The war in
The concept of “Empire” can certainly be a useful tool in analyzing the nature of the world we are facing today. The networks of economic and political power have spread themselves across the globe forming a web of domination and exploitation from which nothing escapes. Even people in the most remote places find themselves being dispossessed of the capacity to create their own lives as the pollutants of industry contaminate the lands from which they have made their lives or capital itself directly intrudes with dams, mines and other environmentally devastating projects. Thus everyone becomes dependent on a social order that is not based on the needs and desires of the individuals who make it up, but on the need of the system to maintain and expand itself at any cost. Certainly the metaphor of Empire seems fitting.
But in using this
metaphor, it is essential to clearly analyze the nature of this Empire. Over
and over again since the war against
The Empire is in fact a global network of domination. This network has not just now come into being. On a technological and institutional level, it has been developing since the end of World War II, when advanced technological development moved largely into the hands of the military, seeking means to advance social control. But it was the swift advances in cybernetic, communications and surveillance technologies beginning in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s that provided an essential material basis for this network. These technologies combine with the international political and economic institutions, military forces and alliances and police forces on all levels to provide the state with the means for policing the world. By the early 1990’s, the infrastructure of this network was in place and one could indeed talk of a global Empire of capital.
But the nature of
both the technological and institutional means through which this Empire has
developed has significant implications. While it is true that certain factions
of the ruling class may be in the ascendant at various times, as the American
state is now, the real operation of power in the Empire is in fact
decentralized. The networks of information, communications and surveillance are
able to spread control precisely by operating as a network, spread thinly
across the social terrain. The specialization required both technologically and
in the operation of bureaucracies also serves to prevent this Empire from
Due to the
specialization necessary to the maintenance of the imperial network and the
competition that is an inherent aspect of the capitalist ruling class, the
power of Empire is not merely decentralized, but also fragmented. Every faction
of the ruling class agrees upon the necessity of global social control, on the
necessity of policing the world, in order to guarantee their wealth and power.
But they cannot agree on how to divide that wealth and power, or even how to
manage the process of global policing. Certainly, one of the reasons why the
latest war in
The social peace
of the Empire is, in fact, endless war. When the rulers of this world say they
are making war in order to preserve the peace, they are not necessarily lying.
Peace, for them, means precisely the maintenance of their power with as little
disturbance from those they rule as possible. Yet the maintenance and expansion
of their power can only happen through the dispossession and exploitation of
the majority of human beings, so unrest is inevitable. Most of the exploited do
not have a clear understanding of the nature of current social relationships
and so through campaigns of fear and hate the rulers can redirect their rage
into nationalistic, ethnic or religious conflicts. Thus, civil wars rage
particularly in poorer and more desperate parts of the globe. In addition, the
smooth functioning of capitalism requires that such conflicts be kept at an
adequately low level. Thus, the great powers must police the world, and this
policing is carried on through their armed forces. A
system based on dispossession, exploitation and domination can never do without
policing. Institutional violence or the threat thereof is essential to the
maintenance of political and economic power. Thus, Empire means endless war.
The Pax Romana is maintained with battalions, tanks, guns, tear gas and “smart”
bombs. This is one reason why, while still in
With the initiation of the “war on terrorism”, endless war has, in fact, become the open policy of the world’s rulers. “Terrorism” is a nebulous concept especially as those in power use the term. Their aim, of course, is not to define a precise problem and deal with it, but to create a specter to haunt the dreams of the people they rule. It is a sophisticated form of rule through fear in which the state convinces people to accept more and more generalized repression in their daily lives by presenting the image of a fearful and threatening outsider from which the state will protect them with its military, its police and its technologies of social control spread across the globe and into every sphere of daily life. But to maintain this image, the state must find terrorism everywhere. The nebulous way in which the term is used makes this easy enough. The terrorists, so we are told, are in fact everywhere – hidden in secret cells across the globe. So the policing of the world, particularly the fight against terrorism, is an endless task that justifies every use of force and every sort of repression.
In fact, war is simply one of the ongoing disasters imposed by Empire, because Empire is the global system of Capital/State. Along with war, it also brings ongoing environmental disaster, increasing precariousness on every level, social disintegration, the degradation of language, …the list of disasters could go on endlessly as the disasters themselves do. The endless flow of disasters is now so evident that those in power can no longer even pretend that there is some business-as-usual that runs smoothly to strive for. Instead they readily admit the disasters, but present them in a piecemeal fashion as separate and unrelated events. They are presented as “natural catastrophes”, “human error” or tragic inevitabilities. And increasingly, they are presented to us in a technical language that reinforces the idea that we must rely on the authorities and their experts who have the real understanding of events. In this way those in power use our fear of the disasters caused by power to reinforce their rule.
The technological and institutional systems through which the Empire operates are far too cumbersome for anyone to truly control. Each specialist, expert or functionary knows only his or her small portion of the operation. The machine itself lumbers on like a juggernaut, outside of anyone’s control. These systems were developed this way in order that the control would exist within the machinery itself. The point was to eliminate to the greatest extent possible the capacity for willful activity on the part of the individual. But this is precisely why the current social reality is one of ongoing disaster. In their lumbering, these juggernauts set off catastrophes that no one can predict, and the real role of experts is to try to limit the consequences of these catastrophes – or increasingly today to simply create explanations that may make them more acceptable to people.
This is the
context of the war in
So it is essential that opposition to this war become opposition to the endless procession of wars and catastrophes, opposition to the Empire, in other words, opposition to the state, capital and the totality of the technological and institutional apparatuses through which the ruling class maintains power. Such an opposition does not consist in creating a “Counter-Empire”, a mirror image of that which we oppose, but in destroying the Empire in its totality. Therefore, it will not function as a political opposition, as a force contending for power. Its methods will not be the methods of politicians, contending with each other for mass popular support. It will rather be a revolt of the barbarians.
What distinguishes the revolt of the barbarians from the opposition of alternative politicians, of the parties, unions and organizations that claim to represent the exploited or whatever specific cause, is that the former makes no demands. It is an expression of rage that says all it has to say in the burning of banks and employment offices, the trashing of military recruitment centers, the fragging of officers. Such actions leave no room for negotiation or dialogue with power. If those who carry out such acts are often not too clear about their reasons, one thing is clear: their reasons are not reasons of state.
So an opposition
to any particular war that is not a mere questioning of how the endless war is
managed must also be a matter of barbaric revolt.
Total insubordination is just the beginning. The attack against the
institutions through which war operates is essential. But I am not speaking
here about a military attack. The technological, organizational and structural
formations necessary to make the global network of domination possible are also
the sources of its vulnerability. In order to spread itself across the globe,
the Empire has had to decentralize its institutions, structures and
technological framework and accept the fragmentation inherent to its functioning.
Thus, there is no
Against the endless war of Empire, against the state, against the civilization of domination, the barbaric joy of class war and individual and social insurrection.