BERTALAN, Hilton. "Dancing to Death : The Ongoing Movements of Emma Goldman and Differential Activism - 4 -

Chapter 4 – The Transformative Elements of Differential Activism, or, Learning to Love Again…and Again
jeudi 21 février 2008
par  R.C.
popularité : 20%

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“Instead of betting on the eternal impossibility of the revolution and on the fascist return of the war machine in general, why not think that a new type of revolution is becoming possible” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, 122).

“I am another yourself” (Mayan code of friendship, cited in Sandoval, 2002, 23).



Although some activist-theorists have identified the transformative elements in differential activism (with some even making the connection to anarchist and poststructuralist thought), many have either dismissed these currents or underestimated their importance. In this chapter, I am concerned with the importance of the anarchist connection (and thus the relevance of anarchism for social movement scholarship) and how the transformative elements constitute new ways of envisioning social change and social movement organization. Much of what is written on differential activism and social movements places more emphasis upon the particularities of group activities than their ethico-political spirit. This spirit of transformation, however, is the primary concern of this chapter. That is, while a detailed discussion of the many groups and tactics that make up differential social movements is most certainly worthwhile, it is beyond the scope of this chapter. [1] I will, however, offer two familiar moments to demonstrate the presence of transformation. I do this for three reasons. First, while the 1994 uprising in Chiapas, Mexico by the Zapatistas and the 1999 protests of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle have been thoroughly discussed in the larger context of contemporary social movements, their familiarity helps make the transformative elements particularly clear and broadly applicable. Second, for much the same reason as I used the most accessible pieces of Goldman’s work to identify transformation, I make reference to the Zapatistas (and more specifically the ethico-political philosophy of ‘zapatismo’ that informs the work of Marcos) and Seattle in order to demonstrate the extent to which the transformative elements are present in differential activism. Third, these moments have come to represent particular aspects of transformation – the Zapatistas association with ceaseless change and decentralized, non-hierarchical, non-hegemonic forms of organization and Seattle as representative of multiplicity and interconnectivity. For the most part, however, I will draw broadly from contemporary activist-theorists in my attempt to locate transformative elements. Finally, I will specifically use Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome to explain contemporary affinities for multiplicity and interconnectivity. The structure of this chapter will be much the same as chapter two with the first section focusing on contemporary approaches to social change and organizational structure. The second section will then examine the concepts of multiplicity and interconnectivity.

Before addressing transformative elements it should be pointed out that although I am speaking in theoretical terms about an oppositional consciousness, differential activists and groups are constructing very real alternatives. Similar to Foucault’s statement in chapter two that the poststructuralist theory of Deleuze and Guattari should not be mistaken as ‘fun and games’, but rather, recognized as something very serious and fiercely political, differential activism can be understood as seriously “exploring the possibilities of non-statist, non-capitalist, egalitarian modes of social organization” (Day, 2005, 203-4). Therefore, while differential activism can be discussed through poststructuralist notions of the rhizome, de-centeredness, incommunicability, fluidity, and multiplicity, this does not mean that activists do not have serious political commitments. Rather, as Day further points out :

That this potential is not merely theoretical is shown by the intense activity that is going on in activist circles around the world, to find ways to build concrete, practical links between disparate struggles, and to begin to engage in the extremely difficult task of dealing directly with the divisions that exist among us while resisting the temptation to pass this responsibility off to a state (or corporate) apparatus (189).

Given Name ‘Anti’, Surname ‘Globalization’

“It makes no difference to me one way or the other what it’s called” (Coltrane, 1998, 433). [2]

The first task of many of the commentators discussed in chapter two of this thesis (as well as for the mass media) was to classify a coalition of struggles under a single term. The name ‘anti-globalization’ was used to encapsulate what contemporary activists were fighting against, rather than what they were fighting for. The irony of this term, according to many activist-theorists connected to the movements, was that these struggles were, in fact, inherently global and interconnected. The demand of many contemporary activists, argues Graeber (2004), “has always been global freedom of movement, ‘real globalization,’ the destruction of borders, a general tearing down of walls” (34). What was quickly named the ‘anti’-globalization movement was, rather, dedicated to global interconnectedness, the eradication of borders, and the free flow of people and goods while “refusing to accept that a tiny fraction of the world’s population ought to control all decisions related to the use, distribution and ownership of the world’s economic resources” (McNally, 2002, 230).

Beyond the irony of the label was a not-so-innocuous attempt to locate and classify oppositional activities. As Hardt and Negri (2001) suggest, “imperial power whispers the names of the struggle in order to charm them into passivity, to construct a mystified image of them, but most important to discover which processes of globalization are possible and which are not” (59). The spirit of transformation has meant that many differential activists are not as wedded to fixed, identifying labels as they may have been in the past. Instead, they realize the divisive role labels can play. As Analouise Keating (2002) argues, “holding tightly to the labels, even when self-chosen, can be destructive – erecting walls that separate us from each other” (19). The use of a particular label “as a convenient shorthand” is, as Chuck Morse (2001) points out, “hardly innocuous” (96). The transformative elements, on the other hand, make a shorthand term (and most importantly, the accompanying attempt to reduce diverse groups, tactics, and alternatives to a central ideology), impossible. Though in some sense it does make a difference which terms are used to identify movements, activists have recently given much less attention to the labels that observers have attempted to apply. They have, in a way, become like John Coltrane in the quote above – focused more upon the spirit of their activities than the labels used by observers, mass media, and state or corporate authorities.

The Bridge to Chiapas Leads Everywhere

“And they saw that the first question was, ‘How do we move ?’ and the answer was, ‘Together but separately and in agreement’” (Marcos, 2001b, 32).



