Genoa, July 2001, big mass demonstrations and riots against a G8 that claims to represent a sort of world government of globalization. The first demonstration is the migrants’ one, opened by a banner claiming freedom of movement, freedom without borders. A boy gets killed. And this cannot be forgotten. Hundreds thousands of people do not accept the simulacrum of a globalized democracy.
Hamburg, July 2017, big mass demonstrations and riots against a G20 that registers the impossibility of a political government of globalization. A banner reminds of the thousands of migrants who died in the sea (around 30.000 people in the last 15 years), whilst another banner invokes the end of the war against migrants. Many are the unmotivated arrests. Too many activists are still in prison. And this cannot be forgotten either. At the summit there are overtly authoritarian heads of government and no one is surprised about it. The democratic illusion has dissolved, and the decisions are taken far away from the screens without provoking scandal. The globalization of capital has crashed every possible world political mediation.
Hamburg, July 2017, one activist goes back home after a day of riots and demonstrations. He gets on a bus and is about to pay the ticket. The bus driver somehow recognizes him and tells him he does not need to pay, because he has demonstrated. Without reducing this snap-shot to a reassuring anecdote, we could say that the city went on strike even when it did not demonstrate and even where it did not raise up. It struck in the neighborhoods, by refusing the logics of modular repression, of arrests as a practice of massively keeping file on people, of punitive detentions. It struck against those who wanted to make of Hamburg something that it is not, but it should have been: the shiny showcase that hides the almost unsurmountable difficulties of a political government of globalization.
Three snap-shots of our story that must be given back to the movement of which they are part. We could ask ourselves without nostalgia what has changed between 2001 and today. Genoa and Seattle grasped the turning point in a capitalist globalization which was trying to provide itself with a political representation. In truth, it was the heralding of a «Western» world government, a government where one was invited only in so far as one accepted the rules of an economic growth allegedly unending and without crisis. Since 2001 and for several years, counter-summits and social forums have expressed the opposition to that specific globalization. There was not a refusal of the globalized world, but the ambition to a global transformation, the firm belief that this world could be globally different. The problem has been, afterwards, to focus on the counter-summits as events to be «exploited» on the media in order to represent our opposition, or to think to find the other possible world in small worlds which were considered untouched by the global domination of capital thanks to a democratic government of the local.
After many years, many wars and a world crisis things have clearly changed. The G20 is not more democratic than the G8 just because the number of participants has increased. However it would be reductive to think that only the financial crisis reshuffled the cards of capitalistic globalization. It was thanks to global social movements that the rules the summits attempted to impose with more or less consistence have been rejected in the first place. The movement against war, migrants’ movement, women’s movement, workers’ revolts, the rebellions in the cities and in some territories have been certainly contingent and uncoordinated moments, which nonetheless undermined the idea of an orderly and neatly democratic globalization. The economic crisis brought to definitive accomplishment a global transformation of labor which has become informal and precarious more or less everywhere. In front of the insurgencies of women and men, migrants, precarious and industrial workers, Nation-states have been reused as political instruments of government and repression, called to do their own part side by side with the constant blackmail of debt and finance. Only a naïve faith in the universal of citizenship or in popular sovereignty can lead one to think that States can reaffirm the centrality that they have had until the last century. Just as globalization has not deleted the State, the latter cannot emancipate itself from the power of global capital. The return of the (more or less national) State can be understood only as the expression of a global government of the social movements and of the capitalistic dynamics themselves, a government that in every moment reveals its insuppressible nexus with the financialization of public and private relationships, that is with the absolute command of money on living labor. Thanks to this very necessity of reckoning on each State, people like Erdogan and Putin, and States as Saudi Arabia have been admitted to the G20 summit.
If we assume this frame, Hamburg was not a turning point, but rather a moment of the overall dynamics of the clash between social movements and the global government of capital. Thus, the starting point is not so much the event, but the complex interconnection of paths – both present and absent – that in Hamburg produced their impact. Despite of propaganda, repression and a discourse which exalts riots as the only right answer to the increasing social violence, what matters are not the broken shop windows. Shop windows have been broken just as much during other counter-summits. What was smashed to pieces is rather the global window that these summits claim to stage and, in this case, the particular window set up by the German government. This effect did not result only from the riots, that should be understood and taken into account in their relation both with the other demonstrations that took place in Hamburg and, most of all, with the overall and more or less karstic movement of opposition against neoliberal globalization. We prevent ourselves from the possibility of an expansive action beyond the moment of the riot, if we assume certain behaviors in the squares as the expression either of a most conscious vanguard, or of a young generation which is indifferent towards any other form of political contestation. What has been expressed in Hamburg is the combined and reciprocally amplified effect of all that happened there, of the watchwords that fueled the squares, of the understanding of the particular moment in which the days of Hamburg were taking place, of both demonstrations and riots. The fires of revolt simply highlight the refusal of the everyday social violence of global capital, and the unavailability to regard the summit of the Great as the counterpart of a possible mediation. At the same time, however, they pose the question of how to organize that refusal and this unavailability well beyond the occasional social coalitions or alliances built for a contingent purpose, but starting from the necessity of affirming an enduring and effective urgency of power.
