Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Friday, October 08, 2004

Two Logics of Anti-Capitalism - Verticals and Horizontals (pre-publication version) - with Simon Tormey

Chapter for Confronting Globalisation

Two Logics of Transformative Politics

At the time of writing there is considerable excitement in the UK over the hosting of the European Social Forum which is due to take place in October 2004. The ‘social forum process’ is one of the most significant features of the contemporary “movement for global justice” (MGJ) also known as the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement, the ‘anti-globalisation’ or ‘alter-globalisation’ movement, among a host of other possible labels. In particular the social forum process has allowed the MGJ to present itself not merely as a negation of something, namely neoliberal capitalism, but as the potential site for something positive. The slogan of the movement is after all ‘Another world is possible’ and thus ‘possibility’ is what ostensibly lies at the core of the social forums themselves. The MGJ has in this sense moved from a protest phase (Seattle, Prague, Genoa etc) to a phase of consolidation and exploration of the terms and conditions of ‘possibility’ itself. While the movement has established itself on the basis of “one no, many yeses”, institutional forms such as the Social Forums were conceived so as to provide a basis for convergence and encounters between different segments in the movement, enabling more effective action and interaction.
So far so good. What, however, is also apparent is the fraught nature of the process itself. In the UK the history of the planning and organising for the ESF has been beset with difficulty since the moment when it was proposed to bring the ESF to London. There have been regular accusations of closed and/or undemocratic practices, a lack of responsiveness by the organising committees to the needs of a variety of groups, the ghettoisation of issues and groups to the fringes of the process, the monopolisation of planning by a small number of interests, particularly those represented by some of the larger Trotskyite groupings, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Socialist Action which in turn is supported by Mayor Ken Livingstone’s office. These are highly centralised organisations; the SWP for example uses what it claims to be a classically “democratic centralist” model which in fact amounts to bureaucratic control by the Central Committee through a rigid and centrally imposed cadre structure. Unions and NGOs who also have a financial ‘interest’ in the ESF have also flexed their muscles in keeping the ‘wilder’ demands of smaller, unofficial and DIY groupings at bay. In some respects this is unsurprising, because centralised organisations are themselves threatened by the proliferation of grassroots initiatives which emerge outside their control. They wish to remain within the sphere of legitimate dissent established by the powerful, so as to retain or gain a place at the official bargaining table, and do not want this incorporated position to be threatened by association with small, direct-action-oriented groups associated in mainstream discourse with disruption and disorder.
In response, some of the smaller groups have formed themselves into what could be termed an affinity group called the ‘horizontals’. They don’t like the antics of the larger players and are determined to keep the libertarian, anarchic (if not ‘anarchist’) and decentralised feel of the movement alive within the ESF process itself. The friction between the horizontals and the ‘verticals’ - which is to conventional political structures - is such that it seems likely that as at Paris many groups will take themselves ‘off’, organising parallel sessions and gatherings outside the official ESF itself.
From the ‘outside’ such battles might have a tediously familiar quality to them. Bickering and posturing between groups is after all part of the history of the left, and part of the reason as some would see it of its ineffectiveness as a political force. What are we witnessing is merely part of the story of the auto-flagellation of progressive forces and their consequent consignment to the political wilderness. Whilst it is obviously tempting to endorse this reading, there is we think a different possible interpretation of events here, and also of the possible outcomes that derive from it. Looked at more closely what is at stake is less ideological, which is the basis of the sectarianisms of the past, as organisational. What is evident to us is that the key struggle is less one concerning the goals and aims of the movement than over how the movement is to pursue ‘another world(s)’. Our suggestion is that it is in this battle over how individuals, visions and groupings interrelate to each other that is the key to the future of the movement, as opposed to what is on the ideological agenda. This is, of course, a “how” which is also a “what”, because in terms of organisational forms, the medium is as often as not the message: when an organisation such as the Bolsheviks pursues decentralising goals by centralising means, it is the means rather than the goals which determine the political outcomes. What we have been witnessing at the micro-political level within the organisation of the London ESF is a micro-image of the larger struggle over the terms and conditions of activist combination and recombination. Yet beyond that is the question of the very politics of social movements and of anti-capitalism more generally. A superficial observer is likely to notice only the most spectacular manifestations of social movements, but their driving force typically operates below the surface, in the un-newsworthy construction of social networks and ways of relating to others which operate in everyday life and through a variety of localised and network-based informal structures.
The significance of this otherwise hidden and arcane struggle is real enough and becoming more so as such struggles multiply and remultiply, not only across social forums, but across the ‘nodal points’ of activist interactions. They amount to determining whether the object of such a movement is ‘another world’, another way of organising the world so that it is cleaner, more democratic, happier, more spiritual world (one might say, a new project of mastery, a new master-signifier, whether it be a signifier of democracy, justice, socialism or ecology), or whether the object(s) is/are to be multiple – other worlds (in defiance of all gods and masters, in an affirmation that, on an organisational level, “God is dead”, and that there can be no master-signifier which adequately expresses the totality of the multitude of resistances, voices and possible worlds). Is the object of a transformative politics to be coalescence around an alternative system of governance, logic of organisation, underpinning axiomatic to that of neoliberal capitalism? Or is it to be the dissolution of systems, logics, axiomatics? Is the object to be creation of an apparatus of power that can challenge the existing elite rule in the name of something better? Or is to be the explosion of apparatuses leading to worlds beyond the logic of apparatuses of power, or coalescence, of equivalence? But this is getting ahead of ourselves. It is to give the conclusion before setting out the rationale driving the conclusion. How we need to know can logics of organisation have such a dramatic effect on what kind of world is created - or not?
The hypothesis of this paper – if it were not already apparent – is that a horizontal or perhaps a transversal logic is appropriate as a basis for thinking about how the MGJ can and should develop. This is because it is only horizontal perspectives that recognise the empirical reality of the movement: that it is diverse, multiple and heterogeneous both in terms of the kinds of organisation involved and in terms of the interests and visions that they possess. A more banal way of putting the same point is that the MGJ is a ‘movement of movements’ and will remain so as long as pluralism and diversity are valued rather than undermined by the actions of those wishing to engineer a coalescence of vision ‘from above’. The typical form of organisation of the mass protests seen in many cities over the last few years is based on affinity-groups and differently coded “blocs”, constructed precisely so as to enable diverse and even incommensurable groups to express themselves. In Quebec, for instance, there were three main marches (red, yellow and green), coded according to the degree of risk participants were willing and able to take; in Prague, the carnivalesque pink/silver march stood out from the more traditional socialist and anarchist contingents and the march led by the White Overall Movement. The splitting of the movement into blocs enables convergence even across seemingly insurmountable divides such as those of confrontational/non-confrontational, socialist/anarchist and serious/carnivalesque. Indeed, the most successful demonstrations have been precisely those where the tolerance for different blocs is taken most seriously. Where attempts are made to exclude some groups or to impose an overall strategy, the result is not greater unity but greater fragmentation, as the excluded groups battle for a place in ways which weaken rather than strengthen other groups. This is a clear demonstration of the superiority of rhizomatic forms of organisation over arborescent structures which necessarily exclude, and which therefore necessitate “returns of the repressed”.
On the other hand what is also apparent is that left thought and practice is infused with the ‘necessity’ for building parties, capturing power, enacting transitions and realising particular visions of ‘another world’, conceived as a project of mastery and as the construction of a new state (even if, as in some forms of classical anarchism, the new “state” is encoded as a non-state, as a commune or community which goes against “the state”). Even a work of great theoretical sophistication such as Empire that tangibly makes a break from a variety of orthodoxies manifests the verticalist ambition to overcome diversity and plurality in the name of a ‘counter-empire’. One could proliferate examples of attempts to reterritorialise the diverse lines traversed by the movement, from the new internationals dreamt up by various Marxist groupuscles to the insistence of the editorial group of Le Monde Diplomatique on the need for a political convergence, and from the communiques issued by the White Overalls “on behalf of the movement” to Slavoj Zizek’s insistence on the need for the diversity of the present movement to be crushed beneath a “new terror”. Such positions are symptomatic of a left modernist discourse that is increasingly out of step with practice of transformative politics, even in its most “leftist” and “modernist” forms (such as the proliferation of Marxist groupuscles which appear more like a sea of rhizomes than a “revolutionary party”, for all the pretences of each little rhizome to the status of master-signifier and holder of the “true” meaning of Marxism). In so far as anything concrete can be ascribed to such an under-theorised category as ‘horizontality’, as we see it such a position entails reversing the idea of coalescence around a pole of resistance towards the multiplication of resistances in the plural, multiplicities of projects, multiplicities of levels of engagement, of projects and visions. Instead of seeing plurality and even incommensurability as a threat to the political coherence of the new movements, we should see it as an opening, a possibility for a new kind of politics which not only challenges the oppressive and impositional logic of the existing social system, but which also challenges the “necessity” of any system of domination.
On the other hand we are happy to acknowledge that there is nothing particularly new in this position, as will become immediately apparent. It is certainly nothing to with ‘postmodernism’, as if such a position could itself be easily rendered or defined. It may, however, have something to do with what Agnes Heller has termed the ‘postmodern imagination’, which is to say with Lyotard, an incredulity towards metanarratives, towards redemptive normative schemas of the classic left modernist kind. As Heller herself makes clear such an imagination accompanies modernity, as opposed to coming after it – or as part of ‘posthistoire’. In this spirit this paper thus draws on a variety of classical as well as recent sources for thinking through the logic of ‘horizontal’ politics. These include the work of Max Stirner, Bakunin, Gramsci, Sartre, James Scott, Subcomandante Marcos, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. What we think is needed however, is a clear articulation of how the work of such thinkers can be used to illustrate the nature of the dilemmas and opportunities facing the MGJ.

