Imaginary Maps, Global Solidarities

Oyvind Fahlström, "World Map," 1972

This paper was originally presented at the “MoneyNations” exhibition in Vienna in October 2000, and later published in a book under that title. It was updated for presentations in Valencia (Spain), Zagreb (Croatia) and Ljubljana (Slovenia), in 2002. Further variations can be found on the website of the Piet Zwart Institute’s Media Design program: Basically, these papers are part of a matrix of work which cannot be finished and must continually evolve with changing knowledge and changing realities. The seminars and investigations of the “Continental Drift” project form the most recent phase of these reflections.

Revolutions tear a society apart, they smash it into atoms, with a violence that alone can set the people free. But is the present neoliberal order not precisely that of an atomized society? Do its laws not guarantee our individual rights? Have its markets not liberated our energies and desires? Do its currencies not constitute our universal language? What could be priceless in such a society? How could we imagine another taste of freedom?

A social order that claims to mark the end of history has placed the real questions under a strict taboo. From beneath their veils, those questions are staring us in the face today. No single individual can answer. But perhaps we can look back into the mirrors of history, to speak about the future of a revolutionary solidarity.

To even begin the conversation, one must understand that solidarity means something real: the very cohesion of social relations, which demand a denial or abrogation of individuality, a transfer of property and sovereignty. Solidarity is a gift for the survival and well-being of others – but a gift that’s most often extorted, or imposed. At certain moments in history, people choose their solidarities. One of the ways they do so is by imagining a different map. At the largest scale, this is a map of the world.

Maps are very practical, very real: they show borders which, depending on who you are, may be open or closed. But if maps can be imaginary, it is because they also exist as half-unconscious, historically layered representations and attitudes that shape our capacity to move through the physical world. Every society has mental maps, patterns of movement which also assign people to their proper places. Political dissent implies the imagination of a different map, which gradually takes form by tearing itself away from the dominant ones. A revolutionary map comes into being with the desire to cross the borders, to meet different people in another world, to speak another language and to exchange things that are priceless and free – outside the grasp of the “money nations.”


The idea of the imaginary map comes from the experience of the last generation to dissent on a global scale – the generation of the 1960s. One of the great artists of that generation is the French filmmaker, Chris Marker. In his CD-Rom Immemory, he reflects back on the travels that he had taken him across the world during the period of the Cold War:

“What did we go looking for in the fifties-sixties in Korea, in China, and later in Cuba? Above all… a break with the Soviet model. Long before Solzhenitsyn, we had read Victor Serge, Koestler, Souvarine, Charles Plisnier…. Nobody was ever going to feed us the workers’ paradise line again. Which was just another reason to go see how younger peoples, geographically and culturally removed from the old European models, were going to face the challenge of constructing a new society.”

Marker is speaking about countries of the Third World. But what exactly was the Third World? Immanuel Wallerstein wrote an article in Le Monde diplomatique under that title, “C’était quoi, le Tiers Monde?” He begins by looking back on the status quo of the mid-fifties, structured by the dominant bipolar map that had crystallized after the Second World War:

“Hardly had peace been achieved than the Cold War broke out. Interstate relations would be articulated around its major protagonists, the United States and the Soviet Union. Retrospectively, of course, this new frame can appear as a formalistic game, whose parameters and limits were set in advance by the Yalta treaty. Yet that in no way diminished either the reality of the confrontation, or the depth of the emotions it stirred, or the impact these would have on intellectual analyses and popular visions. In short, people could only think inside the straightjacket of the Cold War.”

The Cold War was an imaginary conflict; but it held a tremendous grip over people’s minds. It defined the planet, reducing every other relation to insignificance. Yet many of the world’s countries were still colonized. They had very different historical problems, which placed them outside that imaginary straightjacket. A French demographer, Alfred Sauvy, sought to put back these countries back on the map when he coined the term “Third World” in 1952. The invention of the phrase was a political act. As Wallerstein writes:

“Grouping these countries together in a single expression, ‘the Third World,’ was a way to underline the characteristics shared by them all, but also the fact that they were not necessarily implicated in the Cold War. The phrase additionally referred to the efforts of certain European intellectuals to create a ‘third force’ between communists and anticommunists. And above all, it referred to the French Revolution and the famous text by Sieyès: ‘What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been in the political order up to now? Nothing. What does it demand? To become something.'”

