September 11, it is said, has changed everything. However true this may be””and I tend to think that it is not very true at all””one thing it certainly should have changed is the loose manner in which violence as an adjective has been appended to recent anti-globalization protests. Yet within a week after September 11 we could read the following in the National Post: ”œLike terrorists, the anti- globalization movement is disdainful of democratic institu- tions… Terrorism, if not so heinous as what we witnessed last week, has always been part of the protesters’ game plan.” This fails to register the fact that what precisely char- acterizes the anti-globalization movement, in contrast, with earlier ones on the European and North American left, is the explicit eschewal, even among its most militant elements, of both armed revolutionary struggle and terrorism (along the lines of the Red Brigades or Weathermen just a genera- tion ago) as a means of effecting change in the advanced capitalist countries. In the current era, it is not among activists on the left, but rather almost exclusively among activists on the right, such as those who bomb abortion clinics, government buildings and refugee shelters, from Christian fundamentalists, to American militiamen, to European neo-Nazis, that one finds violence adopted as a strategy and a lifestyle. And the same must be said about the religious fanatics in the Middle and Far East, whether Muslim or Jewish or Hindu, whose self-identification as the scourge of the secular and religious left is a central element in their political formation.

That the anti-globalization movement would not dis- appear after September 11 could be seen from the 50,000 people who assembled to declare ”œanother world is possi- ble” at the second World Social Forum in Porto Alegre early in 2002. Yet the immediate question after September 11 was whether new coercive domestic practices and legal measures adopted under the banner of the war against ter- rorism would be deployed to stifle this movement in its infancy. In the United States (aside from the 1,100 people immediately added because of September 11, and without any pretense of procedural justice, to the 2 million already in U.S. prisons), this was the one of the dangers posed by the USA PATRIOT Act and other measures that enhanced considerably the power and resources of the coercive security apparatus. The adoption of such measures by other states in the wake of September 11 reflected in part considerable pres- sure from Washington, and the explicit justifica- tion for these measures often included the need for coordination among states to deal with inter- national terrorism. This suggested that such leg- islation was being introduced for reasons having less to do with the national security of the state in question than with imperial security””that is, the security of a global capitalist system that has the American state at its centre.

In December 2001 the Council of the European Union passed a Framework Decision on Combating Terrorism, with a definition of terror- ism so broad that it encompassed acts that ”œmay be seriously damaging to a country or an inter- national organization” with the aim of ”œ(i) seri- ously intimidating a population, or (ii) unduly compelling a Government or international organization to perform or to abstain from per- forming any act, or (iii) destabilizing or destroy- ing the fundamental political, constitutional or social structures of a country or international organization.” In light of the initial EU Commission proposal in September that vaguely referred to such acts in relation to ”œunlawful seizure or damage to state or government facili- ties, means of public transport, infrastructural facilities, places of public use, and property (both public and private),” and then immediately went on say, ”œthis could include, for instance, acts of urban violence,” this definition was disturbingly troubling for civil rights groups, especially the European element of the anti-globalization movement. This concern was fuelled by dracon- ian laws being passed in a number of member states at the national level. In November, the concern was taken to the Council of the 15 mem- ber states by a small minority of governments wanting ”œto restrict this definition as far as possi- ble in order to ensure that legitimate action, such as in the context of trade union activities or anti- globalization movements, could in no circum- stances come within the scope of the Framework Decision.”

The final Council decision reflected this concern to the extent that it added a preamble stating that the definition should not be ”œinter- preted as intended to reduce or restrict funda- mental freedoms such a the freedom of assem- bly or association or of expression, including the right of everyone to form and join trade unions with others for the protection of his or her interests and the related right to demon- strate”; it also added a non-binding declaration that this should not be ”œconstrued so as to incriminate on terrorist grounds persons exer- cising their legitimate right to manifest their opinions, even if in the course of the exercise of such right they commit offenses.” But this has by no means entirely assuaged those who had already been concerned by earlier initiatives to create an EU-wide database on ”œsuspected” pro- testers, to develop an action plan to place pro- testers under surveillance, and to bring together the various national paramilitary units to police protests. And as recently as February 2002 the Spanish Presidency of the Council presented the working party on terrorism with a draft for a Council decision that would ”œprosecute violent urban youthful radicalism…at summits or other events arranged by various Community and international organizations,” which it alleges is ”œincreasingly used by terrorist organizations to achieve their criminal aims.”