The end of ideology and the question of organisation

Anyone who follows the politics of the MGJ will be under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task that confronts it in terms of developing a politics that is effective as well as noisy. Within the movement or better movement of movements there are many different kinds of grouping as well as many different visions of global justice. In terms of the kinds of movement, there are obviously huge numbers of political parties despite the fact that they are viewed with some suspicion by some activists (they were banned at the first World Social Forum, along with military or paramilitary groups). There are Marxist parties, green parties and more reformist or social democratic parties engaged with the process as well. There are activist groupings and networks such as People’s Global Action, Ya Basta and the Wombles. There are NGOs such as Greenpeace and Oxfam. There are religious groupings. There are single issue activist groupings such as those campaigning for the abolition of debt or the installation of clean water supplies. There are representatives from governments and trade unions. There are all manner of hybrid or ‘in-between’ groups such as ATTAC, which is itself an umbrella for a variety of radicalisms and activisms.
In terms of visions it almost goes without saying that the span of ideological and post-ideological conceptions of the world, of ethical positions, or fundamentalisms is equally impressive. There are liberal interventionists whose wish for a ‘compassionate’ or responsible globalisation with reformed institutions and more inclusive political practices. There are myriad social democratic visions involving varying accounts of global governance. There are all sorts of radical visions, some with roots in the far-flung past such as Marxism and others of less certain pedigree such as the primitivists, the immediatists and many other ‘isms’ besides. There are those such as the Zapatistas who repudiate the idea that any one conception of the world can encompass the complexity of life and who thus call ‘only’ for a world in which all worlds are possible – except the neoliberal world they are struggling so desperately to keep at bay. This is without question one of the most plural, diverse and heterogeneous political assemblages that can ever have been ‘gathered’ literally or metaphorically under one banner. Yet it is one that to date has managed to maintain a kind of unity – if only in negation. While specific groupings such as the World Social Forum and People’s Global Action have their own criteria of inclusion and exclusion, the incompletion of the representative function of any of these organisations, indeed their tendency towards non-representative modes of coming-together which do not foreclose the possibility of other encounters beyond their scope, prevent such criteria from forming into rigid boundaries. This openness has maintained the energy and openness of the movement in the context of its everyday expressions and the various major mobilisations – the logic of the ant-swarm, as Arquilla and Ronfeldt describe it.
On the other hand it is clear that there is a kind of impatience for the development of a concrete or effective oppositional force that would be able to confront global capitalism. This is a concern which is sharpening for various reasons, one of them being the increasing problems involved in organising major mobilisations in a context of escalating repression and where major events are often moved to locations (Qatar, Savannah, Kananaskis, Evian) which are inaccessible to protesters. This raises a “where now?” problem for those involved in the movement, and the party model proposes itself as an easy solution. For instance, Naomi Klein complained recently that the MGJ is stuck in a form of ‘serial protesting’, and Alex Callinicos of the SWP says it suffers from ‘movementism’, meaning that it is failing to develop into the full party form that can mobilise masses effectively behind the global justice message. The examples can be multiplied across the many individuals who have issued manifestos and programmes, to the groups and groupuscules who urge that we unite around the particular conception of the world that they hold to be valid. Here the origins of what ‘verticalism’ means as a political logic and as a model of effective politics. It is a politics on the necessity for the development of a programme, for the building of a party to win supporters for the programme and to capture power so as to put the programme into operation. Let us look at these elements in closer detail.
The programme outlines what it is broadly speaking that a movement or group stands for, what its vision is that it is trying to realise. The vision can be more or less ideologically based. It can be based on a rigorous methodologically sophisticated account of the nature of the world and the world to be created. This is the case for Marxist parties and for those with ready-made doctrines and philosophies that are awaiting implementation. When they are highly worked out they resemble something more fundamentalist, a doctrine that brooks no argument or reinterpretation – or very little. At the other extreme are groups with shared values or morals who seek to influence public policy in the direction of those values. Social democratic parties, for example, are rarely characterised by a particular vision so much as a desire to increase equality of opportunity and mitigate the damaging effects of the trade cycle. Some groups contain both kinds of ‘believer’. Notoriously green parties are often composed of fundis or those with clearly mapped notions of how the world should look, but also realos or those who are guided by green values, but lack the sense of certainty concerning the exact nature of the world to be created. A programme usually translates into a manifesto in which otherwise abstract, philosophical or ethical positions are mapped in terms of a readily digestible formula which will guide the party or group once in power. The object of the manifesto is to attract new members and also voters where the group is pursuing an electoral strategy. The manifesto or programme functions as an ideological centre or core, a kind of trunk out of which the various subdivisions of the movement are assumed to grow, and to which in the last instance they all return.
Beyond that the objective it to capture power in order to implement the vision or to reshape the environment in accordance with the shared values of the group. This idea is based on an image of power as a macrosocial resource which one can possess, rather than as a microsocial relation which, as Foucault puts it, “circulates” in social networks. There is thus a “centre” of power which can be occupied and which, once occupied, provides the power-holder with the basis for moulding society in a particular image. (It is also, of course, implicitly assumed that such a “centre” should exist, since otherwise the problem would be one of its elimination, not its seizure). Once in power the object is the maintenance of power to ensure that the programme is realised and that rival visions are held at bay. This is not only the case for Leninists, but for political parties of all kinds. This is what political parties are for. The rationale of radical green parties is the same as conservative parties: what unites them is a shared conception of political effectivity that stems from the possession of a particular conception of the world. Whether that ‘world’ is radically green or radically neoliberal is irrelevant from the point of view of the criterion of ‘effectiveness’. Effectiveness means capturing (macro-)power, and capturing power means mobilising a majority of people behind the party whether through the device of election, providing access to parliament as the centre of power, or through the device of a revolutionary seizure directed at the supposed centres of power however defined (the stock exchange, the central bank, the media HQ, the Winter Palace…).
At the same time parties can be more or less democratic in the manner by which they seek to realise their ideals. In this particular respect there is a considerable difference between, say, the greens and many conservative parties. The former have gone to considerable sometimes even ‘absurd’ lengths to engage their own membership, hold leaderships to account, debate the programme and manifesto. The UK Conservative Party by contrast only recently introduced elections for the party leader. No doubt an ‘anti-capitalist party’ or movement would correspond more closely to the model of the greens. It would have numerous spokespersons, occasions for discussion of the programme, a heavily federated structure with the full paraphernalia of democratically accountable political institutions. But it should be noted that this structure would still involve a centre and a trunk, however democratic the means by which it is established. It would involve some kind of party discipline whereby the minority, rather than forming their own “bloc” or “affinity group”, would accept the victory of the majority and alienate themselves from their own agenda. It would involve a singular programme, refusal of which would mean exclusion from the movement and the “world” it is to create. It would, also, be necessarily a movement of the Spectacle, in the Situationist sense. Its focus would be outside everyday life, on the “centre” of power, and would direct the energies of the movement outside of the micropolitics of everyday relations, into struggles to win or seize this centre.
So in terms of the effectiveness or otherwise of political action we can see clearly the teleological character of vertical political organisations. As the political sociologist Robert Michels was to note at the start of the last century, it is this teleological character, the fact that there is a clear end point or vision to be reached, that pushes parties and movements in an ‘oligarchical’ direction. As he made clear it is easier to effect a ‘coalescence’ where there are fewer people involved, just as it is ‘easier’ to come to a decision the fewer people are involved in making it. It is easier to pursue power if the lines of power and accountability are ‘clear’ with a single leader able to project the message of the party without contradiction or mixed messages occluding the minds of potential supporters or voters. It is easier to maintain power where decision-making is confined to a small numbers of officials. In this sense the quest for ‘effectiveness’ makes desirable, and under certain conditions, necessitates the elaboration of vertical political structures. These are such well-established patterns of political behaviour that we barely need to look for empirical case studies to back the argument that verticalism is intrinsically exclusionary: the more ideas, people, variables are excluded the more effective vertical politics becomes. Such a pattern of behaviour lies behind the well-documented process of ‘presidentialisation’ in cabinet systems of government; in the collapse of internal democracy and accountability in political parties – including of course Leninist parties; in the evolution of elaborate mechanisms of ‘spin’ and media-friendliness that are the prerequisites for success in contemporary electoral systems. This is no trivial matter. Real-world examples abound, from the de-radicalization of the German Greens and their evolution towards complicity in NATO imperialism and EU enlargement, to the recent reversion of the Brazilian Workers’ Party to authoritarian centralism and the expulsion of activists critical of President Lula’s increasingly pro-neoliberal line.
These problems can also be recounted in the context of protest mobilisations. What Deleuze and Guattari term the “arborescent” model remains the dominant means whereby people struggle for social change, yet its effects are insidious. The British anti-war movement was dominated by a group, Stop the War, which functioned inclusively at the level of mass activity such as participation in demonstrations, but which was organised on a top-down basis, with the leadership determining the timing and nature of its activities. Thus, one finds this movement directed almost solely into repeated marches around central London, and the leadership went out of their way to prevent direct action from taking place during or in relation to such demonstrations. Despite tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands demonstrating against George Bush, for instance, the presence of the US leader was never challenged to the same degree that Greek protesters were earlier able to challenge the presence of Bill Clinton on Greek soil. It was no coincidence that the most effective actions against the Iraq war in Britain, such as the successful mass entry into RAF Fairford during the build-up to war (and also elsewhere, as with the campaigns against the “Death Trains” in Italy), were organised by small groups largely unconnected to the Stop the War coalition. Yet such efforts were mostly smashed by the police, because the bulk of the numbers of protesters were drawn into traditionally organised activities which proved ineffectual and which never seriously threatened to derail the war effort. In the context of this failure, it is necessary to re-examine dominant prejudices in favour of political models based on hierarchic, formal and arborescent structures.

