Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Monday, November 15, 2004

With or Without You - Foreign Policy, Domination, Hegemony and Rhizomes of Resistance - Andy Robinson and Athina Karatzogianni (draft version)

WITH OR WITHOUT YOU: US Foreign Policy, Domination, Hegemony and Rhizomes of Resistance.

This paper is an analysis of developments in world politics since September 11th and in particular, the effects of these developments on global structures of domination and hegemony. Contrasting hegemony and domination, the authors contend that, while US domination has expanded since September 11th, it has not been accompanied by a growth in hegemony. Rather, US power is increasingly faced with resistance movements operating on a network model. These movements can be divided into two broad groups, socio-political movements and ethnopolitical movements. To suppress both kinds of movements, the US state relies on a binary, repressive mode of identity-construction which divides the world into “them and us”. This approach is guaranteed to escalate rather than resolve conflict, and is linked to the perpetuation of the world system as an overcoding apparatus. Its effects include the corrosion of civil and human rights, attacks on the independence of journalists and, most importantly, the increasing isolation of the would-be power-holders amid a sea of swarming resistances and uncontrollable spaces and flows. From “with us or against us”, domination therefore evolves into “with or without you”. Against this logic, the authors emphasise the potential contained in network forms of social organisation as a basis for constructing resistances to repressive apparatuses and to the world system as a system of global control.


‘The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your grasp’
(Princess Leia to Imperial Grand Moff Tarkin, Star Wars 4: A New Hope.)

To what extent has the world really “changed” since September 11th? On the one hand, the structures of the world system, and the imperial actions of the US and its allies in attempting to control and even colonise “underdeveloped” countries, have continued or even intensified. But on the other hand, there are certainly differences in the way world politics occurs today, compared to earlier stages of the world system – not least because of the rise of new, network-based forms of social and technological organisation such as the Internet. This paper is an attempt to engage with these changes and continuities drawing on resources taken from various schools of critical theory and World Systems Theory. There are three issues explored in this paper. One is the international environment in which foreign policy takes place, the context of corporate neo-liberal “globalisation”. Another is the decline of American hegemony and the US’s resultant reliance on domination in the world system, and the third is the swathe of resistance movements and networks responsible for this decline.

First there is globalisation. Globalisation is often portrayed in broad terms of cultural and technological change: we share friends from different places, culture, food, resources, we show solidarity with far away peoples. The problem is that not everybody has access to this lovely thing called globalisation. Actually, in certain instances it is a rhetoric used by governments to justify their submission to financial markets. The same governments are challenged by these global flows of capital, technology, information and people. And people might feel their identity threatened by such a process. At the same time globalisation itself directly resuscitates local traditions, it literally thrives on them. In other words, the concept of globalisation is a conflation of two distinct phenomena: the corporate takeover of the world, and a process of fragmentation of national, ethnic and religious identity-communities which is creating a more open social context wherever the corporate tentacles have not yet reached. Whereas the former of these is to be resisted, the latter provides the basis for a transformative politics, and the trick is not to try stopping this force but to use it as a resource. This has been the practice of global resistance movements, grass roots social movement organisations and social networks against governments and international institutions. As a result of such activity, neo-liberal governments and institutions face a counter-hegemonic account of globalisation, to which they have responded in a confused and often contradictory way. In other words, there is resistance against governments, against international institutions.

The resistance to the US state and its neo-liberal allies involves several very broad groups of challengers. Firstly, there are ethno-religious movements, based on the defence of fixed identities against the spread of American power. The network that attacked the Twin Towers on September 11th is one example of such a movement. However, there are also resistance groups mobilised to oppose the US military interventions, to oppose particular instances of opperssion or even to oppose capitalist “globalisation” itself. Contrary to appearances, changes in the world system since September the 11th have not empowered the position of the United States in global politics. Far from showing strength, the waves of violence unleashed by the US and its allies through the so-called ‘war on terrorism’ is in fact a reaction to the breakdown of American global hegemony and a strategy based on partial domination rather than hegemony. Theoretically, this paper is informed by Antonio Gramsci, Slavoj Žižek, Jean Baudrillard and Gilles Deleuze, using their concepts of hegemony, violence/powerlessness, war/nonwar and closure/openness respectively. In particular, we examine the stages and changes in identity construction, the use of terrorism and axis of evil discourses. Identity construction revolves around issues not simply concerning the enemy, which need to be considered, but more importantly the evident shift in American identity as far as their engagement with the rest of the world is concerned. Shifting from ‘carefree’ hegemon to a victimised and ‘wronged’ country, the American Administration then transforms itself into the party that strikes back. The discourse operates as pretext for a generalised closure of space, both within western societies (e.g. attacks on civil liberties) and in the world system (e.g. the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). However, this is starting to break down, a process exemplified in the spread of what Deleuze terms rhizomatic forms of social organisation. The interest then lies in identifying the transformation of American foreign policy discourse and identity in response to network forms of resistance, both by anti-war coalitions and movements and ‘terrorism’, which not surprisingly follows similar lines of development and organisation.