From the start there was a revolutionary implication in the gaze that certain Europeans brought to bear on the colonized or formerly colonized countries. Yet this invention of the Third World was not just a utopian act performed by Western intellectuals. Instead it was a recognition of reality. In 1955, five leaders convened the Asia-Africa Conference in the city of Bandung, Indonesia, leading to the foundation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The Non-Aligned Movement, which explicitly refused the bipolar division and denounced the nuclear threat, would become the reference-point for all the subsequent struggles of national liberation, including the one in Vietnam. The goal of these struggles was to gain state power and to carry out modernization. Of course the situation was vastly different in the West. In the developed countries, radical left movements rejected the superpower divide, but were equally concerned with direct democracy and self-management. Yet self-management was a Yugoslav model – and the knowledge that it was being put into practice, outside the Stalinist Soviet Union, was a fantastic encouragement for the New Left. Similarly, the fact that armed struggle was being successfully waged against U.S. imperialism in Vietnam was an encouragement for every liberation movement, including that of Afro-Americans. The philosophy and practice of non-alignment made it possible to see another world emerging – and to imagine a new cartography.

You can follow this transition from a dominant to a dissenting map in the work of a Swedish artist who lived in New York in the sixties and seventies, Oyvind Fahlström. The piece Indochina, from 1971, is a geopolitical board game, to be played as a radically subversive take-off on Monopoly. It maps out the rules that apply when you project power from the United States to Vietnam, or when you try to oppose that power. Some pieces represent tactics (US artillery fire, Vietcong popular education), while others represent strategic resources (puppet generals, Lao guerrillas). But if you look at the rules governing the basic resources in the game, you see that the yellow pieces represent one million dollars each, while the heart-shaped red ones represent two Vietnamese lives. In a sense the pieces are equivalent, because according to the Pentagon figures that Fahlström consulted, it cost half a million U.S. dollars to kill one Vietcong guerrilla. But in another sense they have nothing to do with each other. They are as radically different as the rationality of capitalist industrial production, which the dollar represents and measures, and the sensuous vitality of existence, which is lived and shared in the heart. Fahlström describes the game as a “political psychodrama.” It is played according to the rules of a real conflict between nations, and it tests the player’s capacity to take sides, to be an “us” against a “them.” But what could it mean for a Westerner like Fahlström, for a Swede living in America, to be part of an “us” that included the Vietnamese? How did global solidarities take form in the imaginary of the 1960s?

Consider the sheets of figure-drawings that Fahlström referred to as “notes” or “columns.” They are based on statistical information, one of the dominant ways of representing the world throughout the twentieth century. But what Fahlström tries to do is to figuratively express the social relations that are hidden in the abstract statistics. A color code situates the figures geographically: blue for the United States, violet for Europe, red and yellow for the Socialist countries, green and brown for the Third World. What you see are mainly imperialist relations between dominant and subordinate nations, for instance, a sketch-map representing resource-extraction from Latin America through the figure of a vacuum cleaner sucking materials and goods to the United States. The soldier is an omnipresent figure in these notes.

In the upper-right hand corner of one sheet there is a face against a blue ground, the color of the United States. But the face is surrounded by yellow stars, which gradually spin into a vortex and then into the shape of a question mark, even as the face disappears into cosmic emptiness. Yellow is the color of China in Fahlström’s notes, and the question is most likely that of Maoism – once again, a non-Soviet path toward communism. What we are seeing, then, is not just a representation of political and economic facts. We are also seeing the figurative energy of underground comix by popular artists like Robert Crumb, an energy which tends simultaneously toward erotic animality and towards myth. This figurative energy, unique to each drawing, is finally what struggles against the imperialism of the Cold War period, whose abstract, quantifiable operations are expressed in statistics, a word which literally means the mathematics of states. The underground comix refuse that rationality, along with discipline and authority. They refuse the regimented, authoritarian state and the war machine of the factories, the so-called “military-industrial complex” that had been identified as the power structure at the heart of the Cold War. And the great question of sixties’ counter-culture was this: How to escape an authoritarian, disciplinary society founded on industrial labor and military hierarchy?

In the West, the revolt against the disciplinary society was understood to have both objective and subjective dimensions. It was an objective revolt against what was conceived as a latently fascistic state; but it also had to be a revolt against the internalization of those disciplinary structures, against what Foucault in the seventies would famously call “the fascism in our heads.” As early as the 1950s the Frankfurt School had analyzed this internalized, normalized fascism, which they termed “the authoritarian personality.” As Adorno wrote in his text “On Commitment”: “The basic features of this type include conformism, respect for a petrified façade of opinion and society, and resistance to impulses that disturb its order or evoke inner elements of the unconscious that cannot be admitted.” The most effective tactics of revolt against the authoritarian system would then involve the liberation of these disturbing, unconscious impulses. This was the aim of antipsychiatry (listening to the ravings of so-called madmen, and proposing to set them free); of Reichian sexual liberation (shedding one’s inherited “character armor” through orgiastic encounters, happenings, and finally mass rock concerts); of the situationist drift (wandering erratically, indeed drunkenly, through the control-structures of the city, opposing a qualitative “psychogeography” to the quantitative flow charts and coordinate grids of technocratic urbanism).