The representative claim
What becomes evident in summarising the logic of verticalist politics is the centrality of representation to the formation of political effectiveness. This begins with the formulation of the programme or manifesto which is to ‘represent’ the best interests of ordinary people, or of the majority. To articulate their needs and wants and to articulate them in ways that ordinary people find difficult if not impossible to do themselves (and thus to create a division between representers and represented which reproduces alienation and the society of the spectacle). Tony Blair once claimed that New Labour was ‘the official ideology of the British people’ thus articulating in stark terms what is at stake: the more people one can claim to represent, the more legitimate the claim on power. Representing the universal - or on the context of national politics, the nation – is the ultimate goal of verticalist conceptions of politics. That such a claim is without empirical foundation does not matter. What is key is the hegemonic action of asserting that a given programme stands for what ‘everyone’ wants. But this is, of course, a recipe for social exclusion, as the representative relationship is often defined tautologically; someone who does not support the programme or the party is interpellated by it as therefore outside the “nation”, the “people”, the “class”, the majority. What if not ‘everyone’ recognises themselves or their needs in the manifesto or programme?
Such a question poses the classic dilemma of political leadership. The job of the leader is to lead not to follow. It is to remain consistent to the truth of the vision or doctrine and if this means educating people to understand their own beliefs and interests. Here we can refer to the time-honoured formula of orthodox Marxism as formulated by authors such as Lukacs and Althusser, positing a ‘distinction’ between consciousness in itself and consciousness for itself, one derived from Marx’s own description of the composition of classes in nineteenth century France. The class/people/nation might not know what it needs or wants, hence the requirement for the party to articulate those needs and wants for the class, to be the guardian or receptacle for its historical “interests”. Of course Lenin’s gesture in What is to be Done? is regarded as the basis for ‘vanguardism’ and beyond that of ‘substitutionism’. Vanguardism is the action of leading the class to where it should be going as opposed to where it might actually be going. Substitutionism is what happens when the empirically existing class is by-passed or displaced discursively by the party, so that whatever is in the interests of the party is read across as being in the interests of the class or people more generally. It was Gramsci’s great insight in his account of hegemony to assert that these operations are, once again, not Leninist, but characteristics of the ‘war of position’ that characterises politics under modern conditions, for which read vertical politics. Vanguardism and substitutionism are not in this sense mechanisms that pertain only to radical political forces, but any party or movement that is seeking power. It is more generally a function of what might be termed the representative claim. This leads to the paradoxical but by no means false conclusion that Blairism, conservatism and social democracy are variants of the same logic of substitution which generated the Stalinist purges. As Hobbes recognised, to represent someone is to ‘transfer’ power from that person to someone else – to the Leviathan in his normative schema. It is to disarm the individual –literally in the case of Leviathan so that order and authority can be maintained – and to set up an alienated other as the site of power. It is the state or representatives of the state who act and are sovereign not the people. It is for this reason that representation has long been recognised as a mechanism of control and exclusion, and thus for elite rule. Interestingly, liberal thought has never hidden from the fact, and indeed celebrates as the basis of order and rationality. Hobbes was unembarrassed about asserting that his absolutist dictatorship was still ‘representative’ of the people, even whilst it denied any right of redress or accountability. J. S. Mill asserted that representation was needed not in order that people may govern, but that as he put it ‘they not be misgoverned’. Even contemporary liberals such as Rawls are happy to acknowledge the vital role that representation and vertical structures have in maintaining a particular kind of rationality in political life. Clearly the point of representation is not to empower people but to divest them of power so that it may be used for rational, beneficial or enlightened ends.
Another paradox of representation is that the power of the representative can only be the inverted or reconfigured or articulated power of the represented – a view expressed in Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of the reactive entrapment of desire in “microfascisms”, and by autonomist Marxism in the image of capital as the alienated expression of workers’ own labour(-power). By constructing a Leviathan, one is exerting one’s own power and one’s libidinal energies and capacities for action, but one is doing so in a way which negates them, which denies that they are one’s own or that they are properties of micropolitics of social groups and of desires, and which instead insists that they are “really” the agency of the nonexistent big Other – the leviathan, the state, the party, the bosses. Of course in practice this feeds into the strength of actually-existing others, which is to say, of those who seek mastery. Against the self-positing mastery of free subjectivity, there rises up a vampiric mastery which can exist only through the constant self-flagellation of the “represented”, the alienated, the enslaved.
Organisational hierarchy is a disaster for movements of resistance for a number of reasons. Firstly, it concentrates power in the hands of an elite who are able to use the movement to their own advantage, should a division emerge between themselves and the mass. Capitalism is well-structured to allow the co-option of such elites through their incorporation into structures such as parliamentary politics and the media “celebrity” circuit. This has happened even to the German Green Party, who went out of their way to avoid such results through methods such as rotating leadership positions. In the last election, their main posters featured the face of Joschka Fischer, as if this coopted ex-militant is the party personified.
Secondly, organisations are open to infiltration, precisely because of their centralisation. If the centre of an organisation can be compromised or undermined, the entire organisation can be weakened throughout its structure. A good example is the Black Panther Party, which collapsed in large part because the FBI was able to assassinate, discredit or otherwise eliminate its core leadership. Despite the fact that the Panthers were a grassroots organisation with a social basis in the ghettoes, they were open to such tactics because of their adoption of an arborescent structure. Similar points could be made about the Bolshevik Party in Russia, not only in relation to its frequently compromised pre-revolutionary situation (such as an occasion when a police agent was able to acquire entire membership lists from the Party Secretariat), but also in relation to the alleged “betrayal” by Stalin. Whether one puts this down to a project inherent in Leninism or to a takeover by a Bonapartist faction after the revolution, it is clear that it was possible only because of the militaristic, centralised structure of the party itself.
Thirdly, arborescent organisation tends to draw activities away from the grassroots base and into a combination of regular, formalised meetings, lobbying within the political system and set-piece actions arranged by the central leadership. Piven and Cloward clearly demonstrate this argument in relation to a number of social movements, showing how trade unions, civil rights protesters and unemployed groups, among others, were misled by the fallacy of hierarchic organisation into tactics which weakened their ability to capitalise on their necessarily located and territorial potentials. If the Bolsheviks seem like a counterexample, it should be remembered that the bulk of the party hierarchy opposed Lenin’s April Theses, that Lenin himself failed to foresee or take advantage of the June insurrection and that the party leadership consistently overestimated the party’s popularity in the countryside. Instead of the desires of the oppressed feeding into social forms which tend towards their emancipation, these desires are channelled into a new master-signifier which then redirects the energies of activism as it sees fit. Thus, the energies subsumed in the movement, instead of being released and freed in emancipatory activity, become trapped in their own image, as an element in the Spectacle.
Furthermore, organisations tend towards crude and clumsy tactics. Disavowing fragmentation, they make it difficult for those with different tactical preferences or different social positions to work together. Despite the frequently cited image of people functioning harmoniously as cogs in a whole, organisations are usually torn apart with infighting and unable to extend their support-base. If disagreements occur, there are only two possibilities: the subsumption of the disagreement under a repressively-constructed illusion of consensus, or the fracturing of the organisation itself. It is no coincidence that the most effective anti-capitalist events are often those where diverse tendencies are able to form separate spaces, without being expected to subordinate themselves to overarching structures. In addition, it should be realised that the pressures driving an organisation in cases of disagreement will be those either of an elite or a majority. In the former case, one has a simple return to direct hierarchy, and in the latter, the appeal of the spectacle and the uneven development of oppositional ideas will guarantee that it is the most conservative strands which normally triumph. Deleuze and Guattari and right that pressures for emancipation are necessarily minoritarian, because majorities are compared to what Margaret Thornton terms “Benchmark Man”, an image of social normality.
Perhaps most importantly, the traditional organisational model fails to alter the relationship between the spectacle and everyday life, or between desire and social production. Actual activities are still channelled into forms governed by their own image, rather than the image altering in proportion to the actual and immediate. Similarly, desires are sublimated into the production of a new Master-Signifier which one seeks to advance in alterity, rather than operating in ways which problematise the primacy of social production and which tend to reverse the dominant ordering by making social production a function of the production of flows of desire. Since activists do not overcome their character-armouring, the “cops in their heads”, they are not able to construct social relations able to similarly restructure the world.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to the many repetitions of this flawed logic of organisation, an alternative which takes us beyond the repetition of the organisational Oedipus complex of the master-signifier as name of the father, and which opens instead onto difference. A logic of horizontal and anti-representational political action (already present in traditions such as Situationism, primitivism, immediatism, insurrectionism and autonomism, and in texts such as the brilliant essay, “The Anarchist Ethic in the Age of the Anti-Globalization Movement”) stems from the critique of representation both as a mechanism for the articulation of needs and preferences and as a basis for thinking about how other worlds might be thought about and created. This has different aspects but rotates around the idea of the alienating nature of essentialism and ‘fixity’ whether conceptual, philosophical or organisational (for instance, the critique of roles in the work of Vaneigem, of domestication in primitivism, of the Spectacle in Debord, of spooks in Stirner, of alienation into capital in autonomism, and so on). This in turn implies the need to provide a critique of the three elements of representation upon which a vertical politics relies: a) the idea of the programme as ‘representative’ of people’s needs and interests; b) the idea of the party as that which represents or embodies the revolutionary project and thus political rationality; and c) the idea of the state (or transitionary authority, as embodiment of macro-power) as the representative of the collective post-capitalist project.