Between domination and hegemony: the vicissitudes of the world system

Conceived in Gramscian terms, hegemony refers to a relation in which a leading or “directive” group is able to influence others to adopt its conception of the world by means such as cultural influence. In contrast, a relation of domination exists when a ruling group is able to maintain control only by suppressing the intellectual and ethico-political development of subordinates (either through transformist control or through violence) (1). Admittedly, America’s hegemony has always been problematic and fragmentary, with local appropriations of American symbolism creating hybrid forms which undermine official US goals (2). However, this tenuous hegemony seems recently to have collapsed in much of the world (perhaps because of the loss of the US position in the Cold war binary). As a result, the American state has attempted repeatedly to assert its control by means of direct domination. Paradoxically, such methods have been effective only in further undermining attempts to build hegemony.

There is a tendency in some strands of international relations scholarship to identify global influence strongly with military power. However, to conceive a relation of suppression through brute force as if it were a form of substantial influence us mistaken. The resort to brute force signifies the breakdown of communicative power and the replacement of effective subsumption with violent subordination. As Zizek puts it in a similar context, ‘recall the logic of paternal authority: the moment a father takes control and displays his full power….we necessarily perceive this display of impotent rage- an index of its very opposite’ (3). Foucault similarly argues that the moment when a regime becomes merely destructive, when it loses its ability to circulate power as a productive force, is the moment when it ceases to govern, and in a sense, ceases to hold power (4). Likewise, America displays its “total” power only as an index of her underlying weakness, its inability to control the suppressed groups held down within the system it controls. Friedrich Nietzsche suggests that one perform a thought-experiment: imagine a state which is so powerful that it does not feel the need to punish – not because it has stamped out all deviance, but because it feels so secure that it can afford to be magnanimous towards those who defy it. If such a state is impossible to imagine, this is because the strength of states as agents of domination is precisely founded on their libidinal/identitarian weakness. They conceal their own inability to express the universality they claim by excluding others and performing a ritualistic violence of acting-out.

Perhaps we should clarify a little here. Effective power apparatuses operate through their ability to overcode (Deleuze’s term) or subsume (Marx’s term) social processes, identities and differentiations occurring in everyday life. A power-holding group which is able to articulate widespread beliefs, desires and identities to its worldview and project is able to establish itself in epochal terms as a leading force. This process of sublimation is often violent – Marx (Capital) discusses the Highland clearances as an example of real subsumption – and its net effect is to produce a system in which external elements are reduced to the status of elements internal to the system. IN this sense, the system can construct itself as all-controlling. All the various instances of desire, identity, belief, etc are constructed as if they were elements within a single totality, “arborescent” or “striated” in Deleuze’s terms, like the branches coming from the main trunk of a tree. However, such an apparatus is necessarily haunted by the possible emergence of “lines of flight” which take its elements outside the framework it constitutes. The elements which escape the structure have a different structure – less arborescent than rhizomatic, emerging through underground networks connected horizontally and lacking a hierarchic centre. The system’s resort to violence is an attempt to crush various rhizomatic and quasi-rhizomatic elements, which tend to escape it.

When Zizek terms al-Qaeda ‘the ultimate rhizomatic machine, omnipresent, yet with no clear territorial base’ (5), he exaggerates a little: al-Qaeda is based on on rigid categories of identity and exclusion, and also has a formal leadership hierarchy. However, his basic point is valid: its operation is effective largely because it moves outside the framework established by the global power system. Writing in Time Magazine, Phillip Bobbit makes the point very clearly. ‘Al-Qaeda is a new and profoundly dangerous kind of organisation – a “virtual state”, borderless but global in scope’ (6). Arguments like these are not new, having previously been made about social movements more broadly (7). It may be that al-Qaeda is a special instance of a change in the structures of global power with wide-ranging implications.