The Zapatistas’ commitment to multiplicity, interconnectedness, and their rejection of centralized, hierarchical organizational structure, has helped many people understand (and communicate) the newness of differential activism. For many, the Zapatistas, and their zapatismo ethic, are historically situated with the events of Seattle as two moments of insurrection that typify the beginning of a larger coalition of movements struggling against, and constructing alternatives to, neoliberal globalization. Much of what is known of the Zapatistas has come from the reluctant iconic/iconoclastic spokesperson, Subcommandante Marcos. Most texts addressing differential social movements pay significant attention to the movement in Chiapas, Mexico. Many in these works agree with Angus’ (2001) sentiment that “a new era of anti-free trade coalition building began with the rebellion of the Zapatistas” (12), McNally’s (2002) similar suggestion that “this new left was officially launched, in the form of the global justice movement, on January 1, 1994” (15), and Graeber’s (2004) belief that it “might be said” that the Zapatistas “kicked off what came to known as the globalization movement” (103). While agreeing with Graeber’s argument that “the really crucial origins [of differential social movements] lie with the Zapatistas and other movements in the global South” (2002:68), what is of particular interest to me are the ways in which zapatismo helps articulate the non-traditional forms of resistance and organization that are important for this thesis.

The Zapatistas marked a point of departure from traditional Marxist notions of social change and organization, and a subsequent entrance into new ways of imagining resistance. In 1983, Marcos and others from the National Liberation Front (FLN) arrived in Chiapas with the intent of mobilizing local communities. The “guerilla newcomers” arriving with “classical political-military ideologies” based in “Leninist-Maoist and Guevarist” (Carrigan, 2001, 424) vanguard notions of resistance and social movement organization were met with suspicion and rejection by the people of Chiapas. As Carrigan further explains, “they saw themselves in the role of a revolutionary vanguard, arriving in the rain forest to inspire and lead ‘the prolonged popular war’ at the head of an indigenous guerilla force” whose goal would be “the overthrow of the Mexican state-party system and the installation of a revolutionary and socialist people’s republic” (424). Sometime after, however, the Zapatistas made a radical switch (returning to an ‘indigenous’ commitment to listening and democratic discourse and organizing) by abandoning their attachment to centralization, hierarchy, and their vanguard vision of taking power. Since then, communities throughout Chiapas have joined the Zapatistas in their struggle.

“The origins of the Zapatista rebellion,” argues Carrigan, “are rooted in the unequal distribution of land […] the brutal repression of the independent peasant and indigenous organization throughout the 1980’s and the economic devastation of the Indian communities caused by the economic policies of the preceding decade” (419). Carrigan further suggests that “their Magna Carta is the Mexican Constitution of 1917, with its recognition of the indigenous right to self-government and its radical agrarian reform” (417). [3] In addition to the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which brought Mexico into a trade ‘partnership’ with the United States and Canada, and thus, an increased international corporate presence, the “revision of Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution for which the namesake of the Zapatistas, Emiliano Zapata, was martyred, ended the distribution of land to the land-poor and encouraged the privatization and sale of the land” (Saramago, 2001, xxi).

What originally inspired and connected so many to the Zapatistas was not only the playful, humble, and charismatic personality and words of Marcos, but also what those words communicated in terms of a connection to so many struggles taking place all over the world. Marcos (1995) speaks of “all organizations united in the same struggle” (91), while arguing that “the differences that divide us and turn us against one another will not prevent us from uniting against a common enemy” (245). Constituting the multiplicity of differential social movements, Marcos (2001a) called on “the workers, squatters, housewives, students, teachers, intellectuals, writers, on all those with dignity, to resist” (50). Marcos and the Zapatistas typify the importance of multiplicity, interconnectivity, and democratic, consensus-based decision-making within and amongst differential social movements. As Marcos (2001a) puts it, “music, dance, and talk [are] the means by which men and women of all colors understand and know one another, and build bridges over which they walk together, toward history, toward tomorrow” (191).

As “an army which aspires not to be an army any more” (Graeber, 2002, 68), the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) have refused the position of representative. Wrought with contradictions and changing perspectives, the Zapatistas (and differential social movements more generally) are often desired (as chapter two discussed) to be a clear and packaged entity – a social movement that looks like a social movement. However, much of what makes differential activism so unique is missed if we apply this paradigm. Therefore, when Kingsnorth (2003) insists that “to really understand this movement I would have to go and see it at work […] I had to go to Chiapas” (9), he is reinforcing a notion that the Zapatistas represent the starting point of a traceable group of social movements. What I’m arguing here, however, is that the Zapatistas are not a starting point, but rather, a space to which we can look for one of many examples of an oppositional consciousness in which transformative elements can be located. Marcos (1995) explicitly avoids the title of originator and representative when he asks that those who find themselves in solidarity with the Zapatistas “struggle and defeat the government. Struggle and defeat us” (250). [4] Throughout much of his work, Marcos embraces contradiction, myth, and storytelling to avoid becoming a referent, center, or leader. As Frank Bardacke (1995) argues, “there is no Supism. We are obliged to make our own way, to live our own loyalties, to build our own movement” (255). “Any reconstruction of his thought into a formal theory,” Bardacke continues, “is at war with his original intention” (255). In a sense, the Zapatistas speak to activists as Don Quixote did to Sancho when he laments, “pardon me, my friend, that I caused you to appear mad, like me, making you fall into the same sort of error as myself, the belief that there were and still are knights errant in the world” (Cervantes, 1983, 937). “We are a bridge,” Marcos (2001b) points out, “not the lands that form a union. We are a road, we are. Not the point of arrival or departure” (7). The Zapatistas, like so many groups, have “walked with questions and they never, never stop – they never arrive and they never go away” (Marcos, 2001b, 41). Not arriving and never stopping is what makes differential social movements so unique. They do not envision a final revolutionary event, but instead, are ceaselessly changing, becoming, and creating new connections and alternatives. As Marcos’ (2001b) statement below suggests, differential activists dance together in a Goldman-esque and Nietzschean style :

So they started walking and now no one remembers who started walking first because at the time they were so happy just to be moving […] and ‘who cares who was first since we’re moving now ?’ said the gods who were one and the same and they laughed at each other and the first agreement they made was to dance, and they danced, one little step by one, one little step by the other, and they danced for a long time because they were so happy that they had found each other (29-31).