a) switch the ‘the programme’ off
Traditionally, political theory has equated to the search for some essential definition of humanity’s needs, interests or essence. Having found such a notion a programme can then be constructed that promises to restore or enshrine the particular notion to the self or class or nation. As we noted above a manifesto is the translation of the programme into readily digestible terms for electoral purposes or for purposes of mobilising individuals in some other way to support the cause. To take the example of the early Marx, the idea of communism is a direct response to the alienation Marx saw in capitalist relations, or wage labour. The species-essential character of labour is subordinated to the task of making a profit. Communism meant the restoration of labour and thus of ‘life’s prime want’ through socialisation of the means of production. The ‘essentialising’ of labour is thus an essential step towards privileging communism as a normative ideal and at the same time combating rival conceptions of how the world should look whether radical or conservative.
Stirner’s critique of Marx inaugurated ‘horizontalism’ in that he identified such a manoeuvre not as the liberation of “man” from the spooks that otherwise ensure our repression, but the erection of another spook (‘Communism’) that would in turn provide the basis for a new form of servitude. Stirner’s approach was instead to wage war on spooks, to encourage release from the perceived necessity of spooks. He insisted that individuals re-evaluate the terms and conditions of their attachment to projects and principles on an ‘egoistic’ basis. Thus is to say he wanted us to ‘own’ ourselves instead of being in thrall to something that lay outside of ourselves in ‘fixity’. His politics was thus similarly ‘egoistic’, rejecting revolution as an abstraction in favour or rebellion: the on-going and permanent war against the alienation of self from the ‘representatives’ of our own immediate desires. Stirner’s rebellion set the template for a war against programmes, against the fixity of revolutionary ideology more generally. Stirner’s critique of conceptual representation as a basis for thinking about the programme became a template, unwittingly perhaps, for later attempts to free emancipatory struggle from the tyranny of ideology. In the wake of 1968 a succession of theorists and movements stressed the necessity for ‘thinking for oneself’ instead of becoming enslaved to a perspective or world view lorded over by a theocratic caste of individuals whose task it was to maintain ‘the line’. The Situationists and Immediatists to name two groups are both insistent on the necessity to reject ‘ideology’ in favour of forms of action between those who saw through the spectacle. The text “The Revolutionary Pleasure of Thinking for Yourself”, for instance, posits a radical egoism as the very basis for a concern for others and for openness to difference, as ways of resisting the packaged-commodity model which above all demeans the self and destroys individual freedom. But the Stirnerian critique poses the question of what next? How does the gesture of rejecting the need for a programme translate into collective action? Is there life after the programme? The figure of “refusal” has become central to anti-capitalism, from Marcuse’s “refusal to grow up” to the autonomist “refusal of work” and the slogan “ya basta” or “zvakwana” – it is enough! But can there be affirmative politics on the basis of a movement without programmatic fixity? Can there, so to speak, be many yeses alongside the “no” to capitalism and domination?
To pose such a question is to ask whether or not it is possible to act except on the basis of a unifying ideology of the kind represented by orthodox Marxism and neoliberalism, an ideology that is which is able to give an account of social and historical development and thus of the nature of the better world to come. How can a movement cohere or be effective without an ideology to guide its actions? It is perhaps instructive here to return to Stirner, for his point was not that individuals should act alone or necessarily in their own interests. Rather they should act ‘egoistically’ that is on the basis that they do not surrender their own capacity or facility to review the terms and conditions of acting. The point about rebellion is that it is a continual process not a one-off ‘act’ of transcendence; but it is a process that emits of collusion and alliances. It is therefore a praxis of micro-power, a micro-politics of resistance in everyday life, which rejects the myriad spooks which construct the hyperreality of the Spectacle. Thus the union of egoists which Stirner termed the form of interaction made possible by the emergence of humanity from the world of spooks and phantoms is a contingent and negotiable coalition. Individuals could therefore act together on whatever basis they saw fit, as opposed to having to sign up for a vision of the world or a conception of a better place. Immediatism, as for instance in the work of Hakim Bey, enlarges this notion by stressing the way in which action can be motivated in a multiplicity of different ways and to different intensity and effect, better expressed in ontological terms as chaos and complexity rather than as order. Thus the terms and conditions of collective action should reflect the different desires and affects that motivate people even confronted by the same injustices or by the hope of constructing something similar. Difference of affect, of emotion, of perception elicits differences in terms of the way in which we perceive the need or otherwise to act. The issue then is less to aim at programmatic orthodoxy than how to provide linkages for the various ways in which people do and will rebel, resist and revolt. Indeed, for the Immediatists, the Situationists and their ilk (not to mention for Deleuze, Reich and Foucault), the liberation of desire itself from its entrapment in the shackles of the status quo, from its repressive reduction to packaged commodities (including the repressive tolerance of “opinions” as possessions of the self, the reduction of sexuality to heterosexual fixity and the repression of madness beneath neurotic conformity) becomes a central issue of political liberation. As Emma Goldman famously put it, if I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.
This in turn points to the desirability for the generation of spaces in which people can interact to mutual benefit - as opposed to, say, the annual congress mechanism of ‘democratic centralism’ designed to create a line to which everyone will adhere. It is clear for example that one of the reasons why many activists, particularly ‘horizontals’, have invested so heavily in the social forum process is that they see the forums as providing such spaces – spaces of discussion, of comparison, of shared pedagogies, of affinity and affiliation. What they are not geared up for is the generation of a party line, orthodoxy or programme. Of course there are frustrations here too. The social forums can have the appearance of political ineffectuality, of being a kind of Glastonbury experience where we leave behind the worries and cares of everyday life in search of a short lived ‘high’. But this in turn ramps up the expectations, whetting the appetite for more and greater highs, more creativity, more interactions of a non-instrumental kind. As Phil McLeish has suggested, with the addition of database in which participants could log their own passions, interests, activisms and connections, the forums have the potential to become this kind of ‘immediatist’ hive in which those with specific of more general animus and find common cause with others, multiplying and remultiplying the activist base – and all without a programme, or the perceived need to generate one. The social forums facilitate what might be termed an activist rhizomatics – a way in which networks can coalesce, develop, multiply and re-multiply. A network does not have a programme nor does it need one. What it needs are zones of encounter, shared learning, solidarity, affiliation, and the coalescence provided by networks of support, affinity groups and the ability to mobilise together without the need for a trunk to convert the rhizomes into branches.