John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt have already published extensively on the future of conflict and network forms of social organisation. Particularly relevant is how the structure of the Internet itself (a global network with no central authority) has offered another experience of governance (no governance), time and space (compression), ideology (freedom of information and access to it), identity (multiplicity) and fundamentally an opposition to surveillance and control, boundaries and apparatuses. In the final analysis, new information age ideologies could be easily arguing for a transfer of virtual social and political structures to real life world, reversing for once the existing process of imitating real life in cyberspace. The form of the Internet itself is message, a symbolic challenge to dominant patterns of hierarchical structures of governance. The Internet for instance is a typical rhizomatic structure and the groups using it are rhizomatic in character because they seem to have no leader, coming together for an event (for example anti-globalisation protests or hacking enemy web sites) and dissolving again back to their own ceaselessly changing line of flight into the adventitious underground stems and aerial roots of the rhizome (8).

Apart from this systemic change aiding rhizomatic forms of organisation, the whole system of economic, political and social control is in question. Authors such as Andre Gunder Frank and Immanuel Wallerstein use the images of core and periphery or metropolis and satellite to represent a particular arborescent-striated organisation of global economic space. Control by the core states, and by America as the core of the core, produced phenomena of subordination, dependency and underdevelopment in peripheral areas. The world system is an overcoding apparatus, as is clearly demonstrated in the case-studies drawn together by Evan Watkins (9). Everyday economic practices are drawn into and/or excluded from the ‘world economy’ in such a way as to suck resources into the core and to make incorporation into the world system a precondition for international recognition. And when the economics of a country are good and ‘every day exchanges’ with the core are productive, then the country’s political credentials are not in question. Survival in a peripheral context often depends, however, on escaping this context of subordination, and the studies of “underdeveloped” countries often demonstrate the existence of elaborate, more or less rhizomatic networks constructed outside official channels. Consequently, the threat is always present that such rhizomes will operate as the basis for a fundamental challenge to the world system itself, causing the system to fall back on violence in an attempt to destroy what Chomsky calls “the threat of a good example”: the possibility of an escape from the global system which could trigger the end for this system’s illusory inevitability.

Most commentators are unrecalcitrant in identifying with the statist side in such conflicts. Bobbit, for instance, makes excuses for the ongoing destruction of what little remains of American democracy as a way to ‘protect’ civil liberties from external threats (10). This is a classic example of the authoritarianism of a discourse which insists on retaining the master-signifier even when this signifier is collapsing, and which therefore endorses violent acting-out by dominant groups determined to retain their control. In the present context such attitudes are extremely dangerous. In fact, so pervasive is the instability of any arborescent appendage that its advocates are always clamouring for crackdowns of one sort or another and they are paradoxically a permanent threat to the freedom they pretend to be defending. Al-Qaeda is a product of some combination of western violence against Muslims and American funding of fundamentalist groups to fight its last great ‘Evil’, communism. More widely, the rhizomatic potentialities of a future non-hierarchic world. It is no wonder that they are a source of threat to those whose commitments are structured around the positivist valuation of machines of control.

The form of the Internet itself is message, a symbolic challenge to dominant patterns of hierarchical structures of governance. In this vein, a rhizome establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power and circumstances relevant to the arts, sciences and social struggles. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan largely follow the model of non-war (or as further extended by Ignatieff [11]) outlined in Baudrillard’s analysis of the first Gulf War. Rather than being collisions of two powers located symmetrically within a single discourse, they involve the feints and counterfeints of two sides separated by radical discursive difference. America and its allies were in both cases attempting to impose a discourse of control embodying a logic of deterrence. As General Wesley Clark said of the bombing of Yugoslavia, ‘this was not, strictly speaking, a war’ (12).

