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CR: The New Centennial Review 1.3 (2001) 155-200

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The New Combinations
Revolt of the Global Value-Subjects

Nick Dyer-Witheford
University of Western Ontario

Global Insurgency

  Capital is Enclosure

First it fenced off the land
Then it metered the water
It measured our time
It plundered our bodies and now it polices our dreams

We cannot be contained
We are not for sale
Leave capital to enclose itself

—Leaflet attached by demonstrators to the wire fence surrounding
the Summit of the Americas, Quebec City, April 2001

THE KEENING OF A COVEN OF WITCHES HAS JUST FADED, THE BLUE-ROBED singers winding away around the perimeter fence enclosing the trade negotiators at the Summit of the Americas, when fiercer chanting rises from a [End Page 155] column of red flags approaching the heavily guarded main gate. One banner blazes a yellow hammer and sickle; many more are sliced with anarchist black. As the contingent of the Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitalist reaches the fence, there is a momentary pause: people mill to sporadic drumming, slogans peter out anticlimactically. Suddenly, a handful of figures, masked, gloved, combat clothed—"black-block" activists—launch themselves onto the fence, scaling it. They sway violently on its crest; topple a section, from which others, wire-cut, peel away. As police gaze on, a million-dollar barrier, topic of civil rights lawsuits and parliamentary questions, falls in five minutes. Both sides pause in mutual amazement. The demonstrators hesitate, surprised by their own success, reluctant to storm the fortress, suspecting, perhaps, the deadly force that would indeed greet too deep an incursion toward the presence of visiting U.S. President George W. Bush. The security forces recover first. On a flank the futuristic ranks of the riot squad, extraterrestrially gas-masked, visored, and shielded, emerge. The white parabolas of tear gas canisters rise into the sky, first shots in a continuous barrage whose clouds throughout the afternoon blow back into the air-conditioning systems of Summit delegates' hotels, delaying the opening of proceedings and inaugurating forty-eight hours of confusion on all sides. The next day, thousands of demonstrators from labor and social movements will march away from the fence to a vacant industrial parking lot to listen to hours of speeches from trade unions' leaders and other official spokespeople denouncing corporate globalization, while at the barrier a swirl of thousands more young activists clash continuously with security forces. Police fire scores of rubber bullets, deploy water cannons, and arrest hundreds, yet at one moment appear to refuse orders from senior officers to charge a group of gas-sodden retching teenagers resolutely "locked down" in the street in front of them...

Such scenes are increasingly frequent on a landscape of globalized capital that has over the last decade been crossed by an ascending arc of struggles. A too-rapid scan can trace this trajectory from the 1994 Zapatista revolt in Chiapas, an uprising that burst out on the anniversary of an earlier wave of activism against the 1992 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to the 1996 general strikes in France, through waves of strikes [End Page 156] against neoliberal policies in India, in Indonesia, Korea, and Latin America throughout the 1990s, back into the 1999 European mobilizations against the G7 meetings in Cologne and the worldwide campaign that halted the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. In North America, it was only with the "Battle of Seattle" that the scale of this process broke into the awareness of the mainstream media, making the subsequent demonstrations in Washington—against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, in Prague, in Quebec City, and in the May Day 2001 events around the world—a focus of alarmed commentary. At the time of writing, the line is crossing Europe again with the impending protests at the G8 meeting in Genoa, the World Bank's removal of its scheduled meeting from Barcelona to cyberspace (a decision greeted gleefully by swarms of hackers), and the police shooting of demonstrators at Gothenburg in Sweden. But any chronology of landmark events...


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