In Canada, the introduction and passage of the Anti-terrorism Act (Bill C-36) go a long way to- ward undermining the advance that was made for civil liberties when the War Measures Act (passed during World War I) was replaced by the Emergencies Act in 1988. In explicit recognition of the fact (evidenced by the many hundreds of innocent people swept up by the Trudeau gov- ernment when it invoked the War Measures Act during the FLQ Crisis in Quebec) that the former Act was far too ham-fisted and gave the state far too many unrestricted powers in instances of internal terrorism. If used after September 11, the Emergencies Act would have permitted the declaration of an international emergency in Canada to deal with ”œacts of intimidation or coercion or the real or imminent use of serious force or violence” and would have given the gov- ernment powers that legal scholar Lorraine Weinrib evaluates as ”œextensive and as invasive of existing rights and liberties as the provisions made a permanent component of Canadian law” under the Anti-terrorism Act. But the Emergencies Act would have subjected the government to many more restrictions, especially from Parliament, insofar as it would have had to con- sider any motion to revoke the declaration where supported by 10 members of the Senate or 20 members of the House of Commons, and pro- vided a much larger role for all-party committees to review the government’s actions under the declaration of emergency, with the power to revoke or amend executive orders and regula- tions. The failure to take this route may be attrib- uted in large part to the Canadian state’s entrap- ment in the American decision to respond to September 11 with an unrestricted long-term war against international terrorism; but by this very fact it also risks what legal scholars like Kent Roach have properly termed ”œthe criminaliza- tion of politics” within Canada itself. Even with the ”œsunset clauses” that were added to require parliamentary approval for the renewal of some of its provisions, David Dyzenhaus has argued persuasively that the fact that what we have is not emergency legislation but a terrorism law”” an emergency law masquerading as an ordinary statute””means that we have stepped outside the rule of law. The rule of law is relaxed, though not totally, and there is no clearly defined threat. We have the permanence of the temporary, an attempt to normalize the exception.

This is reminiscent of what Donald Swartz and I designate, in our book The Assault on Trade Union Freedoms, as ”œpermanent exceptional- ism”””the practice of removing, through a steady stream of back-to-work legislation applied to specific cases of legal strikes, the gen- eral right to strike which is recognized in the general legislation covering collective bargain- ing. In that case, the judicial deference to each case of ”œexceptional” legislation, despite its repeated condemnation by the ILO’s Freedom of Association Committee, has normalized the practice of ”œpermanent exceptionalism.” In this case, the likelihood is that the courts will defer to permanent emergency legislation that violates the freedom and accountability provided for in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Justice Minister Anne McLennan predicted that the Canadian Supreme Court would uphold the Anti-terrorism Act with the observation that the ”œbalance between individual rights and collec- tive security shifted after the attacks” of September 11. But if this turns out be so, it will most likely be because, as Weinrib has argued, the government’s justification for this expecta- tion rests less on the grounds that the safe- guards for civil liberties and accountability it has introduced will be found by the Court not to have breached the Charter, than on the grounds that the Court will defer to the govern- ment’s interpretation of ”œthe content of Canada’s international obligations.” It is not national security but imperial security that will trump the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As for the danger that the new anti-terrorism legislation will up the ante considerably in the criminalization of anti-globalization protests, the amendment that was introduced before it was passed to indicate ”œthat protest activity whether unlawful or lawful would not be con- sidered a terrorist act unless it was intended to cause death, serious bodily harm, endangerment to life, or serious risk to the health and safety of the public” may turn out to be of real impor- tance. But the very fact of the amendment’s introduction ought to be taken as recognition by the Canadian state that much of what has heretofore been designated as violent about anti- globalization protests reflects nothing more than attempts by police to find a minor law protesters have broken. As we saw in the case of the protests at the APEC summit in Vancouver in 1997, the police are sometimes encouraged to do this by politicians, or at least their political aides, whose incentive to suppress protest is especially strong when the protest is likely to embarrass the hosts in front of their guests at international meetings (even when some of the guests are notorious for acts of violence against their own citizens). Thus, Jaggi Singh, one of Canada’s fore- most anti-globalization activists, was arrested at the APEC summit in Vancouver for assaulting a police officer by virtue of having spoken too loudly through a megaphone; and he was arrest- ed again at the 2001 Quebec City Summit of the Americas (and detained for 17 days) both for vio- lating bail conditions by attending the protest and for allegedly possessing an offensive weapon in the form of the infamous teddy bear catapult (that he had in fact nothing to do with). The provision for ”œpreventative detention” in the anti-terrorist legislation, not necessarily on the authority of this legislation but on some other legal pretext, will further encourage police to prevent activists from engaging in demonstra- tions. This was initially seen at the IMF/World Bank meeting in Ottawa in November 2001, where the police suppression of the protest was very intimidating.