It is, however, a conflict. The construction of official discourse – the “axis of evil”, the reactive misrepresentation of attacks on civil liberties as the “protection” of liberty is built around precisely this kind of valuation of closure. The only factor uniting the “axis of evil” (two of which were at war twenty years ago) is the incompletion of their subsumption into the world system. At the same time, one finds in official discourse a process of metonymical slippage between different instances of elements escaping control, linking terrorism, immigration, crime, protest, cultural otherness and the myriad resistances to “globalisation” (13). As Deleuze and Guattari (following Virilio) remark, ‘this war machine no longer needs a qualified enemy but… operates against the “unspecified enemy”, domestic or foreign’, and thereby constructs a situation of ‘organized insecurity’ and ‘programmed catastrophe’ (14). Ideological beliefs and values are a fall back position when there are unresolved problems in social relationships. Ideology need not be an issue when there is a searching analysis of relationship problems.

Against the threats to centralised control, one finds a tendency to seek reassurance from anxiety by pursuing ever-greater closure of space. Openness is seen as space for the enemy, and any open space is indeed a space in which rhizomes can flourish. On the other hand, closure is seen as safety. The system itself does not need openness because its values are taken to be fixed and obvious. In such official discourse the repetition of themes widespread in the various movements Guattari terms “microfascist”, and all the core features of a reactionary and liberticidal ideology (15). In their work A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari argue against such a world where ‘the tree is already the image of the world or the root the image of the world tree’ (16). Instead they prefer to explain the world with principles of connection, heterogeneity and multiplicity, where ‘any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be’ (17). Through such closure, the logic of “with us or against us” gradually transmutes into “with or without you”, which, as Slavoj Žižek argues, is a typical gesture of forced choice, the imposition of a master-signifier. ‘The logic is thus clearly formulated: even the pretence of neutral international law is abandoned, since, when the USA perceives a potential threat, it formally asks its allies for support, but the allies’ agreement is actually optional. The underlying message is always “We will do it with or without you” (in short, you are free to agree with us, but not free to disagree). The old paradox of the forced choice is reproduced here: the freedom to make a choice on condition that one makes the right choice’ (18).

Waging war on a noun (19)

As one might expect from such a discourse, the core concepts are self-contradictory and disastrously vague. “War on terrorism” is a good example, because terrorism is basically war conducted by asymmetrically situated agents; a “war on terrorism” is then remarkably close to a “war on war”. (It is perhaps indicative that it is often abbreviated as “war on terror”: the focus of war is not a real enemy but a pervasive emotional state). The concept of terrorism is aptly described by Hardt and Negri as ‘a crude conceptual and terminological reduction which is rooted in a police mentality’ (20). The “war on terrorism” is built around a classic example of Schmittian “decision”: the division of the world into “us and them”, friend and enemy, one might say, master-signifier and repressed Real. In this way, the centralised assemblage of American global power reasserts the reactive construction of symbolic and territorial space – the one that on 911 was symbolically lost for a while – around its own master-signifier. However, the very demand for such an assertion demonstrates that the master-signifier does not in fact quilt the field, that it is undermined by rhizomatic flows, which exceed its controls.

A recent analysis by the Midnight Notes collective demonstrates the continuity of the goals of the Iraq war with the extension of a world system as conceived by authors such as Wallerstein and Frank. The idea of weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) falling into the hands of terrorists provides a basis for treating with suspicion any instances of “development” which are not controlled either by western powers or multinational corporations, since industrial facilities could in theory be used to produce WMD’s. In addition, the invasion of Iraq served US goals to neutralise the power of OPEC and normalise the position of oil as a commodity extracted through exploitative relations between North and South. Referring to US policy, the authors note:

"This argument means that the US government has taken on the role of overseeing and vetoing all forms of industrial development throughout the world in perpetuum. Autonomous industrial development not controlled by an approved MNC by any government is out of order. Hence this "war on terrorism" doctrine becomes a basis for the military control of the economic development policies of any government on the planet. . . What is at stake is the shape of planetary industrial development for decades to come. The combination of the restoration of oil-driven accumulation with the imposition of the Bush doctrine on global industrial development ensures that the "suburban-petroleum" mode of life we are living in the U.S. (and increasingly in WesternEurope) will lead to endless war." (21)

While the goals of the war are in continuity with older aims, the approach taken in this war is of more recent vintage. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan largely follow the model of non-war outlined in Baudrillard’s analysis of the first Gulf War. Rather than being collisions of two powers located symmetrically within a single discourse, they involve the feints and counterfeints of two sides seperated by radical discursive difference. America and its allies were in both cases attempting to impose a discourse of control embodying a logic of deterrence. This is a logic where everything is already decided and where overwhelming force is the guarantor of ultimate meaning. Their opponents, however, adopted tactics which involved anything but direct confrontation; in this way, they slipped away from the logic of deterrence, the war is over, yet still American troops were being killed. Baudrillard argues, because media images are now the continuation of war by other means. War, the most concentrated form of violence, has become cinematographic and televisual, just like the mechanically produced image.