In a significant way, the Zapatistas have offered a response to both contemporary critics who are suspicious of, and unfamiliar with, this ‘new’ form of organizing, as well as a response to Marxists to whom this suspicion can be traced. For example, in a letter suggesting anarchism’s ineffectuality due to an inherent refusal to endorse a hierarchical and centralized mode of organization, Friedrich Engels (1959) complained, “how these people propose to run a factory, operate a railway, or steer a ship without a will that decides in the last resort, without single management, they of course do not tell us” (444). However late in coming, many groups (among them the Unemployed Workers Movement (MTD) of Argentina) [5] offer Engel’s a response. They do tell us (as do so many other groups), and in fact have demonstrated, how factories (in fact all elements of large interconnected communities) can be operated in a democratic, de-centered, and non-hierarchical way – in an anarchistic way. Rather than appeal to state authorities or reinstate systems of hierarchy and authority, the MTD adopted the slogan, ‘que se vayan todas’ (get rid of the lot of them). Instead of following traditional forms of resistance and organization, communities have established networks, neighborhood assemblies, hundreds of occupied, worker-controlled and managed factories, autonomous neighborhood kitchens, education centers, and a complex barter system based not on ideology, hegemony, or hierarchy, but rather, a de-centered and consensus-based notion known as horizontalidad. As one participant explains it, “what has resulted is an amazing complex of movements, linked in various ways” that are “not linear,” but rather, “break from old hierarchical ways of organizing” to form “paths without end goals” (Paula, 2003, 3). What is articulated as “the future visible in the present” (Paula, 2003, 3) is an expression of the prefigurative and non-hegemonic currents of transformation that run through the concept of horizontalidad. These practices, as the previous chapter argued, resonated with an anarchist tradition whose recognition as contemporarily relevant is long overdue.

The Adaptability of Unintelligibility


“A constant that changes is by definition paradoxical, and therefore messy. The idea of an inconsistent constant so bothers some physicists that they proposed a new kind of funny stuff in the universe, called quintessence. It’s dynamic, it’s real, it’s substantive. But it’s not like any other kind of matter” (L.A. Times, quoted in Sandoval, 2000, 68).


The term ‘inconsistent constant’ is fitting for differential social movements. Like ‘quintessence’, these movements are, in a way, a constant – they are real, positioned, and interconnected in meaningful and identifiable ways. However, they are also constantly changing and defying classification. As an ally of the MTD puts it, “it is almost impossible to reflect a movement that quite consciously does not want to be defined” (Sitrin, 2005, 5). Movements can be described and currents may be identified, but one must be content with an object of analysis that, to some extent, remains incomplete and vague. What Marcos (2001a) refers to as “our unnamable name” (111) is similar to what Butler (2004) terms “unintelligibility” (3). That is, each affirms the unclear – that which refuses to be defined and understood by traditional means. For their part, Hardt and Negri (2001) refer to “the paradox of incommunicability” (56) to describe the impossibility of explaining the parameters of differential social movements.

As Day’s earlier comment pointed out, however, this characteristic should not be taken to suggest a lack of commitment on the part of activists who subscribe to this unintelligibility. Rather, differential activists can be understood as valuing what Anzaldúa (1987) refers to as the strength of “shifting perspectives” and “adaptability” (xxvii). This adaptability allows activists and movements to respond to changing conditions and to constantly create new conditions. “There are advantages to remaining less than intelligible,” Butler (2004) argues, “if intelligibility is understood as that which is produced as a consequence of recognition according to prevailing social norms” (3). Or, as Hardt and Negri (2001) suggest, “perhaps the incommunicability of struggles, the lack of well-structured, communicating tunnels, is in fact a strength rather than a weakness” (58). Though this incommunicability makes it difficult for those of us studying social movements to discuss them in a clear way, for social movements interested in ceaseless change, multiplicity, and interconnectivity (and those positioned against neoliberal global forces taking place on multiple geographical, cultural, and political levels), it makes for broad, democratic, and inclusive alternatives – possibilities that cannot be easily located, closed off, or dominated. This characteristic has contributed to the “inclusive, horizontal, and profoundly democratic spirit” that “has saved” differential social movements “from all-encompassing manifestos” (Angelis, 2001, 111). Deleuze’s (2004) description of ‘deterritorialization’ provides a final hint at this vague yet interconnected characteristic : “Everyone pulling an oar is sharing, sharing something, beyond any law, any contract, any institution. Drifting, a drifting movement or ‘deterritorialization’ : I say all this in a vague, confused way, since this is a hypothesis or vague impression” (255).

The Final Blow to Finality, or, ‘Paths Without End Goals’

An important absence in differential activism is a traditional revolutionary language. Of course, changes are sought, but not in a way that views them as a final point that, once reached, allows the cessation of movement. Instead, groups such as the MTD have spoken in terms of “paths without end goals” (Paula, 2003, 3). Rather than being goal oriented, Paula explains (using a Zapatista aphorism), “people talk instead of ‘walking while questioning’”(3). May (2005) describes this element as “an experiment that is neither guaranteed nor doomed but always in the process of becoming” (153). That is, groups do not focus on a utopian end-point or revolutionary event, but rather, view social change as that which takes place in the construction and application of alternatives (which themselves consist of both economic and political alternatives and alternative ways of interacting and making decisions). The world envisioned by differential activists has become what Sandoval (2001) calls the “utopian nonsite” or “no-place where everything is possible” (141). What makes “everything” possible is the absence of a fixed and linear line of struggle with a particular point of departure and arrival. Though they have constructed very real and relevant alternatives, neither the Zapatistas nor the MTD possess notions of a goal to be reached. For them, the construction of alternatives must remain forever open and humble, thus allowing them to change ; becoming more democratic and inclusive ; in fact, ceaselessly changing and interconnecting with other communities, groups, and social movements. Deleuze and Guattari (1983) call the rejection of revolutionary finality the “impossible” revolution that “only exists in our minds” (109). Activists may articulate alternatives that seem impossible, but they do not overshadow the ones that are being created everyday. In other words, though activists from the MTD may have a vision of Argentina that looks very different than its present state, this does not reduce the value and commitment of current alternatives. In fact, for many activists, these alternatives are the revolution. As Paula (2003) puts it, “it is the power of everyday relations, of the necessity to construct distinct social relations in the present” (9) that distinguishes the MTD from traditional social movements. Speaking more generally about differential activism, Cindy Milstein (2004b) suggests that “the beauty of this movement, it could be said, is that it strives to take its own ideals to heart” (279). Rather than focusing on a future date and the overthrow of an existing system, activists are living out alternatives to the inequality and oppression of neoliberal globalization.

