There have been a number of proposals at recent G8 meetings to make up a new mission
for the organisation a kind of international bankruptcy court, perhaps but each proposal got
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 assumed the role of good cop, is in somewhat better shape.
But emphasis here must be placed on the word “somewhat” its revenue has only fallen by sixty per
cent, not eighty per cent, and there are few actual boycotts. On the other hand, the Bank is currently
being kept alive largely by the fact that 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, this does not mean that all the monsters have been slain. In Latin America,
neoliberalism might be on the run, but China and India are carrying out devastating ‘reforms’ 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 colonisation 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. We’re 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 it’s the nuclear industry or the IMF, some leftist
journal will start explaining to us that really, this is all part of their plan or 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 we. The Argentine
default, wasn’t that really engineered by Nestor Kirchner ? What does he have to do with the
globalisation movement ? I mean, it’s not as if his hands were forced by thousands of citizens rising
up, smashing banks, and replacing the government with popular assemblies coordinated by the
Independent Media Center (IMC). Or, well, okay, maybe it was. Well, in that case, those citizens were
People of Colour in the global South. How can “we” 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 organisations. Saying “we” would imply the primal sin of speaking for others.
Myself, I think it’s reasonable for a global movement (usually traced back to the Zapatista
uprising in 1994, and to a series of
that followed, leading to the creation of networks like
PGA whose prime movers were the peasant movements of Brazil and India) 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 :
Short-Term Goals : Blockade and shut down particular summit meetings (IMF, WTO, G8, etc).
Medium-Term Goals : Destroy the ‘Washington Consensus’ around neoliberalism; block all
new trade pacts; delegitimise and ultimately shut down institutions like the WTO, IMF, and
World Bank; disseminate new models of direct democracy.
Long-Term Goals (at least for the more radical elements) : Smash the state and destroy
Here again, we find the same pattern. After the miracle of Seattle, short-term tactical
goals were rarely achieved. But this was mainly because when faced with such a movement
governments tend to dig in their heels and make it a matter of principle that they shouldn’t be
achieved. This was usually considered much more important, in fact, than the success of the summit
in question. Most activists do not seem aware that in a lot of cases the 2001 and 2002 IMF and
World Bank meetings for example police ended up enforcing security arrangements so elaborate
that they came very close to shutting down the meetings themselves; ensuring that many events
were cancelled, 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, labour 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 except actual strategic debates. Here, too,
everything was made infinitely more difficult by the state’s 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 60s, and the catastrophe of Vietnam, the US
government has not abandoned its policy of answering any threat of democratic mass mobilising by a
return to war. But it has had to be much more careful. Essentially, it has 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 the insistence on a smaller, high-tech army, the
extreme reliance on indiscriminate firepower, even against civilians, to protect against Vietnam-like
levels of US casualties appears to have been developed, again, more with a mind to heading off any
potential peace movement at home than a focus 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 guerrillas with negligible access to outside safe-areas,
funding, or military support. As in the trade summits, the government is so obsessed with ensuring
that forces of civil resistance not be seen to win the battle at home that they would prefer to lose the
actual war.
Perspectives (with a Brief Flashback to the 30s in Spain)
How, then, to cope with the perils of victory ? I can’t claim to have any simple answers. I wrote this
essay more to start a conversation, to put the problem on the table to inspire 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.
Second, we have to recognise 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 labour 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, sceptical about the possibility that capitalism
could ever really be defeated. Those who did break windows didn’t care if they were offending
suburban homeowners, because they didn’t 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 vulnerable hoping to inspire similar insurrectionary acts on the part of those who might
considering entering a genuinely revolutionary alliance : Alienated teenagers, oppressed people of
colour, rank-and-file labourers impatient with union bureaucrats, the homeless, the criminalised, the
radically discontent. If a militant anti-capitalist movement was to begin, in the US, it would have to
start with people like these; people who don’t need to be convinced that the system is rotten, only
that there’s something they can do about it. At any rate, even if it were possible to have an anti-
capitalist revolution without gun-battles on the streets which most of us are hoping it is since, let’s
face it, if we come up against the US army we will lose there’s no possible way we could have an
anti-capitalist revolution while also 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 also our long-term ones ? At the moment no one is even clear how that
would come about, because none of us have much faith remaining in the revolution in the old 19
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. That’s the only way victory could possibly be that absolute and
complete at least if we are speaking of a whole country or meaningful territory.
By way of illustration, consider this : What would it have meant for the Spanish anarchists to
have actually ‘won’ 1937 ? It’s 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 workers’ 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 state’s 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 anybody’s 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 single village and municipality in the territory of what had formerly been Spain ?
How exactly ?
