From long haul organizing platforms to “burn it all down” militancy, radicals online and off are working to dismantle institutionalized, hegemonic power structures that have changed their scope and mechanics from those familiar to any student of global capitalism in the 20th century, to the emerging globalized networks of the 21st. These attempts at resisting Empire are based all too often exclusively on assumptions hard-won from struggles throughout the previous two centuries, even as long-standing forms of oppression are exacted in ever-widening and deepening levels. While these attempts are more often than not serious in nature – which is to say, what motivates said attempts are a result of actual conditions and considerable thought – this means that radicals are fighting against specific implementations of systemic oppression that no longer exist, although the oppressions themselves, and those who implement them, are still very much with us.
So what causes this disparity? At least in the U.S., the sentiments driving this are in no small part are rooted, either directly or indirectly, in left-wing and/or third world nationalist nostalgia based on prior victories and near-victories, both global and national. Despite all well and apt intentions, this is in essence fighting a manifestation of institutionalized power that has long sense re-centered and altered its means; an empty office complex with all of its intellectual property safely sequestered in the homes of telecommuting professionals, far removed from the negative impact of lock boxes and bricks.
Resisting an imagined 20th century institutional leviathan, on 20th century terms, in order to overcome a decidedly real 21st century one runs the risk of creating an army of golems, with potentially unforeseen consequences. A movement that attempts to achieve victory based on these rules may well be out-maneuvered by more well-informed actors both known and unknown from across the political spectrum, not to mention the architects and maintainers of institutionalized power itself, well before such victory is even possible. You can’t win at chess on a mutable board controlled by your stated opponent, especially when the real opponent owns the board, and quite possibly, both players as well, adversarial assertions notwithstanding.
The contemporary reality is that the locus of hegemonic power that reached maturity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (plantation, factory, church, family, et. al.) has become increasingly if paradoxically fractured yet ubiquitously networked, and modes of oppression are following suit to the point of rendering collective knowledge of past forms of strategy and tactics moot, no matter how completely just said mechanisms were in times past, and the intentions behind them, valid still. This is not to say that resistance will eventually be rendered pointless. If anything, its potential is stronger than ever, in no small part because the networked means of oppression has become embodied to such a degree en masse – which is to say, biopower is a real phenomenon, effectively in universal terms – that individual actors can use their personalized agency to act together as a collaborative fulcrum against Empire, even within corporate-controlled forums, such as social media. In turn, this collaborative experience can potentially be utilized to build decentralized, lasting networks of resistance and transformation. But asserting that such an engine of collaborative power will miraculously change networked hegemony back to its prior 20th century state in the hopes of a lasting victory for the bulk of humanity in the 21st century onward, is about as useful as an alchemy-based engine of democratic wealth redistribution as a means of transcending global capitalism.
Multitude, Hardt and Negri
History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, Foucault
Liberating Theory: Sklar et. al.
Originating chess metaphor via @jonubian.