Thinking in terms of a revolutionary event, or what Day (2005) calls “the implied enclosed and encapsulated space of hegemony […] reduces the terrain of undecidability” (29). The ethico-political desire to “escape any final anchor point” (Sandoval, 2000, 180) has frustrated many observers. “Our failure to assume a clear position,” argues Angelis (2001), “is portrayed as a lack of serious intent in dealing with the problems of the world” (109). Indeed, with no final and desired event to point to, observers can mistakenly overlook the path. Responding to reporters, Marcos (2001a) commented : “some of you complained yesterday that there were no political declarations that were newsworthy. You complained that the Sup only came to make literature with the stories of Old Don Antonio” (94). As Marcos is suggesting, the seemingly apolitical stories and concepts of differential activism actually offer a unique and optimistic view of the potential for alternative ways of organizing society. By recognizing what Peyman Vahabzadeh (2003) calls “the normative-regulative force of a finality” (160), differential activists have rejected a long-standing model of identity and social movement discourse, and instead, chosen a path that is in fact more radical and effective. Rejecting the traditional discourse of a final event, however, has raised the question of how activists can leave behind the notion of revolution yet still construct radical alternatives ; how they can construct alternatives without end-points. The Zapatistas and MTD have provided at least two answers to this concern : construct ‘paths without end goals’ and ‘walk while asking questions’. In other words, seek change and alternatives, but do so constantly, and remember that the revolution is both everyday and forever. Sandoval (2001) answers in a similar way when she suggests that many radical activist-theorists have embraced “a new subjectivity, a political revision that denied any one ideology as the final answer, while instead positing a tactical subjectivity with the capacity to de- and recenter” (59). The de-and recentering of differential social movements, coupled with the rejection of the revolutionary event, has meant an element of becoming – a commitment to ceaseless change while refusing to become a dominant discourse.

Refusing to be dominant constitutes a valuing of the voices and forms of resistance and survival that have long been present in spaces of oppression. Much of Anzaldúa’s work (and much of transnational, chicana, and postcolonial feminism) is dedicated to locating the personal and political strength of the margins. Rather, the act of what Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) calls, “to retrench in the margins” is done to show that the margins have “become spaces of resistance and hope” (4). Reclaiming positions that have otherwise been classified as powerless and undesirable shifts the notion of social change and resistance. In constructing alternatives that do not seek representation, differential activists have also challenged traditional notions of social movement organization and success. No longer is a space such as Chiapas defined as a place from which to retreat or in need of ‘better representation’. No longer are factories and communities that are not a part of the state or corporate apparatus of Argentina considered partial or inadequate ‘responses’. Instead, they have remained minor – not seeking power or domination, but rather, a humble and radical alternative on the border. By declaring, “we will not be under the sole command of only one homogenous group and its great leader” (Marcos, 1995, 85), the Zapatistas embrace a minority identity that interconnects with other border identities. This space is, according to Anzaldúa (2002a), “an unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in-transition space lacking clear boundaries” (1). When one occupies such a space, Anzaldúa suggests, one experiences “a constant state of displacement” (1). Yet in this displacement – in this ongoing process of becoming minor – there exist forms of interconnection, openness, and a lack of domination over others and one’s self that allows for new and radical cognitive, ethical, and political alternatives. By staying at the edge (both of what we know and away from centralized systems of thought and organization) ; by “always changing” (Anzaldúa, 2002b, 556) ; by being “a constant ‘drifting’ to a somewhere else”(Sandoval, 2000, 144), and by suggesting that “questions are for walking” (Marcos, 2001b, 42), differential social movements have shown that there is always more to say, always more questions to ask, and always more connections to make. Movements such as the Zapatistas have taught many contemporary activists how to move between worlds, ideas, and tactics. They signal the end of the unitary subject but signal the arrival of the multiple one – the fluid and interconnected subject. Not surprisingly, Marcos (2001a) says it perfectly (this time in reference to Subcommandanta Ramona) : “Ramona laughs when she does not know she is dying. And when she knows, she still laughs. Before she did not exist for anyone ; now she exists, as a woman, as an indigenous woman, as a rebel woman. Now Ramona lives, a woman belonging to that race that must die in order to live” (7).

Multiplicity, Rhizomes, and the ‘Never Settled Universal’

“Diversity of perspectives expands and alters the dialogue, not in add-on fashion but through multiplicity that’s transformational” (Anzaldúa, 2002a, 4).


The aspects of multiplicity that I make use of in this thesis take many forms for differential activists : direct reference to love and a notion of prefigurative social change ; multiplicity of tactics and sites of struggle ; and a sense of interconnection rooted in multiplicity. For many, one collective articulation of multiplicity appeared in Seattle during the 1999 protests against the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO). For those such as Ashanti Alston (2004), Bourdieu (1998), Noam Chomsky (2001b), Graeber (2004), and Hardt and Negri (2001), the protests in Seattle constituted an ethico-political space that differed from the notions held by traditional western social movement scholarship. [6] For Hardt (2005), “Seattle personified the ethic of diversity and love that signifies ‘global justice movements’”. Chomsky (2001) similarly suggests that Seattle “was a very significant event and potentially extremely important” in that “it caught the power structures by surprise” (183), while Alexander Cockburn (2001) argues that it provided “shining hours […] in the annals of popular protest in America” (81). For Graeber (2004), Seattle represented a unique site of struggle consisting of diverse and politically singular groups aligned in collective opposition, initiated by anarchist-inspired spokes-councils :

When protesters in Seattle chanted ‘this is what democracy looks like,’ they meant to be taken literally. In the best tradition of direct action, they not only confronted a certain form of power, exposing its mechanisms and attempting literally to stop it in its tracks : they did it in a way which demonstrated why the kind of social relations on which it is based were unnecessary (84).