All that seems far from the Third World. But not so for the people of the time. For instance, Herbert Marcuse described practices like those I just mentioned in his Essay on Liberation. The book ends with a chapter on “Solidarity,” which directly relates the fully revolutionary subjects of the Third World movements to the youth vanguards of the West. Like everyone on the New Left, Marcuse distinguishes between Soviet-style socialism and “the new historical efforts to construct socialism by developing and creating a genuine solidarity between the leadership and the liberated victims of exploitation.” For a whole generation, he writes: “‘Freedom,’ ‘socialism,’ and ‘liberation’ are inseparable from Fidel and Ché and the guerrillas – not because their revolutionary struggle could furnish the model for the struggle in the metropoles, but because they have recaptured the truth of these ideas.” Marcuse makes the critically important point that this solidarity cannot be one-way. Given the tremendous repressive power exerted by the imperialist powers and particularly by the United States, “the preconditions for the liberation and development of the Third World must emerge in the advanced capitalist countries. Only the internal weakening of the superpower can finally stop the financing and equipping of suppression in the backward countries.” This is what happened with the Vietnam War: the upheaval of protest in the United States finally halted the military escalation. From the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement in the early fifties to the culmination of radical leftist and national-liberation struggles in the mid-seventies, solidarity was the force that could redraw the map of the world.

The idea of the imaginary map is based on a book by Cornelius Castoriadis, L’institution imaginaire de la société, published in 1964. The book describes the fundamental structures of social relations in the industrialized countries of postwar Europe, where the dominant institution was the factory. The factory system of Taylor and Ford imposed a severe discipline on the worker, measuring his body movements, analyzing them into functional sequences, timing them, striving to increase their efficiency. Castoriadis, working with anthropology and psychoanalysis, looks at factory discipline as a social rite with psychodramatic dimensions. He writes: “To treat a man as a thing or as a pure mechanical system is not less, but more imaginary than seeing a man as an owl: it requires a deeper immersion in the imaginary. Because not only is a man’s real kinship with an owl incomparably greater than with a machine, but also, no primitive society ever so radically applied the consequences of its identification of human beings with other things as modern industry does, with its metaphor of the human-robot.” Why does Castoriadis look on the most concretely real social relations of his time as being imaginary? He does so in order to make it clear that other social relations can be imagined, and instituted in the imaginary, to the point where they transform the real.

If you understand the imaginary in this way, you can see why a filmmaker as politically committed as Chris Marker put such emphasis on developing an identification with a fetish animal, an owl in fact. There’s a deep meaning in what looks like a strange kind of fantasy, this identification with the owl (and the cat). The psychic possibility of metamorphosis into another creature, what Deleuze and Guattari called “becoming-animal,” was a way to escape the imaginary grip of the disciplinary system, to fly from the world of the human robot – to cross the Eastern and Western borders to discover a Third World, and to bring back images of a solidarity that could change the land of one’s birth.

But one last thing: if Marker took the owl as his fetish animal, it is also because the owl is the figure of history, Minerva’s owl. Like Castoriadis, Marker experienced humanity as existing in a shared historical time, which is not the clockwork time of the factory engineer. It’s no coincidence that Marker made a series of TV broadcasts about the history of democracy, called “The Owl’s Heritage,” in which Castoriadis played an important role. And the flight of the owl could be a way for us to start thinking about the human time that separates then from now, and about revolutionary solidarity in the present. We should try to understand how both the dominant and the dissenting imaginary maps of the Cold War period disappeared in the 1980s, and what they were replaced with – but also what the continuities are, between us and the last great dissenting generation.


What separates us from them? In the history of the revolutionary imagination, the 1980s are a kind of black hole. Félix Guattari called them the Winter Years: “I am one of those who lived through the 1960s like a springtime that promised to last forever, that must be why the 1980s drags on like such a long winter for me.” The eighties were the years of postmodernism, marked by failed attempts to come to grips with a planetary proliferation of images. In a text published in 1984, called “Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” Fredric Jameson claimed that the world of cultural experience had somehow gone off the map. He called for “an aesthetics of cognitive mapping” to resolve “the incapacity of our minds, at least at present, to map the great global multinational and decentered communicational network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects.” That long, half-disjointed sentence was a decade ahead of its time. Even Jameson couldn’t do what he was calling for. Why did the world become unmappable in the early eighties?