"The true belligerents are those who thrive on the ideology of the truth of this war, despite the fact that the war itself exerts its ravages on another level, through faking, through hyper reality, the simulacrum, through all these strategies of psychological deterrence that make play with facts and images, with the precession of the virtual over the real, virtual time over real time, and the inexorable confusion between the two" (22).

Deleuze and Guattari make a similar point, while insisting that the “total peace” of deterrence through non-war, ‘the peace of Terror or Survival’, is every bit as barbaric and authoritarian as the wars it replaces. ‘Total war is surpassed, toward a form of peace more terrifying still. The war machine has taken control of the aim, worldwide order, and the States are no more than objects or means adapted to that machine’ (23). The war machine, taking global order as its aim, comes to reign over the axiomatics of the world system, so that ‘the absolute peace of survival succeeded where total war had failed’, in constructing the world as a single deterritorialising-reterritorialising space (24).

In conjunction, the systems of control erected in Iraq and Afghanistan involve an uneasy tension between arborescent and rhizomatic structures which attest to severe weaknesses in American control. In both areas, local control is largely held by rulers who are sometimes termed “warlords”, “tribal chiefs” and “local dignitaries” in official discourse. Such rulers are ambiguous figures, because they represent American imperialism only by locating themselves in fragmentary local discourses. Both their control and their loyalty are frequently doubtful. Meanwhile, American troops have established symbolic control by occupying key urban centres and economic resources such as oilfields. This symbolic control reasserts the primacy of the American master-signifier, but even then it is ambiguous: witness the haste with which American flags were removed from Iraqi monuments after being raised by the invading forces in Iraq. It is an open secret that American control in Afghanistan does not extend beyond the borders of Kabul, and that the Taleban are still in control of large areas of the countryside. A similar situation is now coming into being in Iraq, with entire cities such as Fallujah and Najaf established as no-go areas for American troops. In other words, American occupation perpetuates the situation of indeterminacy: America’ s opponents may not (yet) be able to expel its forces militarily, but by maintaining the situation of uncertainty, they prevent American “victory” and the re-establishment of hegemony and of stable subsumption. Rather, one sees American forces bogged down in situations which confirm Arquilla and Ronfeldt’s analysis, as Bruce Hoffman makes clear.

"The Iraqi insurgency today appears to have no clear leader (or leadership), no ambition to seize and actually hold territory (except ephemerally, as in the recent cases of Fallujah and Najaf), no unifying ideology, and, most important, no identifiable organization. Rather, what we find in Iraq is the closest manifestation yet of "netwar," a concept defined in 1992 by the RAND analysts John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt as unconventional warfare involving flat, segmented networks instead of the pyramidal hierarchies and command-and-control systems (no matter how primitive) that have governed traditional insurgent organizations" (25).

In the context of the growing reliance of US power, and of resistance to US power, on local ethnic and religious allegiances, it is crucial to recall Partha Chatterjee’s remarks on the discursive exclusions constructed by the imposition of nationalism and development discourse in India (the Indian variety of the process of hegemony and subsumption discussed above). According to Chatterjee, the construction of the nation occurred alongside the emergence of various “others”, which in various ways exceeded national identity and could not be subsumed into it. Identities constructed around class, caste, ethnicity, gender, local identities, and so on, became the focus of loyalties, which could not be controlled by the official system. Ethnic affiliation provides a sense of security in a divided society, reciprocal help, and protection against neglect of one’s interests by strangers. As Horowitz argues,

"Because ethnicity tops cultural and symbolic issues- basic notions of identity and the self, of individual and group worth and entitlement- the conflicts it generates are intrinsically less amenable to compromise than those revolving around material issues….In deeply divided societies ethnicity- in contrast to other lines of cleavage, such as class or occupation- appear permanent and all encompassing, predetermining who will be granted and denied access to power and resources." (26)