Even Zizek (2002) – one of the critics most suspicious of differential activism (and anarchism more generally) – argues that “claims in all the main media that anti-globalization is now finished […] is downright wrong” (241). The effectiveness and apparent paradox of political singularities acting collectively was perplexing for those trying to understand the events of Seattle through a traditional social movement lens. Responding to similar reactions of those trying to “draw boundaries or act as gatekeepers” for the women’s movement, Roberta Hamilton (1996) suggested that “for the media’s descriptors like splintered and fragmented, we may wish to substitute terms like diversified, multifaceted, and enriched” (80). Hamilton’s suggestion can also be applied to the many differential activists who see potential for new ways of interacting and cultivating diversity in forms of solidarity that could otherwise be understood as fragmented.

Since Seattle, many activists have adopted a new discourse to speak about tactics, groups, and struggles in which one may (or may not) be directly involved. “Love as social movement,” Sandoval (2001) suggests, “is enacted by revolutionary, mobile, and global coalitions of citizen-activists who are allied through apparatus of emancipation” (184). What Sandoval calls a ‘hermeneutics of love’ is a form of relating that, in its quest for social change, does not attempt to dominate or bring other struggles into an existing fold. As understood by differential activists, love represents not only an ethic of relation but also a particular type of response. No longer are activists and movements countering power in a dialectical move to reform or take power themselves. Instead, as Kamura (2001) explains, differential activists are countering neoliberal globalization “with Love” (60). It is this prefigurative moment that distinguishes many activists and social movements from their predecessors. Love is not seen as a future state of harmony that will arise following major social change (revolution). The call from the One Off Press Collective (2001), “let’s do it with love” (60) represents a desire to enact an ethic of love immediately – to engage in alternative forms of organizing, living, and interacting. Differential activists are as much about these immediate alternatives as they are about responding to particular sites of injustice and domination. Speaking of these alternatives, Cindy Milstein (2004a) argues that they are to be taken seriously “not simply as a tactic to organize protests but as the very way we organize society” (40). The term love describes a very real sense of connection between seemingly disparate activists and groups. As one activist put it after a protest in Quebec City : “I’ll never be able to forget the face of the riot cop who stepped out of formation to shoot a tear-gas canister, point blank, into the lap of a meditating man […] I’ll also never forget the camaraderie and love I felt from all those people out in the streets” (Liberty, 2001, 103). In this way, love (as non-hegemonic, open, and democratic connection between activists and social movements) is a helpful term for speaking about contemporary spaces and forms of opposition and community. In fact, love, according to bell hooks (2000), is the most important aspect of “all the great movements for social justice in our society” (xix). This aspect was quickly recognized by activists and scholars as distinct from many of the more goal-oriented social movements of the past. That is, differential activists and social movements are not connected for the sole reason of a shared space of oppression or shared political concern. As one activist put it, “our movement has to spring from love and compassion otherwise it will be doomed (Jazz, 2001, 98). With an ethic of love, differential activists have attempted to alter the destructive effects of neoliberal globalization by countering it with truly global, borderless, multiple, and emotive alternatives. The “good destruction” of differential activism, as Deleuze (2004) may have described it, “requires love” (139). Love, in the sense just described, represents an affirmation of multiplicity and a move away from the desire to be dominated or to dominate others. As Starhawk (2001) puts it, “last night I kissed a riot cop ; or I would have, if I could’ve gotten through the 20 foot wall, concrete barriers, past rubber bullet guns, tear gas fumes, pepper spray, plastic shields, water canons, masks, horses, pistols, fists. But I did blow him a kiss and he felt it. I saw him flinch in recognition” (47). This anecdote is a fitting analogy for many contemporary activists’ relation to centers of dominating authority. The kiss blown can be read as both a gesture of love and compassion toward an agent of oppression and as a final goodbye to the centralized and hierarchical forms of social organization that gave birth to these agents.

For many participants and observers, interconnectivity (or what many simply refer to as solidarity) is the most important element of differential activism. Differential activism has become a part of what Marcos (2001a) calls, “a world where many worlds fit” (50). What is often referred to as a ‘diversity of tactics’ represents both a literal multiplicity of resistance and organization and a way of viewing social change and social relations. It is important to note that these tactics are not elements of a determined course of action. Anticipating Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome discussed later, it may be helpful to offer the image of a tree versus rhizomatic weeds. A tree may offer diversity (different branches of different length) yet each is attached to a single, rooted trunk. Weeds on the other hand, and for that matter, differential social movements, are not rooted to a single source that determines the limits of multiplicity. Differential activism does of course have limits, but these limits are determined through dialogue and shared ethics rather than dictation. As Anzaldúa expresses in the quotation at the beginning of this section, this type of diversity does not simply add voices but transforms the way activists speak to each other and make decisions, and thus the activists themselves. [7] Yet still, differential social movements do not seek to add on, but rather, to multiply – what Marcos (2001a) calls “the multiplication of resistance” (122). In the most literal sense, a diversity of tactics has meant a vast array of actions and events : family friendly marches, corporate property damage, culture jamming, street theatre, reclaiming public space (often an intersection or portion of a street used for a party or community event), graffiti, plush toy catapulting, die-ins, and a generally endless range of protests, art, and direct-action.

After the events of Seattle, much was made of this diversity of tactics. Many observers and activists not only wanted a clearly defined target (globalization, capitalism) but also an agreed upon response. While street theatre that included protestors dressed in evening gowns and tuxedos stuffing fake money into the pockets of police officers, costumed figures ‘attacking’ police officers with balloons and water pistols, and pink bloc members dressed as fairies trying to tickle police officers with feather dusters [8] was seen as creative, yet ultimately ineffective (which indicates a forgetting of the prefigurative element mentioned earlier), direct action tactics received the greatest attention and criticism. Morse’s (2002a) suggestion that the “never-ending debates on tactics are nothing but an exercise in futility” (11) is directed at the divisive attempts by those outside and inside activist spaces to determine acceptable forms of protest. However, for many activists, a diversity of tactics means that dialogue and bridges are at the forefront of the way they speak across issues and tactics.

