“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come”
~ Victor Hugo
The past week has seen an intense succession of radically destabilizing global events. The status quo of American hegemony and global capitalism is under attack. Yet its attackers do not bear weapons; they wield words — and the words cut deeper than any sword ever could.
Just this weekend, headlines in the international press included references to the world’s ‘first global cyber war’, Britain’s ‘new revolutionaries’ and ‘Bolivia’s defiant leader’ who staged nothing short of a diplomatic revolt at Cancún climate talks. These insurrections may be temporarily repressed by world governments and corporations alike, but they mark the emergence of a new culture of resistance that will profoundly transform the world in years to come.
What is interesting about these seemingly disparate struggles is both their timelessness and their novelty. Timeless is the opposition to injustice that has inspired social movements throughout history — yet what is new is the form that each uprising is taking and the way in which the struggles of these three groups are interconnected.
With the House of Commons voting to triple tuition fees on Thursday, UK students have essentially been forced to foot the bill for the greed of the bankers who caused the financial crisis to begin with. Ironically, these excessively rich bankers now refuse to cut their profits or even take the tiniest haircut to help stabilize the global economy.
Similarly, with climate talks in Cancún producing a farcical agreement this Saturday, the world’s poor smallholder farmers have essentially been forced to foot the bill for the greed of Western nations who caused the climate crisis to begin with. Ironically, these excessively rich Western nations now refuse to cut their emissions enough to help stabilize the global climate.
Clearly, both events are a backlash to the capitalist world order that systematically puts the burden of adjustment for the excesses of the rich and powerful onto the shoulders of the poor and powerless. In response, this week, the powerless finally rose like lions.
British students stormed the Houses of Parliament on Thursday, physically clashing with an army of riot police. Photographs and videos depict movie-like and historically unprecedented scenes for the UK, reminiscent of the closing minutes of V for Vendetta.
Live images showed pyres of benches and Christmas trees in smoldering flames, graffiti-covered walls with outright calls for revolution, and policemen covered in paint, smoke and rotten eggs — all of this right in front of the very halls of power. Protesters even attacked the car of Prince Charles.
Less violent but all the more courageous was the stance of Bolivian President Evo Morales at Cancún yesterday. Morales staged a one-man act to oppose the Cancún agreement on the grounds that it provides a legal justification for a catastrophic temperature rise of 4 degrees, which would spell disaster for Bolivia’s indigenous farmer community, as well as for smallholders around the world.
Bolivia’s radical stance is novel in that it represents the world’s first case of ‘state activism’ at the global stage. Morales appears to be acting more as a representative of civil society than as a representative of the state. As such, his ‘grassroots politics’ is very much part of the emerging culture of resistance.
Yet nothing embodies the new culture of resistance better than the epic digital uprising of WikiLeaks sympathizers. This week, a rapidly expanding online community of ‘hacktivists’ took the fight for transparency and freedom of expression to a whole new level. The Guardian provided a profile of one of the cyber warriors at the frontline of this new global conflict:
He is one of the newest recruits to Operation Payback. In a London bedroom, the 24-year-old computer hacker is preparing his weaponry for this week’s battles in an evolving cyberwar. He is a self-styled defender of free speech, his weapon a laptop and his enemy the US corporations responsible for attacking the website WikiLeaks.
As the article further observed, “it seemed to be the first sustained clash between the established order and the organic, grassroots culture of the net.”
But the clash has cast the spotlight wider, on the net’s power to act as a thorn not only in the side of authoritarian regimes but western democracies, on our right to information and the responsibility of holding secrets. It has also asked profound questions over the role of the net itself. One blogger dubbed it the “first world information war”.
As Evo Morales’ ideas demonstrate, the world information war is a direct corollary to the London student protests and the peasant revolution in Bolivia:
In place of the severe failures of capitalism, Morales put forth the alternative of what he calls “neo-socialism,” which he sees as being characterized by buen vivir (well-being), equality, sharing instead of competition, class-struggle, as well as the struggle to establish harmony with nature. In Morales’ estimation, this political project should be one that is “without hegemony” and horizontal; indeed, the Bolivian president last night expressed his wish that the third millennium C.E. be a “people’s millennium,” one in which “oligarchy, hierarchy, and monarchy” are overcome as historical residues.
The WikiLeaks revelations and the cyberwar being fought by Operation Payback are crucial elements in the struggle to overcome hierarchy and hegemony; the student movement is a key part of the class struggle and the fight for equality; and Bolivia’s ‘state activism’ on climate change is right at the core of buen vivir and the struggle to establish harmony with nature.
All these struggles point in the direction of a post-hierarchical, post-hegemonic world order based on cooperation, social justice and ecological sustainability. The army of the Peoples of the Earth, wielding words for weapons, may be losing some of the fights — but we will never lose the war.
The power of our roar will make the mighty tremble even as they continue to beat us down. But we know that the only things that still separate us from the future are their shields, batons and firearms. Even those will soon prove useless. After all, “ideas are bulletproof“.