Some interesting questions then inevitably should be asked. As Vievienne Jabri discusses in her work Discourses on Violence these involve the processes which constitute the individual identity, how does identity come to be framed in exclusionist terms and how does the inclusion-exclusion dichotomy result in the emergence of and support for violent human conflict (27). Ali Khan similarly argues that the construction of exclusionary walls and boundaries satisfies a long-standing, apparently primordial human inclination to maintain self-identity by continually creating an “other”, a process sustained through patronage networks (28). Deleuze and Guattari would challenge the primordiality of such forms of discourse, but their pervasiveness today is undeniable. The world system has become increasingly dependent on loyalties based on identities and boundaries, in order to construct patronage networks and thereby exercise control. In contexts such as Afghanistan and Iraq, such networks are the only means whereby arborescent structures can be erected atop a diffusion of rhizomatic forces. Such themes are also pervasive in making “global war” a possibility. The discourse of war aims at the construction of a mythology based on inclusion and exclusion. This categorisation sharply contrasts the insider from the outsider/s who are the “others” or the deserving enemy.

The discourse of the construction of unity through identity and sameness has dangers for those who resist the world system. To be a dissenting voice is to be an outsider, who is often branded as a traitor to the cause and therefore, deserving of sacrifice at the mythical altar of solidarity. What would previously have been blurred social boundaries become sharpened primarily through a discursive focus upon features both symbolic and material, which divide communities to the extent that the desire for destruction of the enemy is perceived to be the only legitimate or honorable course to follow.

Movements of repression and movements of resistance

Now let us break it down even further, examining the facts, the possibilities and the explanations. The people involved in the groups blamed for the September 11th attacks, the Bali, Istanbul and Madrid bombings and other such attacks are probably attacking the US and in some cases “the west” for a variety of reasons, such as the US’s support for the Shah in Iran, unconditional US support for Israel, the first Gulf War, threats to Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia and so on. In terms of foreign policy, it is unlikely that they have in mind bringing down capitalism or a way of life. Indeed, the political Islamists are not alone in disliking America’s role in the world. American direct and indirect interventions in Chile, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, the Phillipines, Cuba, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere, support for dictatorships in Indonesia, Greece, Congo-Kinshasa and today in Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and inaction in cases such as the Rwanda genocide and the South African apartheid regime have created a basis for global hostility to US power. However, the challenge posed by political Islam is particularly strong and militant, leading today to direct military confrontations with American forces and attacks on American targets which are almost unknown elsewhere. So why do groups such as al-Qaeda occupy this unusual historical position? Perhaps the explanation lies in a peculiar intersection of factors which brought Islamic traditionalism into contact with global capitalism, producing hybrid formations.

The best that can be said for the US response to the September 11th attacks is that it was shortsighted. Dividing the world into Us and Them, and asking countries to choose sides, only aggravates a conflict rather than solving it, and as a result of the binary divisions produced by this discourse, civil liberties in democratic countries are lessened, and those in already authoritarian regimes even more so. The US response has, it is now clear, been immensely harmful, culminating in the Iraq quagmire and the Abu Ghraib atrocities. It is not hard to see that the US strategy of dividing the world into “Us and Them” is a recipe for aggravating rather than resolving conflicts and is a threat to civil liberties and human rights across the world. So why did it happen? The answer is that when Afghanistan became the target, very few opposed this, because many people felt that Americans were obviously wronged, so had the right to find the responsible parties. Then, a new international order was momentarily formed to make such plan work. However, when the question of Iraq came up and with the US relying on justifications phrased in terms of WMD’s, the majority of the world woke up suddenly and understood that, by hook or by crook, by force or by bribery, the US wished to deny everybody access to these weapons and to put itself in the position of global enforcer. The US trusts itself, but trusts no one else. The US state learned that they could go it alone in Afghanistan, so they all but went it alone in Iraq afterwards.

Furthermore, between the global resistance movements and the ethno-religious movements, it is clear that very little of the periphery is subsumed into the world system in a stable and hegemonic way: ‘rich and poor, hemispherically from N to S, regionally between peripheral and core nationally across class and ethnic boundaries’. This ‘line of flight’ could be best described in terms of parallel lines, as a parallelogram of forces as Graeme Chesters argues (29). Anti-capitalist and other rhizomatic groups have constructed many new forms of political action, and also new forms of communication.

