We Plebeians

Brian Holmes February 2003

But for a few lone wolves, the Aristocrats are weary, recalcitrant, suspicious. Dissension has broken out within the very ranks of the Monarchy. And the eternal muttering of the Plebe has swollen to a tremendous roar. Such is the world situation in the tripartite terms of Empire.

Still reeling from the largest deflationary shock and the worst overcapacity crisis since 1929, the great corporate Houses - excepting the oil and defense industries - see nothing to be gained from unleashing the dogs of war. After a bullish exile to New York they returned to Davos last month on their knees, begging to regain our "trust." The world military Powers, after swearing fealty to the United States in the wake of September 11, are now facing the inherent contradictions of their regional interests once again; thus the dissension within the two primary courts of the transnational police, the United Nations and NATO. And to make matters worse from these two viewpoints, the unprecedented success of the February 15 demonstrations finally renders it impossible to ignore the presence of a new actor on the world stage: transnational civil society, or better, the Multitudes.

Beyond the ongoing collapse of globalized finance, which has hardly wreaked the last of its effects, two things are of compelling interest. The first is the continuing, seemingly unstoppable rise in the self-organizational powers of the Plebe. Since the first Day of Global Action not even five years ago, in May of 1998 - which seemed astounding, because 150,000 people demonstrated in Hyderabad, 50,000 in Brasilia, and a few thousand in Geneva, all against the WTO - we have now reached a situation where tens of millions can summon themselves simultaneously into the streets, and into the screens of the global media. The February 15 preemptive strikes against the war were "called for" by the movement of the Social Forums. But what are the Social Forums, if not a collective name, a collective phantom - the Luther Blissett of world politics? Anyone can constitute a forum, and no one can speak in their name; the social forums are tools which the movements have given themselves, vectors we have invoked from the historical latencies of solidarity, critique and rebellion. The strength of the new social movements is to go beyond both the twentieth-century form of the political party and its mass megaphones: radio and TV. The February 15 protests were organized through every imaginable network of tactical media, from word of mouth and intimate dreams to the internet. And despite all the chaos, despite the "lack" of representation, it is overwhelmingly obvious that these movements speak the truth, which has become too simple to refuse: intolerable war, intolerable inequality.

There will be more to this story, it's sure: there will be political crises brought on by this new self-organizing force, and severe organic crises within the movements themselves, as soon as the emerging counterpowers begin to divide, to adopt positions of practical power, forcing us to deal with the differences between what Miguel Benasayag would call a "situation" of critique and a "situation" of management. There are no guarantees whatsoever as to how a post-party politics might work, nor even as to how it might survive in a hostile world. But setting that aside for the moment, let us look rather at the shorter term, at the second question of compelling interest in this ugly present situation. Will the Imperial Monarchy survive this crisis? By that I mean: Will the seemingly rational tendency to accompany the globalization of capital through the construction of a legitimating legal and military governance of the world succeed in weathering the irrational outburst of aggression and regional self-interest currently being spat out by the ruling oligarchy of the United States?

Of course, the Europeans have now "resolved" their crisis within NATO; of course they have now presented a "united" front for continuing negotiations within the framework of the UN. This kind of consensus is the European credo, the bare minimum of European existence, it will always be obtained between the leaders. And one can be sure it will be obtained in a way that leaves an open door to cooperation with the United States, and to military cooperation above all - the monarchical function par excellence. As much as the two historical founders of Europe, France and Germany, wish philosophically to institute a continental power that can achieve some economic and political autonomy, still they all want desperately to maintain the reality of a global military policy, as a bulwark against the increasingly real possibility of global chaos. This too is part of the wider consensus. But can this common front of the political classes be held, in electoral terms, when approximately 80 percent of populations throughout Europe are opposed to the imminent specter of war? In other words: Will the EU be forced by its people into creating a division within the Occidental heart of Empire?

To be sure, those 80 percent are opposed to a war outside the UN framework; and despite Chirac's posturing and Schroeder's pollling strategies, the miserable probability is that the European leaders will finally bow to US pressure from within the UN, pushed on by the imperative to maintain the monarchical courts of transnational military cooperation. After all (propaganda is when you repeat) 80 percent are opposed to a conflict *outside* the UN framework....

But what if the advance information proves correct: what if the onslaught in Iraq will be inaugurated by what military strategist Harlan Ullman calls the principle of "Shock and Awe," whereby the "Allies" launch up to 800 cruise missiles in two days - more than all that fell in the forty days of the first Gulf War? This is a strategy for the massacres of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of Guernica and Dresden, in our time, for no justifiable reason. Peter Turnley's photographs from the Mile of Death during the last Gulf War already show what this can mean. This is not a "just war." The Texas Crown is opening the door to hell on earth.

What we plebeians must envision is a general strike on a world scale, if it comes to such a day. An urban strike, a blockage of our cities, like the piqueteros in Argentina, but everywhere. We no longer need to wait for the unions, we no longer need to wait for the political parties, their members will be ahead of them, in the streets. Only a credible threat from below can stave off the treachery of our so-called leaders. We must prepare with every possible form of communication, in whispers that become a roar.

Prepare for what? A total stoppage of all the world's cities in the event of war: an exodus from hell on earth, reasonable, deliberate, peaceful and unbending. We plebeians can break the power that calls for a world of war.

Brian Holmes

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