One tactic that was quickly criticized during demonstrations was the direct action of black bloc. Although often misunderstood as an official organization, black bloc is more accurately described as “a protest tactic in which a section of a demo is formed by whoever turns up wearing black clothes” (One Off Press Collective, 2001, 6). While black bloc tactics are not exclusive to those wearing black, they do include those willing to engage in direct action that may include anything from general protest protection and surveillance to corporate property destruction and a willingness to confront police. The black bloc “are not some sort of centralized army” (Porter, 2001, 76), but rather, a significant force in differential activism that, as one activist argues, “are the ones that […] sent more fear through the hearts of the G8 and the cops […] making people think again about the term anti-capitalist” (Jones, 2001, 15).

Despite the dialogue among activists regarding direct action (which has resulted in a number of alternatives including separate zones at protests depending on one’s comfort and intention and separate events such as a direct action march followed the next day by a family-friendly rally), many academic observers have condemned certain activities as unproductive and unnecessary. Pointing out that “the most heated debate within the movement is over the question of tactics,” Epstein (2001) condemns direct action by arguing that demonstrations in European cities “have included attacks on policemen” (12). Putting the male pronoun aside, Epstein’s comment (and her article more generally) makes a number of common assumptions. First, she does not concern herself with the content or result of discussions regarding tactics being had by activists. Second, she doe not problematize the use of the term ‘violence’ to describe groups in Europe such as Tute Bianche or Ya Basta ! – whose ‘attacks’ on police are limited to thick padding, shields, inner-tubes, and rubber-ducky floatation devices. Third, she does not contextualize the ‘violent’ response of property damage and confrontations with police in relation to the violence of neoliberal globalization and their agents (police) that activists oppose. Fourth, her response constitutes a tendency to indict those tactics that do not fit into the dominant vision of a ‘proper’ tactic used by a ‘proper’ social movement. The most common response to the ‘concern’ over violence has been to point out its general absence. For example, Klein (2002) suggests that “remarkably few of globalization’s fenced-out people turn to violence” (xxi), while Graeber (2002) points out that “it is still impossible to produce a single example of anyone to whom a US activist has caused physical injury” (66). This line of defense, however, reinforces Epstein’s suggestion that certain tactics are desirable while others are not. Most importantly, it has been differential activists’ reliance upon dialogue and the process of consensus that has allowed for a diversity of tactics and disallowed a dominating perspective against or in favour of certain tactics. As activists have turned less to mass demonstrations and more to community alternatives and solidarity campaigns, this debate has become much less active. Direct action tactics have also broadened far beyond confrontational activities at mass demonstrations. Important too is the construction of alternatives. In many ways, differential social movements could never be understood through the observation of mass demonstrations and confrontations with the state, but rather, as the construction of alternatives to, or alongside, the state form.

For differential activists, multiplicity constitutes not simply a new strategy for interacting, organizing, and resisting – a way for movements to be more inclusive and broadly based (though that is an important factor). Rather, multiplicity is seen as an effective means of challenging oppression while creating alternatives. “A multidimensional analysis of oppression,” Day (2005) argues, “is therefore crucial to any effort to oppose, subvert or offer alternatives to the neoliberal world order” (184). For obvious reasons, agents of neoliberal globalization would prefer that those who challenge them do so from a limited number of identifiable locations in a limited number of ways ; preferably desiring power themselves and thus having to adopt a certain amount of legitimacy and visibility. As Jean-Francois Lyotard (1983) suggested (in a manner similar to the comments of Goldman and Nietzsche in chapter three), “the plural, the collection of singularities, are precisely what power, kapital […] are bent on repressing” (10). Differential social movements have avoided this repression. Instead, they have embraced resistance on multiple issues, from multiple perspectives, using multiple tactics, resulting in multiple alternatives. This aspect is what makes differential activists and social movements so radical – what makes them so unique and so effective. “Activity, affirmation, and the very capacity to transform conditions,” Butler (2004) argues, “are derived from a subject multiply constituted and moving in several directions” (193). As subjects ‘multiply constituted and moving in several directions’, differential activists have heeded Foucault’s (1983) call : “prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic” (xiii). Difference, flows, and mobile arrangements have become elements of differential social movements, and thus signaled a new way of organizing and envisioning social change. Marcos’ (1995) call for “struggles on several fronts, using a lot of methods and various social forms” (85) communicates the newness of social movements that cultivate multiplicity. This embrace of multiplicity has not, however, resulted in fragmented identities and disconnected social movements. On the contrary, differential social movements have found a sense of unity in this notion of multiplicity.

The New Nepantleras

“Welcome to this corner of the world where we are all the same because we are different” (Marcos, 2001a, 161).

While embracing multiplicity, activists have been faced with the dilemma of uniting without falling back on hegemonic, hierarchical, and centralized forms of organization and decision-making. As a result, differential activists have found commonality in a commitment to multiplicity that, going beyond simply a desire for multiple tactics, locations, and identities, works to cultivate interconnectivity between activist and groups. What Sandoval (2001) terms “a decolonizing alliance of difference” (182), and May (2005) refers to as “swarms of difference that actualize themselves into specific forms of identity” (114), resonates with differential social movements that have rejected the necessity of a common project while still connecting through a sense of shared ethics. For differential social movements, multiplicity and interconnectivity are the shared condition. “We are all distinct and different,” Alberto (2005) of the MTD suggests, “the challenge is for each of us to think within the collective for each person to be integrated, to form collective thought” (23). [9] Anzaldúa similarly argued that “twenty-one years ago we struggled with the recognition of difference within the context of commonality. Today we grapple with the recognition of commonality within the context of difference” (Anzaldúa, 2002a, 2). Formed on the basis of multiplicity, the collective thought of differential social movements can be articulated and constructed knowing that hegemony and domination will be avoided. With differential activists acting in ways that resonate with some of the concepts of Deleuze, his concern raised in 1973 that “the revolutionary problem today is to find some unity in our various struggles without falling back on the despotic and bureaucratic organization of the party or State apparatus” (2004, 260) has been addressed. Differential activists and social movements have found unity in a way that avoids falling back on centralized, hierarchical authority and state forms. As Day (2005) argues :

Just as there can be no purely nomadic subject, there can be no purely nomadic community. There can, however, be communities that share presuppositions that are different from those of the global system of states and corporations, and that are at the same time changeable and open to anything but the emergence of apparatuses of division, capture, and exploitation (186).