b) It’s (not) party time
As we have noted above the vehicle for traditional radicalism is the party. There are of course many variations of the party but also some constants. The party is the arbiter of the line to be pursued by members and activists in their dealings among themselves and with others they seek to mobilise. It is the point of reference for matters of conflict between members. It is responsible for discipline within the ranks. It has an inside and an outside, so that one either is or is not a member. It provides the fulcrum or space within which strategy and tactics are formulated. It provides the political leadership without which the ensemble will fail to be ‘effective’. It provides leaders for the next administration or for the transition to some point where the party itself will become unnecessary. The party is a government in waiting. As such it mirrors the apparatus of the state itself. It is hierarchical (leaders/cadres/masses), based on a division of labour and a teleological notion of effectivity – the rationale of the party is capturing power. It thus becomes in itself a Leviathan, an alienation of power which reproduces amongst its mass membership the same subordination which exists in the wider society.
It follows from the above that for those who wish to develop ‘horizontal’ relationships the party cannot be the vehicle for thinking about the MGJ develops. Subcomandante Marcos is thus right in his desire to ‘shit on’ all the revolutionary vanguards. Yet this still leaves the question of what kind of ensemble is appropriate for thinking about advancing the myriad aims and goals encompassed within the MGJ. If not the party, what else? Again we find a certain tradition of theorising outside the party which can be useful for contemplating alternative models and conceptualisation. We have already mentioned Stirner and the union of egoists which as revolves around notions that are more familiar as the ‘revolution in everyday life’ – a succession of resistances and rebellions tied together through bonds of empathy and affinity – or not. One can think in this context of the very concrete resistances discussed in the work of authors such as James Scott, who recounts how such activities arise in the context of peasant societies, Rick Fantasia, who demonstrates the need for similar everyday constellations as a generative matrix operating behind unionised and non-unionised worker resistances, and Hecht and Simone’s discussion of the “art of African micropolitics”, the diverse, hybrid social forms which enable survival and resistance in even the harshest contexts. The work of Sartre is also a key reference point, not least for Deleuze and Guattari, the two thinkers who in turn gave the most sustained thought to the nature of combination and recombination after 1968.
To Sartre collective entities divided into those that were intentional and those that were accidental. As he famously describes it a line of people queuing for bread is at one level a collective entity, but it is one he characterised as ‘seriality’, the appearance of a group in the same space but without shared goals or objectives. Intentional groups such as revolutionary organisations themselves divided into two: the group-in-fusion (GIF) and the pledged group. The difference between the two kinds of grouping is the degree to which agents remain autonomous and thus able to influence the nature and direction of the group itself. The pledged group is bound by an oath of loyalty or allegiance that transfers autonomy of the subject to the autonomy of the leader or leadership – the “pledge” which gives this form its name. It is a group premised on the necessity for discipline and subordination to the party line, a necessity enforced through what Sartre terms “fraternity-terror”, a terroristic mutual panopticism operating among activists themselves, a surveillance of all against all. It punishes transgressors and regards the carrying out of orders as the highest task for most members. The GIF is a much more protean and complex ensemble, predicated as it is on ability and proclivity of members to interact with each other in an active and free-flowing manner. It makes no demands on individuals, but is instead premised on the active desire of individuals to want to be involved. There are no penalties for transgression or for querying and questioning aims and objectives. Indeed such discussions are what characterises the GIF and without them it is likely to lapse into a pledge group.
The Hegelian overtones of Sartre’s work and his melancholic style may make it seem counterposed to radically affirmative forms of social struggle, but it should be realised that the basic impulse he seeks to realise is life-affirming and active. ‘To experience oneself, to take risks, to discover oneself by discovering things, to change while changing the world: This is to live’ (cited Simont 1992:208). The difficulty is not a reactive motivation, but a difficulty in using the conceptual tools he has available to conceive of the possibility of radical change. Although he uses a Hegelian schema, he nevertheless constructs a binary between totality and totalisation which in certain respects echoes Deleuze’s distinction between being and becoming (e.g. CDR 384). Because the progressive character of totalisation is in great part a result of its active, constructive and open-ended aspects, Sartre is effectively using this notion as a line of flight from Hegelian theory and a means to its deconstructive reworking in a manner which brings it closer to possibilities for revolutionary change. The point is for the subordinated and passive self to become instead a practical agent of transformation, and, while the language of molar individuality invoked in Sartre’s work is misleading, it also indicates a molecular potentiality suggesting the possibility of social relations which do not take the form of subordination to an overarching totality. Thus, while Sartre fails as regards the molecularisation of the individual, he succeeds in figuring the individual as molecular in relation to society and in conceptually challenging molar figures operative at the macrosocial level. Thus, Sartre maintains that representative structures condemn us to infinite self-alterity by locating a representation of the self or the group elsewhere (CDR 352). In contrast, the openness of a “totalisation” (a coming-together or intersubjectivity) which does not coalesce as a “totality” provides possibilities for social relations irreducible to organisational fixity. What occurs is a ‘reality with a thousand centres’, which produces not so much a unity as an excess of unifications, and a unity (or totality) of actions rather than of people (CDR 391). ‘[T]here is nothing but hundreds of individual syntheses’ (CDR 393). In this context, addition is no longer summation (as in seriality), but produces a greater power, a multitude (CDR 393-4), a ‘non-quantifiable multiplicity’ (CDR 400) and an intensity (CDR 398). The unity and totality of the fused group therefore do not exist except as active processes of unification and totalisation, and, while it produces sameness of sorts, one might speculate that it is also open to difference, precisely because the contingency and activity of its construction is never solidified except when it transmutes into seriality or into a different kind of group, and because it is a unity of action and not of being.
The “fused group” is the point at which Sartre most clearly engages with the possibility for alternative forms of social practice. A fused group emerges when seriality breaks down because of an immediately felt oppression, need or desire which unites a group of people in action, which Sartre terms ‘the liquidation of an inert seriality under the pressure of definite material circumstances’ (CDR 361). As a result of such an event, each person, ‘by his [sic] synthetic activity, liquidates serial interchangeability’ (Laing and Cooper 132). Furthermore, it constructs a type of social relation in which the constituting praxis of social action re-establishes its primacy over the constituted praxis of society as illusory organism. It does this because the impossibility of change is itself perceived as a barrier to be overcome (CDR 349-50). Thus, freedom is ‘manifested as the necessity of dissolving necessity’ (CDR 357), ‘an internal unity as the negation of the external unity’ (CDR 356). It is not, therefore, a shared positivity, but simply a rejection of an overarching oppressive structure which provides the unifying impulse for a fused group. ‘The task [of the fused group] define[s] itself for everyone as the pressing revelation of a frightening common freedom’ (CDR 361).
