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'We are heartbroken and furious!' Engaging with violence in the (anti-)globalisation movement(s)

Sian Sullivan

CSGR Working Paper No. 123/03

January 2004


This piece is intended as an exploratory comment on the militancy emerging in (anti-)globalisation political practice and in the policing of such practice, rather than as a definitive analysis. As someone who attempts to pursue a tradition of the ‘organic intellectual’ – engaging in the practice of activism as well as the theorising of activist practice – the paper has emerged from my own process of sense-making regarding violence in the ‘(anti-)globalisation movement(s)’. It flows from experience of irruptive situations, my perceptions of the contextual causes of violence in these situations, and my thinking around the subversive and transformative potential, or otherwise, of violence in engendering radical post-capitalist social relations. I take as a starting point the recent protests against the EU summit meeting in Thessaloniki, June 2003, which culminated in substantial violence against property and towards police by antiauthoritarian protesters, and was met by the police with violent attack and the brutalisation of those arrested. I do not assume a moral standpoint regarding the value or otherwise of violence to ‘the movements’. Instead I try to consider why violence is increasing as a bio-political tactic in these contexts, ‘upfronting’ both the normalisation of psychological and physical violence in the everyday circumstances of late-capitalism, and the depression and anger this engenders. In the interests of strategic debate regarding the usefulness of violence in potentiating post-capitalist social relations, however, I attempt to disentangle the relative (f)utility of acting out, acting upon and denying the experience of anger. My personal stance is to celebrate the transformative potential and energy of the correct attribution of the contextual sources of anger – particularly in shifting between the microcosm of individual circumstances and the macrocosm of structural societal violence within which these arise – whilst upholding a view that violence as a simple reaction to alienating circumstances is likely to maintain rather than shift their brutalising tendencies. My conclusion is both gloomy and hopeful. On the one hand, given that violence to life is both so systemic to late capitalist modernity and that ‘we’ tend to be in such denial regarding its dehumanising psychosocietal effects, I am clear that it is likely that the incidence of violence in protest politics as elsewhere will increase in reaction to this. On the other hand, I celebrate the creative energy present in global anti-capitalist actions and practice, the emergence of a global peace movement as a political force, and the current radicalisation of people otherwise deemed by some to be politically apathetic.

Keywords:- violence/violation, militancy, militarisation (of police), (anti-)globalisation movements, anti-capitalism, new social movements, anarchism, depression, anger, bio-politics

Address for correspondence:

Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation (CSGR)
University of Warwick
Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK
Phone: 44 (0)24 7657 4420
Fax: 44 (0)24 7656 2548

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