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Naming the Enemy: Anti-Corporate Movements Confront Globalization

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Before the events of September 11 and the ensuing 'war against terrorism,' the biggest subject of debate on the left in the US had to do with anti-globalization protests, particularly those in Genoa.

Amory Starr

Reviewed by Scott Schaffer

Friday, October 12 2001, 8:48 AM

Before the events of September 11 and the ensuing "war against terrorism," the biggest subject of debate on the left in the US had to do with anti-globalization protests, particularly those in Genoa. Mudslinging in the newspapers; ranting against the violence of protestors on discussion lists such as the Socialist Register; accusations of police infiltrating the Black Bloc; and preparations for the September 29 anti-capitalist protests in Washington DC -- all these things occupied the minds of progressives. How do we attack globalization? What tactics do we use? Is the enemy now the same enemy as it was in the 1960s, or has that enemy transformed into the kind of virtual structure depicted in Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt's Empire? These were the kinds of questions that needed to be dealt with so that "the enemy" could be confronted.

But there are deeper questions that should occupy us. How do we understand globalization? How do we talk about the enemy, and where do we find them? What kind of a theoretical basis do we use for developing our political praxis? How do we organize our movement? What kinds of linkages do we make with other groups struggling against international capitalism? What kinds of goals should we pursue, and how would we know when we "succeeded"?

Amory Starr's book, Naming the Enemy: Anti-Corporate Movements Confront Globalizationwould appear on first glance to provide a set of responses to these kinds of questions. After all, the title has all the elements -- what to call the enemy and how to know them; discussions of anti-corporate movements; and modes for confronting globalization -- for laying out the new framework for resisting the new trends of globalization (which are now prone to disappearing behind the seemingly hotter "cold war" against terrorism). Unfortunately, Starr's work doesn't deliver on the promise.

Naming the Enemy was originally Starr's dissertation, written at University of California, Santa Barbara and completed at Colorado State University, where she now teaches. It was an ambitious project, one that results in an amazing final product in a number of ways.

Quite possibly the greatest achievement in this project is the collection of organizations that actively resist corporations and globalization. Starr's choice of research method -- a search of the Internet, at least in the first instance -- results in a "select" list of resistant organizations totaling 82, and by her own admission, this is a "very small" selection of these organizations. In sum, she probably discusses at least 200 organizations that have anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, and anti-globalization political programs and agendas; and for someone who's looking for some way to actualize their theoretical political anger by getting into an already-existing organization, this book is worth it.

As an academic analysis, though, it starts off in a fragmented manner. The first chapter, generally devoted to the development of a coherent analytic and theoretical framework, doesn't quite get there. Relying on elements of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's post-structuralist social theory, Emmanuel Wallerstein's world systems theory, Michel Foucault's genealogical analyses, and elements of post-modernism, including identity politics, Starr attempts to build a framework predicated on examining six elements of the globalized world: growth, enclosure, dependency, colonialism, anti-democracy, and consumption. Each of these foci, though, implies a different theoretical framework, leaving Starr able to only pursue her analytic framework in a syncretic fashion. Starr's examination, then, is hobbled by good intentions; she wants to get past the divisions rife in the academy, but hasn't yet found a way to integrate their concerns into a coherent framework.

Following the theoretical chapter are three chapters dedicated to examining three different approaches to anti-corporate resistance. Contestation and reform comes first, with its emphasis not only on resisting the terms on which structural adjustments are carried out in the third world, but also human rights work, land reform, cyberpunk activists, and movements that are explicitly anti-corporate. To Starr's mind, these groups are organized around "a strategic approach commonly taken by this mode, mobilizing existing formal democratic channels of protest, seeking national legislation, mounting judicial challenges, mobilizing international agencies, boycotting, and protesting." The epigram for this chapter puts it more succinctly: "Everyone must realize that McDonalds sucks, and you must do your part to put the fucking place out of commission."

The second approach, what Starr calls "globalization from below," identifies those groups who are actively working to "globalize resistance to match the globalized structure of neoliberal exploitation." These groups struggle to bring to light the injustices of corporations and their activities, especially in the realms of environmentalism, labor movements, socialism, anti-free trade agreements, and, to keep things lively, Zapatismo. The approach here, unlike the structurally accepted approach in the first segment, is to build up a kind of grassroots resistance to the impacts of structural policies and programs.

The third strategy, what Starr calls "delinking, relocalization, and sovereignty," focuses on saving the particularities of localities over and against globalized, interpellated segments of the global system. The emphasis here is on "delinking" local economies from the global economy so that localities can maintain themselves separately from the rest of the system. Starr locates within this strategic category such disparate movements as anarchism, sustainable development, small business and DIY establishments (including, proudly, my local punk store Angry, Young and Poor), sovereignty movements, and religious nationalisms. Even the least academically and analytically trained can see the difficulty with these categorizations; by focusing on the strategy of the groups involved (rather than the site of struggle, the enemy that's named, or the desired end result of the movement), Starr ends up combining a variety of groups that would deny, if not defy, their similarities with other groups.

There's a reason for doing this, though, one geared toward highlighting the potentialities each of these groups represents for social change. The final chapter of Naming the Enemy is the most academically oriented, prioritizing two different types of analysis over the earlier compendium of anti-corporate resistance movements. The first of these is a character analysis of each of the different types of movements, where Starr breaks down what each movement tries to do (following the earlier strategic analysis and the six elements of the globalized world). Starr then develops a kind of networks analysis, wherein she examines the strength of potential linkages between movements that follow the three strategies. This network analysis, though complex, essentially shows readers the most important lesson in this book 񠴨at each of the types of anti-corporate, anti-globalization resistance movements she discusses, if they realized what they have in common with the others, can in their "unity of many determinations" pose a significant opportunity for dramatic large-scale social change.

And it is this note of hope, combined with the encyclopedic collection of resistance movements, that makes me really like Starr's book. Despite its flaws -- flaws that only hard-core academics should be terribly concerned with -- Naming the Enemy has much to offer activists and scholars alike. For those who are asking the question "How can (or should we) attempt to unify the various movements?", Starr's book offers the basis for an answer. My only regret is that she didn't answer it herself.

Naming the Enemy is available from Pluto Press and Zed Books 

Scott Schaffer is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Millersville University of Pennsylvania and Managing Editor of the Journal of Mundane Behavior.  

Copyright © 2001 by Scott Schaeffer. All rights reserved.

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