In practice what we get when we abstract the ethnoreligious movements or groups, we are left with antiwar groups, anticapitalist/antiglobalisation movements and lifestyle-issue movements (the latter not quite relevant to our discussion and as pointed by Callinicos from campaigns that focus on specific issues and grievances). Namely then, movements of a generally more sociopolitical nature. In contrast to the closure of space, the violence and identity divide found in enthnoreligious discourses these movements seem to rely more on networking, grassroots organising, much less than the hierarchical structures states and their followers have to rely upon. Several metaphors have been used to describe a large number of groups being brought together under a common cause, groups that disperse as easily as they come together: A parallelogram of forces following a swarm logic like ants in an ant colony – the whole of singularities against the World Trade Organisation, the IMF and the World Bank, People's Global Action, the World Social Forum and so on. The ecology of such action indicates a web of horizontal social solidarities to which power might be devolved, or even dissolved. It may be argued that because many people do not believe in power through conventional politics, they are increasingly sympathetic to direct action.

The movements in question are able to take action without the need for a leader and without the individual having a privileged insight, or being able to conceptualise the characteristics of the whole. There is an emphasis upon participation, antipathy to hierarchy, alternative processes of decision-making such as consensus decision-making and direct democracy, respect for difference and an assertion of unity in diversity. The project which unites these movements is less the capture of the state apparatus and more the construction of an open and transnational public sphere and a rhizomatic extension of struggles which are linked through weak ties.
The new movements of resistance have made use of new technologies such as the Internet to organize and to promote their ideas. Yet despite all these great tools, a large number of media watchdogs, journalists and audiences have protested on the unchallenging nature of mainstream media towards both the decision to go to war and the actual coverage during the war. As a result the internet itself was used not only to mobilise international civil society as explained above, but also to offer an alternative coverage for the conflict. There are actually different lines of development here: the US government’s troublesome if not ‘bombastic’ relationship with the media, American media following mostly the government line with patriotic fervor, Americans turning to non US sources, using the Internet, and the rest of the world discovering the unpredictable and amazing effect of the Internet on coverage, and the potential for first hand witness accounts via e-mails and blogging.
As far as the US administration is concerned, despite that they made it clear there would be no censorship, it made it very difficult for war correspondents that were not embedded with their troops to get non official stories out: “We will tell you what you can report from the speech afterwards”, an army media organiser told journalists on their first day as embedded correspondents with 1st Fusiliers Battle Group. This ‘difficulty’ exacerbates the notion that the largest single group of war correspondents appear to have been killed by the US Military.

In a single day on April 8, a US missile hit an Al-Jazeera office, killing a Jordanian journalist and a US tank fired a shell at the Palestine hotel killing two more. Al-Jazeera offices in Basra were shelled on April 2 and a car clearly marked as belonging to the same station was shot at by US soldiers a day before the Palestine Hotel incident. International journalists and press freedom groups have condemned the attacks on the press corps in Iraq. ‘We can only conclude that the US Army deliberately and without warning targeted journalists’ (30). ‘We believe these attacks violate the Geneva conventions’ (31). The attacks on journalists “look very much like murder”, Robert Fisk of the London newspaper The Independent reported (32).

Also, several national and local media figures in the US had their work jeopardised, either explicitly or implicitly because of the critical views they expressed on the war. Veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett was fired by NBC after giving an interview to Iraqi TV, Henry Norr was suspended without pay from the San Francisco Chronicle for using his sick day to get arrested in an anti-war protest and Phil Donahue’s talkshow was cancelled, in what the MSNBC argued would be a ‘difficult face for NBC in a time of war.. He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives’ (33). This repression is bolstered by the role of national publics which are conditioned to accept nationalist forms of identity. As Bloom puts it, ‘The mass national public will always react against policies that can be perceived to be a threat to national identity. The mass national public will always react favorably to policies which protect or enhance national identity… national chauvinism is commercially successful’ (34). But the centralization and restriction of information is necessary in order to sustain this dynamic. ‘The restriction on complete disclosure is precisely to avoid the possible triggering of the national identity dynamic which would take decision making out of the hands of the ‘responsible’ and informed few’ (35).