The fusion involved in this kind of group is a totalisation rather than a totality, suggesting that the articulation involved is active, immediate and open-ended, so that “the group” as an overarching entity subordinating its members does not exist. Rather, the group exists only as the active selves’ coming-together in an activity where the role of each is in a certain sense functionally equivalent. In this kind of group, the contribution of power by each other person increases the others’ power also (CDR 376). Sartre portrays this as a kind of fusion of transcendence with immanence (one might even say a subsumption of the former into the latter, though Sartre would resist this reading); each becomes ‘regulatory’, so that the role of leader is no longer specifiable but becomes an interchangeable characteristic of all the active participants (CDR 379-80).
Immediacy is absolutely crucial; ‘[t]he group-in-fusion is everywhere, not elsewhere’. It is not the ‘coexistence of identical processes bound by exterior links’, but rather, dissolves the alterity of the practico-inert into the current moment. Thus, ‘the intelligibility of the group-in-fusion is given as individual praxis converting itself freely into common praxis’ (Laing and Cooper 132-3). Sartre refers to ‘the group as passion, that is to say, in so far as it struggles in itself against the practical inertia by which it is affected’ (CDR 348). Thus, the fused group emerges as ‘the exact opposite of alterity’; the reason for its existence is here, instead of elsewhere (CDR 357). Even when an idea or slogan comes from afar, it is produced in the here and now as something new and immediate (CDR 380), and ‘the crowd in situation produces and dissolves within itself its own temporary leaders’ (CDR 382). Sartre’s discussion portrays the fused group, in its break with seriality and the organisation, as productive of the new – as a kind of constituting power which alone can produce new statutes and orders and overturn the inertia of the present (CDR 382-3).
It is, perhaps, in the figure of the apocalypse that Sartre’s tendency to construct the fused group as a line of flight is clearest. The apocalypse is also a figure of the group-in-fusion (Laing and Cooper 130). Sartre uses the term to refer to the moment of the dissolution of a series into a fused group (CDR 357). The Apocalypse is in a certain sense inexplicable in Sartre, because scarcity, which he takes as a general condition for the kind of phenomenon he discusses, is potentially suspended in it. For this reason, Sartre identifies it as the point at which this condition might be overcome. It emerges within and through seriality, but as an alien element which tends to conflict with it (see CDR 684-5). It is therefore figured as a moment at which a line of flight opens which could lead out of the vicious circle of transitions from and back to seriality. Thus, the fused group is not simply one of the chain of group-forms Sartre discusses, but has a special role as a possible exploder of the frame within which these forms take shape.
Deleuze and Guattari were heavily influenced by Sartre, particularly Guattari whose early work concerned the nature of interactions between individuals and groups. Whilst staying close to the model outlined by Sartre they stress the centrality of active desire to the construction of GIF, re-christened as “subject groups” or “nomadic assemblages”. This translates as meaning that the group is constructed on a minoritarian, univocal basis as opposed to the majoritarian, representative basis evinced by pledged groups (including most revolutionary groups) and mainstream political parties. These would for Guattari be “dependent groups”, secondary to the functioning of existing society and ‘bogged down in the phantasies of the dominant group’, and therefore fundamentally alienating and non-revolutionary (Molecular Rev 191). Thus, Guattari calls for ‘the deployment of new conceptual references, the production of new forms of organisation not even hinted at in the regular assortment currently on offer on the Marxist-Leninist market’ (Moecular Rev 199). We have noted that representation is based on ‘speaking for’ – speaking for ‘us’, ‘everyone’, the oppressed, the majority, the working class, the black community. It is constructed from the point of view of a static molar subject which Deleuze and Guattari term a ‘denumerable’ set. A denumerable set is a set or group that conforms to the logic of molar identities, identities which are constructed for people, rather than by people. A classic denumerable set in political rhetoric is ‘the majority’, as in ‘the majority are in favour of cracking down on delinquents’. Who is the majority? It is a fictive ‘set’ – the more than 50%. It is the ostensibly objective nature of the denumerable set that permits those speaking for to claim legitimacy for their actions, which is in turn the ‘move’ made by vertical groups and bodies to cement the hierarchy, need for order and discipline: ‘The party speaks for the working class’; ‘the people of the developing world want more development’; ‘the black community wants to integrate into society’; ‘everyone knows that …’. And yet, the resistance of rhizomatic movements exceeds and overflows this representationality. ‘The power of the minorities is not measured by their capacity to enter and make themselves felt within the majority order, nor even to reverse the necessarily tautological criterion of the majority, but to bring to bear the force of the nondenumerable sets, against the axiomatic of denumerable sets’ (ATP 471). In Crisso and Odoteo’s terms, the minorities become the “new barbarians”, unable to speak the language of the new imperialism of global capitalism, and for this reason always a threat at the gates of the citadels (or the Red Zones).
A nomadic assemblage is one premised on the premise that there are only minorities (‘ours is becoming an age of minorities’) and thus that there is no denumerable set which can or should be spoken for. Given the nondenumerable nature of the group, there can be no speaking-for. There is ‘univocity’, which is to say the recognition of difference as constitutive of each singularity within the group itself. Such an assemblage is a molecular as opposed to molar entity. This is to say that each singularity retains its own autonomy, its own voice, its own presence within the larger aggregate of which it is a part. This is not to say that the group cannot act as an agent – that it has no ‘agentic’ properties. Far from it. As Deleuze and Guattari make clear in Anti-Oedipus when they discuss singularity they do not mean individuals, they mean any assemblage that is capable of becoming singular. This means individuals but it also means groups and larger aggregates still. The point is not to dissolve agency, but to make it more substantial and effective by drawing on the active ‘becoming-revolutionary’ of the singularities that compose it. The singularity does not submit to the authority of the group, it creates and underwrites its very existence as part of its molecular structure. The singularity does not pledge an oath of allegiance, promise to obey, carry out commands. It is not a matter of duties or obligations – of submitting to something that one wills for oneself (‘my party right or wrong’). It is a matter of becoming-revolutionary, of allying oneself to everything and everyone that represents a challenge to the axiomatics of representation, of fixed identities, of molar subjects, of hierarchy, oppression, denumerability, alienation. It is a becoming-nomadic: a continual and perpetual dissolution of bonds, ties and ‘duties’ that keep one from ‘moving’, a permanent ‘line of flight’ which breaks out of the cages of capitalism and statism and the traps laid by the various parties to reterritorialise the emancipated flows. ‘Horizontality’ is from this point of view not a question of joining a party, but of dissolving the axiomatic of parties in the quest for combinations that fully express the availability of autonomy and authentic modes of univocal engagement with and alongside others. Thus, as Guattari puts it, instead of the fixity of dependent groups, we should be ‘unleashing a whole host of expressions and experimentations – those of children, of schizophrenics, of homosexuals, of prisoners, of misfits of every kind – that all work to penetrate and eat into the dominant order, to feel out new escape routes and produce new and unheard-of constellations of a-signifying particle-signs’ (Molecular Revolution 84). The proliferation of rhizomes is also an effective way of multiplying points of challenge so as to reduce the effectiveness of measures of repression. As any gardener who has tried to eliminate dandelions knows, a rhizome system is very difficult to reach, because when a rhizome is destroyed, others will form and re-link, re-forming the networks which have been damaged. An arborescent organisation, in contrast, can be cut down far more easily.