There is no question that the anti-globaliza- tion street protests are intended to be rau- cous and, if possible, disruptive of international elite meetings. It is that character that makes them different from set-piece demonstrations that unions often undertake along a march route pre-agreed with the authorities. Most of the demonstrators come with nothing more ille- gal, let alone violent, in mind than marching without a permit, occupying public spaces adja- cent to the meeting places of the assembled elites, and engaging in the remarkably creative street theatre for which these demonstrations have become justly famous. The ”œdiversity of tactics” approach adopted at these demonstra- tions, elaborately planned in Quebec City to allow people to choose to stay away from a con- frontation with the police at the security fence, also explicitly makes allowances for those who come to the demonstration with such a con- frontation in mind. But the nature of the con- frontation engaged in even by the Black Bloc is minimally violent in comparison with anything remotely resembling terrorism, and actually resembles much more the pushing and shoving that goes on at a militant picket line during a strike where the police have a large presence, combined with the odd breakage of a window, overturning of a newspaper box or setting fire to a garbage bin. The violence I witnessed at Quebec City was limited to a handful of people throwing rocks at an empty Shell station and concerted attempts by a crowd to scale the secu- rity fence. This led to confrontations with the police, including the throwing of various objects by demonstrators, but most often throw- ing back a few of the great many canisters of tear gas that the police lobbed from behind the fence and that soon engulfed much of the upper city.

Most of those who get tear-gassed, assaulted by the police and even arrested at such demon- strations are people who intend nothing but peaceful protest but, in the face of what seems an overbearing and unjustified police blockage and interference, often join in the pushing and shoving or resist arrest when they refuse to clear an area as instructed. Some of them then go off and join a better-prepared and more militant group for the next demonstration. Yet there can be no doubt that the confrontations with the police at such demonstrations were, even before September 11, leading a good many people involved in the protests to question the ”œdiver- sity of tactics” approach. Those who want to engage in a classic strategy of civil disobedience feel that they are effectively prevented from doing so by those who come with the intention of physically challenging police lines. For once the police truncheons and tear gas descend, they inevitably descend indiscriminately and push everyone off the streets. The image of gen- eralized violence among those who watch the protests on television or read the sensational- ized accounts in the papers has also led many people in the anti-globalization movement to question the ”œdiversity of tactics” approach and to demand a serious discussion of which tactics are in fact most productive in building popular support for the movement against globalization.