The answer has to do with the restructured system of the money nations. In the eighties, capital began to redeploy itself in an entirely new transnational form. It fled the discipline that had been imposed on it in the postwar period by Keynesian economic regulation. Cost decreases in sea-going container transport, in telecommunications, in plant automation, combined with the abolition of trade barriers, made it possible for industry to escape the power of labor unions and environmental legislation. Factories were broken up into smaller units, making labor organization more difficult. Production was reoriented toward more volatile goods which became quickly obsolescent, especially informational goods, like images, software and other “simulacra.” This mobile production and consumption regime is what the geographer David Harvey called “flexible accumulation,” in a book entitled The Postmodern Condition, published in 1989. The notion of flexible accumulation was one of the first usable responses to Jameson’s call for an aesthetics of cognitive mapping.

At the same time, the financial system also transformed. 1979 was the year in which the U.S. Treasury began what is called its “monetary turn,” which consisted essentially in raising its basic interest rates and making its Treasury Bonds entirely liquid, so they no longer had to be held for specific periods – 10 or 20 years – but instead could be bought and sold on an open market just like stocks. This opened up a whole new space for financial speculation, which also exploded in the currency markets, where money is traded directly for money. The high profit rates and quick turnover times of financial operations intensified the restructuring of industrial production, because industrial capital had to become more profitable, and move at a faster rate, in order to keep up with the investment opportunities offered by the purely symbolic exchanges of currencies, stocks and bonds.

These developments help explain what happened to the revolutionary potential that the Third World liberation movements seemed to embody in the sixties. These movements came to power just before or in some cases during a world financial crisis, at a time when oil costs were skyrocketing. Ironically, the oil-price increases were among of the concrete gains of Third Worldism. But the OPEC countries handed the oil money to Western bankers for investment. And the bankers loaned that money to the underdeveloped countries to help them pay their oil bills. The loans were in dollars, so that when the dollar inflated, a debt crisis broke out in the early eighties. The borrower countries had to reschedule their loans under disastrous conditions, at steep interest rates. This put a definitive halt to most revolutionary aspirations, indeed to “modernization” itself; and it inaugurated the contemporary geopolitical period to the extent that the bankers, particularly the World Bank and the IMF, became the single most powerful actors on the world scene, with the capacity to reorganize entire economies through the austerity regimes called “structural adjustment programs.” Through these programs, the neoliberal West – or the North if you prefer, including Japan – finally achieved what the colonizers could only dream of, which was the installation of an efficient local bureaucratic and political system to manage resource extraction and labor exploitation. The ideal of global economic equality, into which the Non-Aligned Movement had put the bulk of its diplomatic energy, came to nothing.

We are speaking of neocolonialism. But it’s not very well known that Britain itself went through a structural adjustment program in 1976, and was compelled by the IMF to cut back on social spending. Nor do people outside France realize how great were the hopes that a socialist government could actually change life, changer la vie, and that these hopes only disappeared when the first Mitterrand government was forced by the international financial markets to go back on its program of nationalizations. Not only in the Third World, but also in the First World, the dream of a revolutionary state that could transform social conditions disappeared in the eighties. And everywhere there was a sense of incomprehension, an inability to grasp the forces that were reshaping the world.

The first significant effort of left intellectuals in the nineties was to empirically map the new forces. There are dates in this mapping process, consciousness-raising moments when the knowledge produced by the intellectuals could be communicated to a broader public. One of those dates is 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect in the US, Canada and Mexico, and the Zapatista insurgency began. Another date is the winter of 1995-96 in France, where the largest strikes since 1968 brought an intense consciousness of the effects of globalization on the social state. A third moment came in 1997-98, in East Asia, then Russia, then Brazil, when the worst stock-market crash since 1929 finally brought the realities of the liberalized finance economy home to millions of people around the entire globe. This third moment was particularly important, as it forced the world to look critically at the so-called Washington consensus, or better, the “Wall Street-Treasury complex,” to use a term coined by the economist Jagdish Bhagwati in 1998, in the journal Foreign Affairs. This term is based directly on the Cold-War denunciation of the military-industrial complex, which had been key to the identification of the authoritarian state in the fifties and sixties.