c) The state we’re (not) in
But then what? As we know the task of the party is to capture power and with power change the world. Yes, another world is possible. But how to make it? Here again there is little doubt concerning the nature of the verticalist project. Capture power and use the state to bring about that better world – or rather combine with other states to effect a transformation. This may necessitate the development of a global state or a global ‘transition’. Or it may proceed via treaty and negotiation between blocs and regions. What is effective is what ensures and allows the state to act in the name of values, principles and visions held by the ‘majority’. It means using those tools that currently exist and augmenting them where necessary with new tools for the control and concentration of power in the hands of our representatives. But what if there is no party, what if there is nothing capturing power? How can horizontal politics make another world possible?
It is typical of vertical approaches that the assumption is that change is produced for ‘the people’ by an agent which is not itself ‘the people’. It is the state or states acting in combination which ‘act’ as opposed to individuals, groups, movements and collectivities acting in combination. Here the source of Bakunin’s critique of Marxism, and more generally of the anarchist and libertarian suspicion of the transitional strategies favoured by communists after Marx. Bakunin’s critique is one based on the logic of the state itself as opposed to the inclinations of those who run or control it. For Bakunin, as indeed for realist and neo-realist commentators on global politics, the world of states is a Hobbesian ‘state of nature’. There is no superior force to the state – and yet the state finds itself in competition with other states for territory, resources, people. This in turn necessitates either a strategy of alliance between states in turn excluding those other states that do not share the values or priorities of the alliance. Here of course a repetition of the logic of power that characterises the history of the state and the wars fought by them. As Bakunin was to make clear, only a break with such a logic can secure the transformation of social relations and so it is only by making a break with the state -sooner rather than later – that those concerned with the pursuit of alternative visions of social and global justice can begin the task of reconstituting the political. It is in this context that Bakunin can refer to a freedom which, instead of stopping at the boundaries of others, instead enriches itself in a continual expansion along with others’ freedom. As Deleuze and Guattari put it, the position of the excluded precludes their reformulation as a state. ‘It is hard to see what an Amazon-State would be, a women’s State, or a State of erratic workers, a State of the “refusal” of work’ (ATP 472). For Bakunin, Marxism excludes such others by trying to form a state which must necessarily become the state of the organised workers, the labour aristocracy, if not of the party bureaucrats and intellectuals – thereby excluding the precarious workers, the unrecalcitrant peasants and the lumpenproletarian ‘rabble’. There can be no state of the ‘rabble’, so a politics of the ‘rabble’ must necessarily be anti-statist and non-statist.
But this still leaves the question of ‘how?’. Bakunin himself toyed with a number of scenarios, some useful for our purposes, others less so. What is useful is his reminder of the dangers of the ‘transitional’ mindset: the notion deeply entrenched in the Marxian tradition that one has first to build up state power in order to bring about a state of affairs where the state is not required – or ‘withers away’ as Engels puts it. Even contemplating the matter in the abstract is to be startled by the sheer wishful thinking of the suggestion – as if an elite could be given ontological and social privilege and then willingly give it away instead of fighting tooth and nail like Hobbesian beasts to keep it – and this is before we get to the historical accounts of what actually happens when revolutionaries managed to capture power in prescribed fashion. What Bakunin demonstrates is the futility of the symmetrical overcoming of bad violence by good violence. This is not to say that violence is always bad or that it is necessitates vertical relations – though there is surely a correlation. It means that macro-power begets more macro-power rather than less. The logic of the Hobbesian ‘state of nature’ is not disarmament, but rearmament, which in turn has corrosive effects on domestic policy. A state confronted with external enemies will much more readily adopt the mindset that insists on rooting out enemies within, the wreckers and saboteurs, counter-revolutionaries and terrorists seeking to undermine the efforts of the state abroad. One barely needs to refer to Soviet history to get a sense of where reason lies in the debate between Marx and Bakunin on this point.
By contrast horizontalist strategies not merely avoid the state as a means or instrument; they are anti-statist, that is they self-consciously eschew the capturing of power in favour of alternative strategies that maintain the integrity and autonomy of all constituent singularities. Stirner’s union of egoists is not of course a state – the term ‘union’ from eigenheit was surely intended to convey the horizontal nature of the bonds to be created by autonomous egos. What Stirner was clear about and which continues in the work of later anarchists and libertarians is the necessarily continuous nature of the transformation of social relations. In this sense there are no ‘stages’ or transitions on the way to something. There is no split temporally, conceptually and politically between the Today and Tomorrow. What we are and do today is the template for what we are tomorrow. It is on such a basis that it would be more accurate to describe horizontalist strategies not as a process of ‘capture’ but as continual unfolding, extension and enlargement of the network. This in turn entails the undermining, emptying out, draining, curtailing of the power of states, indeed of everything outside the network itself.
Here we are reminded of the figure of the rhizome in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. The rhizome represents non-linear continuity and fuzzy aggregates that are interlinked or interwoven but on the basis of horizontal or transversal connection as opposed to the stasis of arborescent structures with their segmentarities and hierarchies. By contrast the world of nomadic combination is a world of smooth space, which is to say of ungoverned space. It is a space of combination and recombination on a minoritarian, nondenumerable basis, again stressing the redundancy of the state as a basis for thinking horizontal relations. In such a space possibility and contingency are held open by virtue of the immanence of the relations into which we as singularities enter. There is no fiction of an imagined community, no ties that bind, no imagined social contract tying our fates together in some one off act of communal obligation. There is nothing above or beyond the terms of combination and recombination itself. A horizontal world is as Marcos might put it a world of ‘many worlds’; but what makes many world possible is the delight and celebration of our autonomy from those who speak for others. It is a world beyond representatives, fixed and known identities, obligations and duties that others erect for us and call ‘transcendental’. It is a world beyond the dialectics of historical progression, beyond utilitarianism and the ‘hard choices’ of revolutionaries caught between the promise and the reality. Is it a utopian world?