Differential social movements are based on a notion of interconnectivity that is constantly aware of difference as both (politically and tactically) multidimensional and as a category under which to declare unity. As Butler (2004) suggest, “to work in coalition across differences […] will make a more inclusive movement” (228). A final reference to explain this is Donna Haraway’s discussion of the roaming identity of Soujourner Truth. [10] “The essential Truth,” argued Haraway (1992), “would not settle down ; that was her specificity” (92). Similarly, the specificity of differential social movements can be located in their refusal to ‘settle down’. It is in this theoretical space – what Haraway calls a “never-settled universal” (92) – that these movements can be understood. The refusal to settle down or enact a clear and bordered form of resistance does not entirely reject identification, but rather, traditional notions of identification.

Trying to understand this dimension of differential social movements has frustrated many observers. The result has most often been the complaint that movements of this sort lack a necessary single-dimensional clarity. For example, Zizek (2001) objects to the ‘anti-globalization movement’ by asking, “yeah, I agree with your goals, but tell me how you are organized” (72). The answer, according to Graeber (2004), is that “the diversity was a function of the decentralized form of organization, and this organization was the movement’s ideology” (84). Graeber provides a perfect response to Zizek, making it clear that multiplicity is a form of organization – that organization need not be centralized and hierarchical. When, as Marcos (2001a) puts it, “the rebels begin to realize each other, to know themselves as equals and different” (120), they organize themselves in a way that is somewhat unrecognizable to the Marxist paradigm of Epstein, Zizek, and others. As Massimo de Angelis (2001) states :

Many within the left tradition, including many trade union leaders, have difficulty understanding this movement. They are puzzled – if not irritated or threatened – by the network-form of this movement […] Such observers are disturbed that, on the contrary, the network-form is taken to be a symptom of strength by movement participants. Many such observers cannot rid themselves of their suspicion of a movement that does not pose the question of the alternatives to the market in recognizable terms (111).

One way to make this ‘network-form’ more clear (or unclear depending on the paradigm) is to liken it to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome.

The rhizome, according to Deleuze and Guattari (1983), is present in “a-centered systems, networks of finite automata, where communication occurs between any two neighbors, where channels or links do not pre-exist, where individuals are all interchangeable and are defined only by their state at a given moment” (38). These networks are “nonhierarchical, nonsignifying systems without a General and without an organized memory or central automaton” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, 21). The rhizome provides a fitting description of what Klein (2002) refers to as a “movement that doesn’t have a leader, a center or even an agreed-on name […] yet it exists, undeniably, nonetheless” (145). In addition to the analogy of the tree versus the weed mentioned earlier, rhizomes may also be explained through the image of webs. The typical web – a web that is circular, containing a predictable pattern of equal length strands – is not the type of web Deleuze and Guattari envision. A rhizomatic web is one whose strands do not follow a pattern ; they are of varying length, connectable to numerous other strands, and capable of breaking off (taking flight) at various points. “Woven together with conjunctions” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, 57), the rhizome “always has multiple entrances” (26). This is an important aspect of both the rhizome and differential social movements. That is, the web and differential movements do not have a center or an outside that makes it easy to observe where one enters and the levels one must pass to get to the middle. Rather, once one enters the rhizomatic web of differential social movements, one is always already in the middle. There is no rank, hierarchy, order, or centralized authority to negotiate. The Zapatistas, MTD, and countless other collectives and movements around the world are each already the middle of a unique oppositional consciousness.

The rhizome “is not a multiple derived from One […] it is not made of units but of dimensions, or rather of shifting directions. It has neither a beginning nor end, but always a middle” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, 47). Always being a middle means that movements are not derived from a center ; they are not units of diversity which develop from a single source, nor does their connection serve a purpose other than the simple act of connecting – of being multiple. For differential activists and Deleuze and Guattari, multiplicity could serve no greater purpose. The rhizome’s antithesis (the arborescent structure found in trees and roots), on the other hand, constitutes the traditional hierarchy and centralized system of social movements. The arborescent structure, according to Deleuze and Guattari (1983), “fixes a point and thus an order” (11). By doing so, this system of thought and organization “pre-exists the individual, who is integrated into a specific position within it” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, 37). In this case one cannot enter the middle. Instead, a system and code exists that one is forced to navigate, and ultimately, a system that one has very little effect over and in which there are limited options. As Deleuze and Guattari state, “each time a multiplicity is caught up in a structure, its growth is offset by a reduction in the laws of combination” (8). In the late 1990s, it quickly became apparent to both activists and observers that something very new was happening in the ways people organized, made decisions, and worked together. It also became very apparent that Deleuze and Guattari were correct ; that this new spirit of multiplicity and its infinite laws of combination would be compromised if it gave way to the structural subsumption that so many demanded. In rhizomatic form, differential activists no longer traced the social movements of the past, but rather, mapped out new ones. Differential activists have grown weary and suspicious like Deleuze and Guattari : “we’re tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles. They’ve made us suffer too much” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, 15). This exhaustion has lead to forms of resistance and organization that are, like the rhizome, “susceptible to constant modification” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, 26) and that serve to “overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, 25). The rhizomatic character of differential social movements has allowed not only a spirit of multiplicity and the sense of unity under its inexhaustible limits, but also a notion of constructing networks and coalitions amidst multiplicity – a notion of solidarity that Marcos (2001a) refers to as a “network of voices and resistance” (123).