The “Wall Street-Treasury complex” describes the collusion between private financial interests and government regulators that gave rise to the neoliberal world-economy. Even if it is dominated by the United States, this collusion is international, and is embodied in fully transnational institutions. The targeting of the OECD, the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank by recent protests, and the widespread sympathy for those protests, is proof that the public has finally identified the institutional power behind what David Harvey calls “flexible accumulation.” The round of demonstrations from Seattle to Prague, Quebec and Genoa, marks the culmination of a first stage of the revolt against neoliberalism. And the two events that dominate the present moment – the enduring consequences of the September 11 attacks and the bursting of the gigantic U.S. stock-market bubble – represent only the beginnings of a possible break-up of the neoliberal order, with outcomes that remain highly uncertain.

How to intensify and broaden the struggles against neoliberalism, as it becomes increasingly authoritarian in response to its own bankruptcy and impending collapse? How to move beyond resistance to worldwide institutions like the IMF or the WTO, to arrive at the imaginary institutions that put neoliberal capitalism into effect in everyday life? How to link this everyday resistance with events and societies across the world?


The struggle against neoliberal capitalism will involve understanding and transforming the social and psychic implications of the dominant economic map. That map looks more or less like the one published in 1994 by the Marxist economist François Chesnais, in a book called La mondialisation du capital (The Globalization of Capital). It is not a map of terrain, of a world divided into two opposing territories as in the Cold War, nor even a map of individual countries and their relations. Instead it is a map of capital flow through specific nodes in a worldwide communications network. It’s a unitary map, in the sense that the flow unites these regions in a circular movement, or more precisely, in a continuous reticular flux. But it also shows the hierarchy of the flow, and the degrees of subordination: center, integrated periphery, exploited periphery, annexed periphery, abandoned periphery, plus “dead corners” and “semi-isolated areas.” If you made the map much finer, you would see these relations operating within single countries, even within cities. Basically, these categories distinguish degrees of inclusion and exclusion, with respect to the capital flows of flexible accumulation.

Here we reach the heart of what the money nations are about: borders. Of course, a space of flows cannot have the same kinds of borders you had under the old system, which was concerned with discipline and authority, and therefore with the limitation of mobility. This new map exalts mobility as the essence of what is mappable. In that sense it doesn’t have frontiers, which are land limits; instead it has many different kinds of borders which act as filters, the way you filter something out of flowing water, or add something into it. These filters are computerized, which means they can be individualized, hooked into databases of information on the past actions of specific persons, and programmed to spot desirable or undesirable characteristics. A Canadian citizen named Abouali Farfarmanian describes what the new borders are like:

“Frontiers are the perimeters of a territory, the silhouette of a country. They are delineated by mountains, rivers, diplomats. They were once synonymous with borders, but airplanes put an end to that.

Now, the point of entry can be anywhere. You can stick a border right smack in the middle of a country as long as there is a guard with a stamp and ink pad. When you fly into an airport, you pass over the frontier long before landing, and cross the border only after you’re past the immigration desk. Sometimes the borders of one country are implanted inside another. By passing through U.S. immigration at Dorval airport, you gain admission to the U.S. while still in Montreal… Borders can also come to meet you. Immigration officers visit the workplace to deport illegal workers. The U.S. Coast Guard regularly stops what it judges to be U.S.-bound ‘illegals’ out on the high seas – ‘a floating Berlin Wall,’ as one immigration lawyer calls it.”

Farfarmanian identifies the epochal shift from the Cold War system, epitomized by the Berlin Wall with its territorial fixation, to today’s multibordered world of interlocking legal jurisdictions. He wrote the text after being arrested while coming into his own country, Canada, on the suspicion that because he was of Iranian origin, and therefore “an Arab,” he was somehow related to Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian from Montreal, who had been arrested crossing into the U.S. from Vancouver, and charged with intent to commit terrorism. This kind of filtering, increasing exponentially after September 11, is called “racial profiling,” where profile refers not only to your nose or cheekbones, but also to your data shadow, mapped by increasingly shadowy organizations. In Europe too, the proliferating Schengen Information System is an immaterial, non-territorial “border” which comes into existence every time a policeman calls up a distant database to check someone’s identity. Social control today involves tracking people as they move through a fundamentally mobile world.

Most of the tracking technologies that now exist were developed by the US military, particularly as part of smart-missile guidance systems; they have also been adapted to commercial uses, for instance, by big stores like WalMart, anxious to track their customers. What they do is to put a sensor on your shopping cart, so as to follow its movement; then when you pay with your credit card, they have your name, a record of your purchases, and a map of your path through the store. And they can correlate that precise information with all kinds of personal data from other commercial sources, or even from medical and legal records. With that they try to predict where you might go next, so they can be there to sell you something.