Horizontalism and the politics of im/possibility

We have seen that a horizontal politics stems form the rejection of the logic of representation and the assumption of voice. This is what is at stake in the horizontals’ rebellion against the structures of the ESF and its organising committees. They want to be heard. They want to be at the centre and not at the margin. They want to be a part of the process, to participate, to live the dream of other worlds. But surely this is a dream – a utopian dream. Are they not in the same category as all those dreamers and utopians who imagined the beyond or outside of power? The answer is very clearly ‘yes and no’. On the one hand what is imagined in invoking smooth space, the rhizome etc is so far removed from the reality of day-to-day politics, of life under advanced capitalist conditions, of interactions who have less faith in he possibilities and creativeness of human desire that it is clearly utopian. It is an ‘impossible’ politics. But with Zizek we might say that this is precisely why it is important to stand by ‘horizontalism’. Unlike Zizek however the point is not to evoke an Act or Event – both of which are inevitably ‘betrayed’ on his reading. It is not to ‘go through’ utopia in order to reinscribe social reality anew with its antagonisms and alienations, lacks and emptinesses. It is to insist that as a politics horizontalism is an ethics, just as a horizontal ethics is at the same a politics. Becoming-minor, becoming revolutionary is a stance towards the world, a stance in the world. It is the embodiment of a practice the generalisation of which is a transformative politics. As we mentioned above, the point is to stress the absolute continuity between desiring production, the singular and the social, and thus the necessity to break down the sense of disjuncture that characterises verticalist notions of transformation, with their stages, transitions between A and B, dialectical movements and feats of organisational acrobatics. Becoming-minor is also becoming-immanent, a recognition of the flat or ‘smooth’ nature of the transformative process itself, the absence of transcendent macro-powers and master-signifiers and the refusal of the illusion of a trunk. Tolstoy remarked in reply to the revolutionary utilitarianism he saw around him in the Russia of the late nineteenth century that ‘everyone thinks of changing the world; but no one thinks of changing himself’. In reply to this inkling of the doctrine of ‘the revolution in everyday life’, we would assert that the detachment of the one from the many, of the individual and society, of the molecular and the molar is creating a break between the singular and plural, when it is clear to us that there is no such break – or rather there shouldn’t be one. It is a mark of our own alienation that we accept the dichotomy between ethics and politics as implied in Tolstoy’ remarks. Ethics is politics, politics is ethics. Rebellion, rejection, revolt against the representatives are political and ethical gestures – they are the gestures of those who have decided to speak for themselves and not let others speak for them. As such they represent the germ of a flat, immanent, smooth politics of networks not parties.

To return to the starting point, the struggle of the horizontals over the process of the ESF is a local struggle, so much is obvious. But what it means or signifies goes beyond the local struggles of which it is a part. What it signifies is that the MGJ has entered a new phase. It has moved beyond the temporary and contingent convergences that marked the period up to and including Seattle and the large scale protests that followed in its wake. It has moved into the phase where the aims, objectives and principles upon which the movement will develop are being debated and decided upon. So far the signs are mixed. Clearly verticalism is a default setting for many within the MGJ just as it is for many outside unused to the idea that there is life beyond parties, elections, voting, central committees, manifestos, plenaries, speaking for, speaking on behalf of, remaining silent. Already the social forum process seems perennially beset with catering for the needs of those who have narrow or limited interests, but who have the money and resources to override the hopes of many activists and smaller groupings. As we mentioned at the outset it is likely that the phenomenon of the parallel social forum will gather force with autonomists, libertarians, anarchists as well as elements excluded by lack of resources, untouchability or invisibility holding sessions outside the official setting. The various personality cults that ‘necessitate’ set-piece plenaries, roundtables and media interviews in turn reinforce the ‘spectacular’ nature of the forums and in turn the MGJ itself – a mediatised monster in thrall to the very forces that long to destroy it. Yet in and around are signs of ‘another world’, from the small-scale mutiny of the horizontals, to the auto-detachment of electorates around the world from their own official political processes; the resistances and revolts of everyday life that puncture the surface of what Castoriadis aptly termed our ‘air-conditioned comfort’; above all the growing unwillingness of those at the material edge of contemporary capitalism, in Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, the Chiapas to obey the masters. To all those who say ‘Ya Basta’ not only to the old masters, but also to the new – the would be masters of the revolutionary party we say that another world is possible; but it is, as Marcos insists, a world of many worlds.

References (dates are for translated editions; original texts were published earlier):
CDR = Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason volume 1, London: Verso 1970
Molecular Revolution = Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1984
ATP = Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, London: Continuum 1987
Laing and Cooper = RD Laing and David Cooper, Reason and Violence, New York: Pantheon 1964


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