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Author: IPE


You can’t understand where you’re going to without knowing where you’re coming from…

Adam Smith’s theory of social evolution = the greatest intellectual achievement of the 18th century Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment.

140,000 years ago: hunter-gatherer tribes;
12,000 years ago: agricultural villages;
4,000 years ago: market towns;
300 years ago: capitalist cities.

The duration of each successive stage of human civilisation has been shorter than its predecessor. The distinctive features of capitalism are rapid economic growth and accelerating technological innovation. The Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass: running fast to stay still. Driving forces for the emergence of the next stage of growth = social and ecological limitations of global neo-liberal capitalism: poverty, boredom, stress, insecurity, pollution and climate change. Evolutionary theory = promise of better future.

Three centuries of the grand narratives of history explained:

• Smith’s 1776 liberal original: hunting -> herding -> agriculture -> commerce.
• Friedrich List’s 1830s nationalist version: nomadic wandering -> agricultural settlements -> liberal capitalism -> state industrialism.
• Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ 1848 socialist remix: tribalism -> feudalism -> liberalism -> democracy -> communism.
• Rudolf Hilferding’s 1910s update: liberal capitalism -> organised capitalism -> proletarian communism.
• John Maynard Keynes’ 1920s mandarin mix: feudalism -> free markets -> bureaucratic regulation.
• Joseph Stalin’s 1930s murderous version: monarchy -> totalitarianism -> industrialisation -> utopia.
• Walt Rostow’s 1950s CIA mix: traditional society -> “take-off” -> industrial society -> mass consumption society.
• Marshall McLuhan’s technological determinist version: oral culture of religious communities -> print culture of industrialised nation states -> Net culture of the global village.
• Daniel Bell’s 1970s computerised update: traditional society -> industrial society -> post-industrial society.
• George Gilder’s 1980s Silicon Valley version: Fordist big business and big government -> post-Fordist small firms and deregulated markets.
• Wired magazine’s 1990s dotcom hype: Wild West pioneers -> hippie radicals -> Net entrepreneurs.

The Establishment orthodoxy: “there is no alternative” to the Washington Consensus, privatisation, deregulation, welfare cuts, anti-union laws and the American way. Ideological crisis of the Left: 1970s disillusionment with Third World revolutions -> 1980s post-modernist pessimism -> 1989-91 implosion of Russian Communism -> 1990s Third Way, Clintonomics and the Californian Ideology. Neo-liberal globalisation = culmination of grand narrative of human progress: the digerati, evolutionary biology and post-humans.

Forward into the past: 2001 dotcom bubble bursts -> 9/11 Al-Qa’ida attacks v. USA -> 2002 invasion of Afghanistan -> 2003 invasion of Iraq -> neo-con dream of perpetual confrontation v. jihadist enemy. War on Terror as new Cold War: political repression, imperialist adventures, subservient satellites, military Keynesianism and cultural conformity. Neo-con boosters and leftie opponents believed that Iraq war = refighting the American-Vietnamese war. Hollywood geopolitics: Osama Bin Laden as evil mastermind in mountain hideout and Tony Blair as loyal sidekick with posh accent.

“Sir? Do we get to win this time?” Sylvester Stallone in Rambo 2 (1985).

1st January 1994: Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico v. NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement between USA, Canada and Mexico) = symbol of the end of the End of History. EZLN as revival of old Left: revolutionary intellectuals, rural guerrillas and armed struggle -> EZLN as pioneer of new Left: Subcomandante Marcos, base communities and Zapatista website. Escaping from the Cold War zero-sum game: Chiapas rebellion = hypermodern mash-up of Cuba and California.

Learning the painful lessons of the previous generation: Bolivia, Uruguay, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Peru. Chiapas uprising = military actions -> media coverage -> international solidarity -> political negotiations -> social experiments -> global alliance v. neo-liberal capitalism. Local difficulties in the South: land ownership, elite violence and endemic poverty -> world problems also afflicting the North: neo-liberal restructuring, crony capitalism and US imperialism. Rand Corporation’s dire warning: reemergence of old commie enemy in new hi-tech form. Pop icons of the funky revolution: Che Guevara = 1960s intransigent Leninism -> Subcomandante Marcos = 2000s poetic pragmatism.