We have to bear in mind here that there were there many villages, towns, even regions of
Spain where anarchists were almost non-existent. In some just about the entire population was
conservative Catholic or monarchist; in others (say the Basque country) there was a militant and well-
organised working class, but one that was overwhelmingly socialist or communist. Even at the height
of revolutionary fervour, most of these would stay true to their old values and ideas. If the victorious
Federacion Anarquista Iberica
(‘Iberian Anarchist Federation’, FAI) attempted to exterminate them all
a task which would have required killing millions of people or chase them out of the country, or
forcibly relocate them into anarchist communities, or send them off to re-education camps they
would not only have been guilty of world-class atrocities, they would have had to give up on being
anarchists. Democratic organisations simply cannot commit atrocities on that systematic scale; for
that, you need communist or fascist-style top-down organisation, since you can’t 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 the de facto government, controlled by the socialists; let
them impose government control over right-wing majority areas, and get some kind of
deal out of them to leave the anarchist-majority cities, towns, and villages alone to
organise themselves as they wish to, and hope that they kept the deal (this might be
considered the ‘good luck’ option).
2. Declare that everyone was free to form their own local popular assemblies, and let them
decide on their own mode of self-organisation.
The latter seems more fitting with anarchist principles, but the results wouldn’t have been
very 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 recognise one or the other since 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 wouldn’t. 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
The only way to really win over the statist enclaves would be to 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 ‘threat of a
good example’ 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 this 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.
You’ve lost; you’ve been co-opted.
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 you’ve managed to
destroy capitalism and patriarchy in one fell blow, this is one of the clearest signs that you’ve gotten
somewhere. Presumably any effective road to revolution will involve endless moments of co-optation,
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 recognise that we do, in fact, win some. Actually, recently, we’ve been
winning quite a few. The question is how to break the cycle of exaltation and despair and come up
with some strategic visions (the more the merrier) about how these victories build on each other, to
create a cumulative movement towards a new society.
Currently a professor at the London School of Economics and formerly an associate professor of
anthropology at Goldsmiths College in London and before that at Yale University in the USA, David
Graeber has worked with the Direct Action Network, People’s Global Action, the Planetary
Alternatives Network, the IWW, and the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. His books
include Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value : The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (Palgrave
2001), Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004), Lost People : Magic
and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar (Indiana, 2007), Possibilities : Essays in Hierarchy,
Rebellion, and Desire and Direct Action : An Ethnography (both from AK Press, 2007 and 2009), Debt
: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House, 2011), and The Democracy Project : A History, a Crisis, a
Movement (Spiegel & Grau, 2013).
Content Editor : Parvati Sharma
References :
Joe Bandy and Jackie Smith, eds, 2004 Coalitions across Borders : Transnational Protest and the
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sociaux, résistances et nouvelle culture politique
[‘Alter-globalisation : Social Forums, Resistance, and
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Big Noise Films and ors, November-December 1999 Showdown in Seattle.
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Solidarity. A Book From Commonwork : A Resource and Strategy Project for Globalization From
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Organization and Corporate Rule. Monroe, Maine, USA : Common Courage Press
Richard Day, 2005 - Gramsci is Dead : Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements. London :
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Jackie Smith, Christopher Chase-Dunn, Donatella Della Porta, and ors, 2007 Global Democracy and
the World Social Forums. Boulder, CO : Paradigm Publishers
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Later’, on The Indypendent dt December 5 2011, @
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Zapatistas’, @
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Notes :
This essay was first published on Infoshop News, Anarchist Opinion, October 12 2007 Ed : My thanks to the author for his
prompt agreement to my request for permission to include this essay in this collection.
Ed : When reading this essay, keep in mind that the original version was published in October 2007, a time
when as he discusses - the ‘global justice and solidarity movement’ of the early 2000s seemed to be in decline
/ dormant, and three years and more before Tahrir Square irrupted, and four years before Occupy Wall Street
(with which, incidentally, the author was closely involved); and / but which, it could well be said, this essay looks
ahead to….
Ed : For those not familiar with this history and which is a fascinating history, and useful also for ‘reading’ this
essay (and indeed, this book) -, the following might be useful : Bandy and Smith, eds, 2004; Beaudet, Canet,
and Massicotte, eds, 2010; Big Noise Films and ors, November-December 1999; Brecher, Costello, and Smith,
2000; Danaher and Burbach, eds, 2000; Day 2005; Maeckelbergh 2009; Martinez, March 2000; Mertes, ed,
2004; Notes From Nowhere, eds, 2003; Solnit, December 2011; Solnit, January 2014; and : Tarrow 2005.
Ed : I as editor have added in all these references, and accept responsibility for the choices. Consistent with the
objectives of this book itself, I have done so to make this provocative essay more accessible to readers who are
less familiar with things such as “the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement”, and more generally, to the more recent
history of world movement.