Social Text 20.3 (2002) 9-20
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Fragment on Kropotkin and Giuliani
Kropotkin's history of the French Revolution has a revealing chapter on anarchists. 1 Kropotkin notes that they were greatly feared by both the Girondins and the Jacobins, and they dominated many key moments of action and deliberation in the Revolution. Yet they left behind little direct trace, except in the pamphlets of others in which they were attacked. And Kropotkin's great history enacts this presence. Anarchists are given only one short chapter, but they are present as a force in every scene. They were the people willing to make revolution at every turn, "even against themselves." These anarchists were precisely, in Kropotkin's history, both the movement and limits of the French Revolution.
The contemporary Italian anarchist Alfredo Bonanno points out in his introduction to Kropotkin's study that Kropotkin had a keen historical sense of these anarchists. He argues that Kropotkin understood their violence, and violence in general, as a bourgeois phenomenon. Neither this violence, nor the authoritarianism it makes possible, had any place in the communist anarchism that interested Kropotkin. Bonanno himself calls terror "a bourgeois ideal." Violence turns to terror in Kropotkin's history. But this is not a condemnation for Kropotkin. It is a question of historical limits. Violence limited what could be achieved politically. For Kropotkin, the Terror was both the achievement and the limit of bourgeois power. The Terror was not the beginning of anarchy in the French Revolution, but its end.
Today, violence continues to limit what can be achieved politically. But today this is still a historical question. Bourgeois violence, or terror, is fully achieved in many places today inside what Jacques Derrida calls the force of law. 2 And yet the force of law—that sophisticated attempt by a new class to hold all the terrors of the emerging capitalist world together by investing them with a participatory universality—begins to spend itself. The always already present question of our day—is legitimacy legitimate—swirls in the wind over every ground zero. But this time, the mass refusal of violence hints at an anarchy grown full. [End Page 9]
The September 11 attacks sped up the decomposition of the force of law, and in its aftermath one could see most easily the naked attempts to refound law in the Terror. But such attempts were already desperately present on September 10, and already failing. Nowhere was the Terror more ineffective, more counterproductive in its own terms, than in New York City in the last eight years. But of course on September 11, the victim-hero of that terror, Rudolph Giuliani, had the chance to try again. And he and his supporters did try to put the force of law back together again by renewing his victim-hero status. And yet, this did not work; the terror no longer terrifies. And the evidence for this is striking.
Of course, this sounds wrong at first, and perhaps even feels wrong if one lives in the United States. It sounds wrong because following the attack there was indeed a global bourgeois riot, with the state and its ideologues rampaging from Washington, D.C., to Jakarta to Buenos Aires, looting and pillaging with renewed frenzy any alternatives to their rule. To give one bloody example, antiterror legislation in the United States has permitted renewed links with the Indonesian military, despite a congressional ban, no progress on the prosecution of Indonesian military and paramilitary war criminals, and the military's recent and brazen extrajudicial killing of a peaceful West Papuan independence leader. That pattern is the same everywhere. And it feels wrong here in the United States to say the terror does not terrify. It certainly feels like the force is with us more than ever at this moment, when no one can stop working, neither mothers nor billionaires, no one can stop spending, and where no one is safe without security, or secure without a homeland. Decisions about our safety have to be made, enacting the force of law again and again. Democracy...