There is an incredible ambiguity in this whole process of tracking and filtering, which is explored with depth and precision by the artist Jordan Crandall, in works like Drive or Heat-Seeking. On the one hand, it’s “seek out and destroy” in the military sense: it’s about locating moving targets and stopping them, wreaking violence on them. But on the other hand it’s more like “seek out and integrate,” it’s about targeting the most promising bodies and optimizing one’s relation to their movement, making it a productive and profitable relation. All the sophisticated marketing strategies use this approach, particularly on subcultures and niche-markets: you have what is called “segment marketing,” or even “one-to-one marketing.” What’s at stake is a new disciplinary structure that operates within the economy of flows.

So far, too few people have looked at the way these control structures are internalized, so that employees feel like they’re rebelling into freedom as they work like dogs for Apple or Sun Microsystems. Only such an internalization of the control structures can make the subjects of flexible capitalism sufficiently confident, wherever they are, about their place in an extremely uncertain hierarchy. Fifty years ago, the Frankfurt School’s idea of “the authoritarian personality” was a subversive way to map out power relations in everyday life. Today, we need to develop an effective, critical, satirical description of the links between networked capitalist production and what I call the “flexible personality.” In other words, we need to make visible exactly how the map of inclusion and exclusion works, not just at the filtering border, but also on the psychic level: how the notions of flow and flexibility become a fetish, an oppressive imaginary structure, an internalized control mechanism, which also produces and channels desire.

The new map of inclusion and exclusion has become a full-fledged system of domination, as closely integrated to everyday life as the one that held sway during the Cold War. One might think that reality would be clear as daylight, with the authoritarian trend that has emerged after September 11. But for many it has remained strictly invisible. And as paradoxical as it may seem, the dividing lines, with all their power, are entirely in our imagination. If it is possible for increasing numbers of people to see this system in operation, and to begin thinking and living outside it, it because an imaginary map has begun to be redrawn, by real acts of political solidarity.


In the past few years, a broad social movement has arisen to critique transnational capitalism. “Another world is possible,” it proclaims. And one can ask, as Michael Hardt recently did in the New Left Review (March 2002), whether the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, is today’s Bandung. But I think it’s too early to expect an answer to that question.

It’s too early, because we are only beginning to see the full extent of the violence which can be generated, and justified for the voters, by the imaginary map of unitary flows. So far, no full-fledged alternative has emerged, only the figures of extreme exclusion and the first stirrings of resistance, in multiple and divergent forms. One must expect that things will get much worse, before solidarity becomes a vital necessity on a global scale. After all, the Non-Aligned Movement only arose in response to the threat of planetary destruction through nuclear war; and among the paradoxes of the new world system is the fact that India, once a pillar of the Non-Aligned Movement, in 2002 has become a country vociferously threatening the use of nuclear weapons. The cardinal points of the old Third Worldism have been scattered to the winds. But like Wallerstein’s recent work, Hardt’s question is extremely challenging, because he makes it clear that the new resistance is not articulated by the classical leftist promise of modernization piloted by the state, and that it is already inventing new forms of representation, delegation, and above all, participation – that is, new forms of democracy. What I want to do in conclusion is to look at a kind of whirlwind of recent activist and artistic inventions that seem to breath the beginnings of a new democratic imaginary.

The story can begin with the Zapatistas. Some 3,000 Zapatista rebels rose up in armed struggle on January 1, 1994, even as the North American Free Trade Area, or NAFTA, became a reality. Yet although this was an armed uprising, the Zapatista army did not seek to take state power: “It is civil society that must transform Mexico – we are only a small part of that civil society, the armed part – our role is to be the guarantors of the political space that civil society needs,” declared Subcommandante Marcos. In reality, this outburst of armed struggle was itself guaranteed, that is, made symbolic, by civil society: if the rebels were not slaughtered, it is because hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Mexico City in support of them, while international NGOs mobilized in their favor, utilizing the Internet in an unprecedented way. This effect of “swarming,” as we know from the Rand Corporation studies, opened up a whole new form of effective resistance, wrongly called “netwar” even though its whole effect is to sidestep violence. And the intelligence of the Zapatistas was to insure that this swarming resistance operated on a new scale. What they essentially said was, we don’t only need your help as observers here in Chiapas, to make sure the army doesn’t move in. Above all, we need you to do something where you are, to act against neoliberalism.

