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'Viva Nihilism!' On militancy and machismo in (anti-)globalisation protest

Sian Sullivan

CSGR Working Paper No. 158/05

This paper is a further reflection on the incidence of violence in (anti-)globalisation protest (also see CSGR Working Papers 123/03 and 133/04). Previously I have argued that biopolitical militancy in protest emerges as a legitimate, predictable and human anger at the multiplicitous biopolitical violences that maintain and distribute a modern status quo of alienation and structural inequality. Questions remain, however, regarding the possibilities for violent protest to open up and dismantle the violating categories, assumptions and practices targeted by protestors. Drawing on the violences that occurred during protests against the EU summit in Thessaloniki, June 2003, in this piece I consider some relationships between a contemporary nihilist orientation to protest in some quarters and two superficially contradictory lines of thought associated with the modern era. These are, 1. assertions of what it means to be ‘a revolutionary’ as captured in the ‘catechism’ of the 19th century Russian nihilist Sergei Nechayev, and 2. the 18th century liberal discourse by Adam Smith on the traits accompanying desirable bourgeois masculinity. Both of these discourses elevate a masculinity which is bounded, restrained, unconcerned with the openness and softness of relationship, and built on the disciplined repression of physical needs and desires. This is a conservative ‘hardcore habitus’ that is reproduced rather than shattered in the militancy and machismo accompanying some orientations to protest in contemporary (anti-)globalisation movements. Such orientations participate in a logic of more violence: in the increasingly transnational policing practices that both creates and responds to militant protest, and in support for a romantic, self-sacrificing (but also self-serving) machismo in both violent protest and policing. Drawing on feminist theorists from de Beauvoir to Irigaray, I thus wonder at the potential for violent protest to engender radical departures from contemporary circumstances experienced as violating by many. At the same time, given the structural violence producing these violating circumstances, I conclude that violence, in protest as elsewhere, is likely to intensify rather than diminish in the foreseeable future.

Key words: violence; violation; nihilism; militancy; machismo; protest; (anti-)globalisation movement(s); Sergei Nechayev; Adam Smith; feminism; Simone de Beauvoir; Luce Irigaray