Conclusion: a proliferation of rhizomes

The conflicts of the present epoch therefore come down to one crucial issue: the collision of rhizomatic forms of political activity with political structures which are based on closure, identity and fixity. This struggle is at stake in the anti-war movement, in resistance to global capitalism, in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and in conflicts around the spread, use and control of new technologies such as the Internet. It is the conflict between the two social forms which will determine whether the world system is able to survive contemporary events, or whether the vice-grip of this global system of arborescent control can finally be broken.


1 Robert Cox, for instance, suggests that American hegemony enters into crisis in the 1970s, and that the result is an increasing reliance on coercion. Robert W. Cox, ‘Gramsci, Hegemony and International Relations’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies 12, no. 2 (1983), 162-75, esp. 170-1.
2 See for instance David Hecht and Maliqalim Simone, Invisible Governance: The Art of African Micropolitics (New York: Autonomedia, 1994); Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).
3 Slavoj Žižek, ‘Identity and its Vicissitudes’, The Making of Political Identities, ed. Ernesto Laclau (London: Verso 1994), p. 69.
4 Michel Foucault, ‘The Subject and Power’, in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow (Brighton: Harvester 1982), 208-16.
5 Slavoj Žižek, ‘Afterword and Lenin’s Choice’, in Revolution at the Gates: Selected Writings of Lenin from 1917, Slavoj Žižek and V.I. Lenin (London: Verso 2002), 235.
6 Phillip Bobbitt, ‘Get Ready for the Next Long War’, Time Magazine, September 9th 2002, 74-5.
7 George P. Landow, Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1997); John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, Swarming and the Future of Conflict (Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 2000).
8 Athina Karatzogianni, ‘The Politics of Cyberconflict’, Journal of Politics, February 2004, 24, no. 1, pp.46-55.
9 Evan Watkins, Everyday Exchanegs: Marketwork and Capitalist Common Sense (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).
10 Bobbitt, ‘Get Ready’, 74-5.
11 Ignatieff, Michael, Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond, (London: Chatto and Windus 2000).
12 Ibid., p.3
13 John Burton, Violence Explained: The sources of conflict, violence and crime and their prevention (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997).
14 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (London: Continuum 1988), 467.
15 Félix Guattari, ‘The Micropolitics of Fascism, in Molecular Revolution, trans. Rosemary Sheed (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1984), 218-229.
16 Deleuze, G and Guattari, F: A Thousand Plateaus, p.5.
17 ibid., p.7.
18 Slavoj Žižek, Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle (London: Verso 2004), 14.
19 This subheading is a reference to Michael Moore, Dude, Where’s my Country? (Harmondsworth: Penguin 2003), 96: ‘They call it a “war on terror”. How exactly do you conduct a war on a noun?’
20 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 37.
22 Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, trans. Paul Patton and Paul Foss (Sydney: Power Publications 1995), 177.
23 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 421.
24 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 467.
26 Donald L. Horowitz, ‘Introduction’, in Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict and Democracy, eds. Larry Diamond and Marc Plattner (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1994), xviii.
27 Vivienne Jabri, Discourses on Violence: Conflict Analysis Reconsidered (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996). c.f. the essays in Seyla Benhabib, ed., Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), and also David Campbell, ‘Violence, Justice and Identity in the Bosnian Conflict’, in Sovereignty and Subjectivity, ed. Jenny Edkins, Nalini Persram and Véronique Pin-Fat (Boulder: Lynne Piener, 1999), 21-37.
28 Ali Khan, The Extinction of Nation States: A world without borders (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1996), 118.
29 Graeme Chesters, Shape Shifting: Civil Society, Complexity and Social Movements, (originally published in Anarchist Studies 11:1, 42-65); Graeme Chesters and Ian Welsh, Complexity and Social Movements: Protest at the Edge of Chaos (New York: Routledge, forthcoming 2005); Graeme Chesters and Ian Welsh, The Rebel Colours of 526: Social Movement Framework during the Prague IMF/WB Protests (Cardiff: Cardiff University School of Social Science Working Paper, 2001).
30 Source: Reporters without Borders.
31 Committee to Protect Journalists in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, 8/9/03
32 The Independent, 9th March 2003.
33 Internal memo leaked to the All Your TV website, 25/2/03.
34 William Bloom, Personal Identity, National Identity and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 80.
35 Bloom, Personal Identity, 88.


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