How do you become active within the new world map? Here we would have to talk about a practice of tactical media that emerged in the 1990s, a popular appropriation of the transnational networks. It’s a story that includes video activists like Paper Tiger TV, events like the Next 5 Minutes conferences in Amsterdam, campaigns like McLibel that set small groups against corporate giants, before the networked protests began on a massive scale. But to focus particularly on the imaginary, and on the dimensions of cooperative subjectivity, I want to speak first about a small group of artists, who came together around fanzines, mail art and a few cosmic ideas. The Association of Autonomous Astronauts was founded in 1995 with a five-year mission: establishing a planetary network to end the monopoly of corporations, governments and the military over travel in space. The idea was to create a new kind of social movement: “You too can be an astronaut.” One aspect of the AAA’s project was infrastructural mapping, identifying the satellite hardware that links up the world communications network. But another was what Konrad Becker calls “e-scape”: “Cracking the doors of the future means mastering multidimensional maps to open new exits and ports in hyperspace; it requires passports allowing voyages beyond normative global reality toward parallel cultures and invisible nations; supply depots for nomads on the roads taken by the revolutionary practice of aimless flight.” An autonomous astronaut named Ricardo Balli gives a further idea of what the association might do: “We are not interested in going into space to be a vanguard of the coming revolution: the AAA means to institute a science fiction of the present that can above all be an instrument of conflictuality and radical antagonism.”

Another example of networked political and artistic practice are the people in both Italy and England who started calling themselves “Luther Blissett.” In reality, Luther Blissett was an English football player who was traded to Italy and never scored a goal, he was a total failure. But all kinds of people started taking his name, and using it in public, and signing it on books like Mind Invaders: Come fottere i media (1995). There Luther Blissett writes: “I could just say the multiple name is a shield against the established power’s attempt to identify and individualize the enemy, a weapon in the hands of what Marx ironically called ‘the worst half’ of society. In Spartacus by Stanley Kubrick, all the slaves defeated and captured by Crassus declare themselves to be Spartacus, like all the Zapatistas are Marcos and I am all we Luther Blissetts. But I won’t just say that, because the collective name has a fundamental valence too, insofar as it aims to construct an open myth, elastic and redefinable in a network….”

The “open myth” of Luther Blissett is a game with personal identity, like the three-cornered football played by the AAA: a way to change the social rules, so a group can start moving simultaneously in several directions. This “fundamental valence” lies at the prehistory of the counterglobalization movement. Just think of the way names like Ya Basta, Reclaim the Streets, or Kein Mensch ist Illegal have spread across the world’s social networks. One can see these names, not as categories or identifiers, but as catalysts, departure points, like the white overalls (tute bianche) worn initially in north-eastern Italy: “The Tute Bianche are not a movement, they are an instrument conceived within a larger movement (the Social Centers) and placed at the disposal of a still larger movement (the global movement),” writes Wu Ming 1, in the French journal Multitudes. This “instrument” was invented in 1994, when the Northern League mayor of Milan, Formentini, ordered the eviction of a squatted center and declared, “From now on, squatters will be nothing more than ghosts wandering about in the city!” But then the white ghosts showed up in droves at the next demonstration. And a new possibility for collective action emerged: “Everyone is free to wear a tuta biancha, as long as they respect the ‘style,’ even if they transform its modes of expression: pragmatic refusal of the violence/non-violence dichotomy; reference to zapatismo; break with the twentieth-century experience; embrace of the symbolic terrain of confrontation.”

At around this same time, in the mid-1990s, movements and campaigns were emerging or consolidating all over the world: in Asia, in Africa, in Europe, in Latin America, in North America. In order to survive and to share their message, the Zapatistas organized two encuentros, bringing together activists and actors of these social movements from around the world. The first was in Mexico in 1996, the second in Spain in 1997. From the Spanish encuentro emerged the People’s Global Action network, committed to direct action against neoliberal capitalism and the anti-democratic “free trade” agenda of the WTO. I quote from the founding Manifesto of Peoples Global Action, dated February-March 1998:

“We need to develop a diversity of forms of organisation at different levels, acknowledging that there is not a single way of solving the problems we are facing. Such organisations have to be independent of governmental structures and economic powers, and based on direct democracy. These new forms of autonomous organisation should emerge from and be rooted in local communities, while at the same time practising international solidarity, building bridges to connect different social sectors, peoples and organisations that are already fighting globalisation across the world.”