What differential activists are committed to is a foundationless interconnectivity, that is, a type of connection that does not seek recognition, incorporation, or representation, but rather, forms non-hegemonic coalitions. Interconnectivity is coalitional in a way that does not impose or envision links for the sole purpose of strengthening a single ideological political force. Rather, it exists in dialogue, consensus, and the cultivation of multiplicity. Differential activism is particularly identifiable by a global consciousness. Considering this, the often-used label ‘anti-globalization’ is ironically unhelpful for understanding it. Many contemporary social movements, according to Klein (2002), “have been turning globalization into a lived reality” (xv). Though still speaking in terms of a single movement, many observers have shared Klein’s view that ‘the movement’ is, as Susan George (2001) suggests, “international and broadly based” (21). The “global tendency” (Day, 2005, 190) of differential social movements has lead activists to “devote tremendous amounts of time, money, and energy to learning about the experience of other people across the globe” (Smith, 2001, 16). This element became particularly apparent after the appearance of the Zapatistas, “whose strategy has from the beginning been dependent on gaining allies in the international community” (Graeber, 2004, 104). What Marcos (2001a) calls “one no and many yeses” (162) summarizes the global character of differential activism. These yeses constitute an open, self-critical, and consensus-based ethic of interaction and dialogue. This is very different from traditional notions of social movements as relatively insulated and separated from other movements. Differential social movements, on the other hand, often define themselves as necessarily connected to other struggles in a way that views geographical and tactical distance as an opportunity to produce interconnected and sustainable alternatives.

Interconnectivity of this sort is identifiable by its non-hegemonic and non-paternalistic character. As Merentes states (2001), “if you have come here to help me you’re wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” (147). [11] For differential activists, lines are drawn for connection ; not life lines of aid or to pull others into an existing struggle or ideology. Instead, as Butler (2004) suggests, “the lines we draw are invitations to cross over and that crossing over, as many nomadic subjects know, constitutes who we are” (203). Crossing over means the traditional tools of social movements (leaders, political representation, liaisons to power) are no longer used by many movements. Trinh T. Minh-ha’s (1999) demand that activist-theorists “speak nearby rather than speak about” (218) demonstrates this. Non-representational interconnectedness demands giving up vanguard notions of particular groups or individuals speaking for others. The rejection of representation, according to May, is a particularly strong logic in both anarchism and poststructuralism. Poststructuralism, argues May (1994), “must be seen as carrying through the anarchist critique of representation” (98). Those observing (and not necessarily taking part in) contemporary struggles, should, according to Deleuze (2004), work “side by side with those fighting, and not off to the side trying to enlighten them” (208). To work ‘side by side’ places academics (and social movement scholars in particular) in a relevant and meaningful position, rather than the tenuous and understandably suspicious position of claiming to possess specialized knowledge about capitalism, globalization, and social inequality. However democratic and benevolent a system of representation may appear to be, it is inadequate in both the context of achieving and understanding the “shared ethico-political commitments that allow us to achieve enough solidarity to effectively create sustainable alternatives to the neoliberal order” (Day, 2005, 186). Interconnectivity works without leaders and representatives, but rather, with networks, roundtables, spokescouncils, and process. It is, according to Starhawk (2001), “about holding each other accountable, critiquing what we do together with the purpose of learning from our mistakes” (133). The communication of this network, therefore, takes place between activists and groups rather than relays between them and power. The MTD demonstrate this way of constructing alternatives alongside or apart from power. “Instead of a new government,” says Graeber (2004), “they created a vast network of alternative institutions” (83).

Interconnectivity is both a radical form of organizing and an ethic of interaction that views one’s relation to others as one of connection and collaboration. It also places a great emphasis upon “consensus as a process rather than a state” (Day, 2005, 189). That is, the mechanics of decision-making based on consensus (though important) are only an element of an ethic that takes seriously the spirit of self-criticism, compassion, and humility that is so much a part of the process of reaching consensus. As Braidotti (1994) argues when discussing the ethic of the nomadic subject, “it is definitely anti-humanistic, but deeply compassionate in so far as it begins with the recognition of one’s limitations as the necessary counterpart of one’s forces or intensities” (68). Working in such a way has shown differential activists and social movements to be the new nepantleras. As Anzaldúa (2002b) argues, “by moving from a militarized zone to a roundtable, nepantleras acknowledge an unmapped common ground” (570). The precarious and ‘unmapped common ground’ of differential activism demonstrates a new way of organizing social movements, and thus, demands a new way of studying them – one, I would argue, that is done best with the aid of anarchist and poststructuralist thought.

In this chapter I have spoken of transformation as a new and unique current that runs through differential activism. However, by presenting it in a way that is structurally similar to chapter three, I have also hoped that it would sound familiar. That is, the commitment to ceaseless change, multiplicity, and interconnectivity would be recognized as both a radical contemporary shift and a current that resonates with the past. In the following and final chapter I will discuss how locating these shared currents serve to strengthen both our understanding of contemporary notions of resistance and social change, and to reinforce the scantly recognized importance of Goldman.

Next : Chapter 5 and Conclusion - Bibliography


[1Day’s book Gramsci is Dead (2005) offers both an analysis of the ethico-political spirit of differential activism and a detailed description of many tactics and groups.

[2When asked about naming ‘the new black music’.

[3Of course, the Zapatistas commitment to ceaseless change, multiplicity, and interconnectivity make it impossible to suggest the presence of a ‘Magna Carta’ of any sort.

[4The rejection of representation is an important element of anarchist and poststructuralist thought resonate of Nietzsche’s (1969) demand, “lose me and find yourselves” (103).

[5The MTD began as a response to the 2001 economic crisis in Argentina, and as an alternative to the hierarchical and centralized ways in which factories and communities operated.

[6What is interesting, yet unfortunately beyond the reach of this thesis, is the failure to also recognize the presence of these elements in past and present spaces of indigenous, feminist, and queer struggles.

[7What accompanies this inclusiveness, according to Anzaldúa (2002), is the exclusion of certain voices : “But sometimes you need to block the other from your body, mind, and soul. You need to ignore certain voices in order to respect yourself – as when in an abusive relationship. It’s impossible to be open and respectful to all views and voices” (573).

[8Graeber (2002, 67)

[9This reference to integration should not be read as liberal-democratic inclusion, but rather, the need for consensus amidst multiplicity.

[10Soujourner Truth was an Afro-Dutch-English escaped slave whose 1851 speech “Ain’t I a Woman” has been used to question humanist discourses and symbolize notions of displacement and fluid gender identity.

[11This quote is attributed to ‘Aboriginal Activist Sister’.