John Holloway and Eloina Pelaez, Zapatista!: reinventing the revolution in Mexico (1998).
David Ronfeldt, John Arquilla, Graham Fuller, Melissa Fuller, The Zapatista “Social Netwar” in Mexico (1996).

‘The Zapatista Army of National Liberation speaks to all individuals, groups, collectives, movements, social, civic and political organizations, neighborhood associations, cooperatives, all the lefts known and to be known; non-governmental organizations, groups in solidarity with struggles of the world people, bands, tribes, intellectuals, indigenous people, students, musicians, workers, artists, teachers, peasants, cultural groups, youth movements, alternative communication media, ecologists, tenants, lesbians, homosexuals, feminists, pacifists.’ EZLN, 1st Declaration of Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and against Neo-liberalism (1996).

Zapatismo in the North = romantic fantasies: guerrilla war, rural primitivism and revolutionary tourism v. political inspiration: mass participation, Net activism and international solidarity. Learning the painful lessons of the previous generation: Maoism, anarchism and Trotskyism -> defeat and disillusionment -> post-modernism, neo-liberalism and managerialism. The 1990s revival of the 1960s New Left: direct action, tactical media and single issue campaigns v. corporate crimes and state repression. 1994 Chiapas uprising v. NAFTA -> 1999 Battle of Seattle v. WTO -> 2001 1st World Social Forum in Porte Alegre, Brazil v. Washington Consensus -> Global Justice movement = dialogue of North & South; workers & peasants; and reds & greens. Key divisions within alter-globalisation: development v. ecology; protest v. policy; intellectuals v. activists; and accountability v. spontaneity. 21st century socialism: Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela -> ‘pink tide’ governments in Latin America -> regional political and economic cooperation. The 2002-6 waxing and waning of the European Social Forums: ATTAC, Black Block anarchists, Trotskyist sects and Rifondazione Communista. Riots of disaffected youth: 2001 Genova -> -> 2007 Copenhagen -> 2008 Athens. Top achievements of the Global Justice movement: ideological pluralism, media attention and political optimism. 2003 international protests against the US invasion of Iraq: mass critical intelligence of demonstrators overwhelms ideological dogmatism of left sects. Open source software = prototype of open source politics.

John Barker, Frankenstein and the Chickenhawks (2003).

Seductive message of best selling alter-globalisation theory books: specific local struggles of social movements -> common global struggle of the new subject of history: the Multitude. The 1990s dotcom bubble as revolutionary politics: Fordism = nation states, factory proletariat and parliamentary reformism -> Post-Fordism = world empire, knowledge workers and community activism. Temporary Autonomous Zones: squatting, hacking, fanzines, festivals, cafes, raves and rioting = subversive premonitions of the new society in the present. Marxism-McLuhanism: the technological prophecy of the inevitable victory of the global multitude v. multinational capital.

Toni Negri and Michael Hardt, Empire (2000).
Naomi Klein, No Logo (2000).
Hakim Bey, T.A.Z. (1991).

‘The 1960s New Left might have lost the economic argument, but the Hippies had won the cultural war.’ Richard Barbrook, The Class of the New (2006).

Cognitive capitalism: DIY culture, alternative media, leftfield theories and participatory media = unpaid pioneers of new commercial products. Follow the free and self-managed exploitation = post-Fordist business strategy for cutting edge firms. The contradictions of copyright: intellectual property as essential and anachronistic within the knowledge economy. The antinomies of precarious labour: bohemian lifestyles as both neo-liberal exploitation and communist emancipation.

Financial and ecological crises in 2000s = political opportunity to question the dominant economic paradigm. Rethinking the grand narrative of history: sustainable development = escape from poverty in the South -> social liberation = escape from alienation in the North. Adam Smith’s 18th century organisers of collective labour = market/commodity and factory/orders -> 21st century emergence of new model = network/gifts. Is it now possible for humanity to realise the modernist dream of moving from realm of necessity into realm of freedom?

Within this MySpace version of the electronic agora, cybernetic communism was mainstream and unexceptional. What had once been a revolutionary dream was now an enjoyable part of everyday life.