The PGA organized its first major action against the WTO ministerial in Geneva on May 16, 1998. The international institutions, preoccupied with celebrating the 50th anniversary of the GATT talks, were taken entirely by surprise. Four days of intense rioting ensued. On the same day, a global street party to “celebrate” the opening of the G8 summit had been called for by London Reclaim the Streets, also under the auspices of the PGA. The call was heard in some 25 countries around the world. The street parties and Geneva actions coincided with huge demonstrations against the WTO in Hyderabad, India (150,000 people) and in Brasilia (50,000 people). The Global Days of Action emerged full-blown, at first try.

One begins to recall the Third Worldism of the 1960s – because this is the first time since then that a revolutionary solidarity has operated, in any significant and threatening way, between the North and the South. But the organizations involved, and the relations between them, are radically different. First of all, there are no Leninist party structures, no attempt to seize state power, much less “world power.” Solidarity means sharing ideas and putting forces together at the transnational level where the oppressive institutions operate, but without binding hierarchies and ideologies that might destroy the grass-roots movements. The notions of self-organization and direct democracy lie at the heart of this insurgency, not only in the North, but above all in the South. At the same time, the very locations of “North” and “South” collapse into each other, as we move toward a world society with a transnational economic elite and a fully transnational labor force. Solidarity movements like Kein Mensch ist illegal and its transnational expression, the No Border Network, focusing on the rights of migrants throughout the world system, demand that the revolutionary imaginary remain in closest contact with the specificity and diversity of the real.

To wrap this up, let’s consider a hyperlinked Internet map of the second Global Day of Action, on June 18th, 1999, when financial centers were targeted for direct-action protests and street carnivals on the opening day of the G8 summit. Under the slogan “Our Resistance is as Transnational as Capital,” the map gives reports of actions that happened around the world. The links show that the “Carnival against Capital” in the City of London was matched by a “Carnival of the Oppressed” in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, staged by the Ogoni people in defiance of the transnational oil industry. The map on the Reclaim the Streets website does not have the concentrated artistic power of Oyvind Fahlström’s works. Nor can it be compared to the “tricontinental” strategies of the revolutionary 1960s. Above all, it does not yet have an integrative or distributive philosophy to match the pseudo-multiculturalism that reigns over today’s multibordered world. And yet it marks a beginning. The self-organized, “diffuse creativity” of the Carnival against Capital and the Carnival of the Oppressed helped spark the imaginary of worldwide resistance that gave rise to the successful blockade of the WTO millennium round in Seattle, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 1999, bringing the new cycle of mass struggle to broad daylight. Priceless moments, days of constituent power in the streets.

The tactics of the artistic-political movements are not just “symbolic,” but nor do they engage a logic of pure force. Their reality as acts is what founds their potential as revolutionary signifiers. They are both direct action, and direct representation: a popular occupation of the political space, just as that space is threatening to disappear behind a proliferation of air-tight borders. By seizing the power of the imaginary, and by using it to build real solidarities, they reinvent a taste of freedom.


In closing, I would like to reflect on two very different images of the world as it really is today. The first comes from Latin America. Since December 2001, demonstrations have constantly brought together protestors in Argentina, ordinary, people, people of all social classes. The economy is in a state of crisis, and IMF policies for the country’s integration into the world economy have proven a total failure. Citizens cannot even take their own money out of the banks, let alone pay for “public services” which have been sold to transnational corporations. So those who formerly had money now attack banks, armored cars, cash machines. Others who are considerably worse off, the unemployed “piqueteros,” do actions which involve blocking the streets. The violence of neoliberalism has torn Argentina apart. But despite the murders carried out by the police, to this date (August 2002) there has been no mass repression by the army: in a situation of institutional collapse, where a political-economic solution has not yet emerged, this resistance to generalized violence is a tribute to the collective intelligence and the dignity of the Argentines, on all sides of the fences.

What then is the relation between these suffering citizens, and the idealistic protestors who have tried to break the ruling consensus in Europe, who have tried to call a halt to the domination of society by the pure logic of money? In a demonstration in Brussels in December, 2001, criticizing the neoliberal policies of the European Union, a group of young people carried hilarious images satirizing consumer culture, along with a banner reading “L’intersidérale contre l’Empire” – “The Interstellar against the Empire.” They were evoking the Communist International of a century ago, as well as the recent book Empire by the Italian theorist Toni Negri, who had also been at the forefront of struggles in the sixties and seventies. There is a dream here: that the threads of revolutionary history could be reknitted. But what is the relation between the subversive gestures of these kids in Brussels and the situation faced by the Argentines? What kinds of solidarities can such distant groups forge, as the crisis of neoliberalism deepens?

Those who can imagine the answers to these questions will begin writing the history of the future.

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