There is much more to the anti-globalization movement than large street demonstra- tions, of course. These protests, as Naomi Klein has put it, ”œare not demonstrations of one movement, but rather convergences of many smaller ones, each with its sights trained on a specific multinational corporation (like Nike), a particular industry (like agribusiness) or a new trade initiative (like the Free Trade Area of the Americas), or in defence of indigenous self- determination (like the Zapatistas).” To this could be added specific groups in each country, like the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty in Canada, whose radical egalitarian goals and tac- tics of direct action have become symbols of admiration for the anti-globalization movement and its protest demonstrations. Each of these groups conducts its own specific campaigns, research, advocacy and related direct actions. Klein also characterizes the anti-globalization movement in terms of a ”œhub and spokes” mode of organization:

Rather than a single movement, what is emerging is thousands of movements intricately linked to one another, much as ”œhotlinks” con- nect their websites on the Internet. This analogy is more than coincidental and is in fact the key to understanding the changing nature of political organizing. Although many have observed that the changing nature of the recent mass protests would have been impossible without the Internet, what has been overlooked is how the communications technology that facilitates these campaigns is shaping the movement in its own image. Thanks to the Net, mobilizations are able to unfold with sparse bureaucracy and minimal hierarchy; forced consensus and laboured manifestos are fading into the back- ground replaced instead by a culture of constant, loosely structured and sometimes compulsive information swapping.

This decentred movement, which often makes it seem as if the agents of globalization, be they states, corporations or international organi- zations, are being ”œswarmed” from a thousand directions, has produced results. This was seen in the exposure to public view and the defeat (with the final help of the French government’s veto) of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. The widespread but interactive nature of this movement of movements has established a dis- tinct and transnational political subculture of activists. This in turn has given critical researchers and writers against globalization a sense that they not only are heard, but also have a broad political base, leading them to redouble their efforts.

To be sure, anti-globalization activists are themselves admiring of and inspired by certain struggles in the Third World where violence is a strategic element, from the Zapatista uprising in Mexico to the ”œCremate Monsanto” cam- paign in India. But while there are no doubt some activists in Europe and North America who would not reject out of hand the notion of incorporating such a strategic element of vio- lence into their activities, it nevertheless remains the case that this movement can only be seen, in any historical and comparative per- spective, as very far indeed from anything that might fairly be designated as terrorism, let alone armed struggle. Even among the anar- chist elements in the movement, the stress is on inventing, through their street protest preparations, a form of direct democracy based on small consensus-finding meetings rather than voting; they especially point to the way these operate effectively at the mass demon- strations when small affinity groups are linked to one another through consensus-finding ”œspokes” councils. This is seen to presage the participatory democracy at a local level that often constitutes the foundation of an alternative to the freedom of capital movements and export competitiveness that is the essence of globalization. They look to more inward-orient- ed economic development strategies capable of preserving decentralization and autonomy and the political and cultural diversity that is the hallmark of this movement of movements.

The problem with the anti-globalization movement is not really its alleged orienta- tion to violence, but rather its difficulty figuring out how to go beyond protest. Direct action protests are hardly new, and have often been effective, as proved by the marches by the unem- ployed and the occupations of factories and streets in the 1930s and 1940s. Looking back, what is considered more legitimate today””the Royal Canadian Mounted Police firing on the unemployed marchers in Regina, or the vocifer- ous protest that led to putting unemployment insurance legislation on the agenda? And does anyone give much credit today to the charges of lawlessness that thundered over Windsor when autoworkers commandeered more then 1,000 cars on the streets of that city in the famous 1945 blockade that led to union security legisla- tion? The effectiveness of the mass anti-global- ization demonstrations today is patently clear from the way meetings of the global elites have been put on the defensive, and now proclaim their abiding concern with addressing world poverty every time they get together. But there can be no effective change unless and until new well-organized political forces emerge in each country, with the capacity not just to protest vociferously but to effect (although the anar- chists may not like this way of putting it) a dem- ocratic reconstitution of state power, turn it against today’s state-constituted global American empire, and initiate cooperative international strategies among states that will allow for inward-oriented development.

As the new generation on the Left in coun- tries like Canada seeks to ground its protest against the global structures of oppression and exploitation, it will increasingly engage itself in addressing, including through direct action, the immediate troubles facing people in our own society. If it is going to be repressed by the state as violent, indeed as terrorist, we are in for some very ugly times.

Vous pouvez reproduire cet article d’Options politiques en ligne ou dans un périodique imprimé, sous licence Creative Commons Attribution.

Creative Commons License