From this point of view, the choice of shutting down the logistic of capital is politically relevant, because that logistics does not manifest itself to a greater extent in Hamburg than in other places. It actually does not reveal itself in any privileged place. The logistics of capital does not have a summit, so that it cannot be fought through a counter-summit. Even though it produced the picture of a queue of tracks that weren’t able to enter the harbor, the project of blocking it did not completely succeed, but nonetheless provided an indication which is worth for future times. The time of representing our opposition through a counter-summit is over, because this opposition cannot run behind the agenda of governments, but must necessarily attack those capitalistic dynamics that make at one and the same time necessary and illusory the national political mediation. The explicitly experimental attempt to block one of the biggest European logistic hubs, therefore, was not so much a specific action against the harbor, as a way of pointing out the necessity of connecting the harbor with the other actions that crisscrossed the city. The point is not to say that what matters happens in the harbor, but to understand that State power, logistics and the metropolis are different facets of the production of society, that is of the imposition of roles, hierarchies and ways of exploitation that are necessary for reproducing a social relation of domination on a global scale. The block of the harbor was part of the project #hamburgcitystrike, and it therefore has showed that the logistical and the metropolitan strike can be neither understood nor practiced separately. In Hamburg we had the possibility to see what a transnational social strike can be, that is how to find politically meaningful points of impact with capital and its institutions, and the refusal to stay in the positions that they try to impose. The forms that the impact and the refusal can take depend on the practical conditions of the fight. Again and again, the error would be that of regarding one single form of struggle as the most advanced point of our opposition, so to make of it a model that must be replicated, a fetish. As the modalities of exploitation of contemporary capitalism differ, without composing a unique and stable picture, so the strike assumes different configurations, it crosses the work-places – where it is paradoxically more difficult – and the whole metropolitan space, it involves subjects of social reproduction, it mobilizes demands and claims that otherwise do not find any answer on a local or national level. Furthermore, logistics and the way in which the struggles of the last years obtained some results – without questioning the pervasiveness of logistics itself – are precisely what suggests that the discovery of practices, like the one of the block, and weak points, like the hubs of the networks, does not solve the problem that we have to face.
The affirmation of the fully global character of National-state’s mediation does not imply the cancellation of the institutional plan of intervention. It does not mean giving up the possibility of exercising our own initiative also in relation to the institutions. Claims on wages, income, and residence permit must necessarily meet with institutions, confronting and clashing with them. The problem is always the contingent character of the mediations built, whether they are articulated on an urban, national or European scale. Through these mediations and against them we should be able to deploy our ability to contrast the logistic infrastructures with a political infrastructure in order to exert over time a force that cannot be expressed just as an event.
Thus if we want to place ourselves in the movement of which Hamburg has been a moment, we must recognize that our initiative cannot be limited to build and seek a democratic government from below to be exercised in confined spaces or on an urban scale. We have said that Hamburg as a city has struck, thus setting the environment in which all other actions could have weight. However, this does not solve the problem of scale and, ultimately, of organization, that is, the problem of the political infrastructure. This is particularly evident to respond to the specific form of war that is being waged against migrants. No one obviously denies the importance of welcome practices and services able to mark a difference if compared with the one practiced by the European Union and its States. Nonetheless, the stake of a worthy welcome, of solidarity and cities for all, of the general welcoming actions for migrants are the political connections that they allow to establish. Otherwise, the risk is to provide only a benevolent welcoming on a smaller scale, a welcoming that intervenes when public institutions retreat and refuse it. Let’s start from the fact that any form of social cooperation cannot totally escape the opaque logic of capital, but it has to take it constantly and openly into account. The problem is then not only to compensate the shortcomings of the institutions, but rather to advance demands in order to highlight the effect of exploitation of their choices and at the same time to support all migrants. These demands cannot simply confine themselves to contingent, localized or national claims, but must be set on the same global scale that migrants’ movements reveal uninterruptedly, by straining against the transnational logic placing the States at the service of the government of living labor and its mobility. The war against migrants is not just the war fought to suppress their movements, but also the one that is fought across the borders with public administrations and in the workplaces, where those migrants perform tasks linked both to the logistics and to the care cycle, to the transnational chains of production and reproduction of the metropolis, and which are underpaid precisely because migrant labor has now become the model of the general precarization of labor as a whole. The same war involves refugees and asylum seekers for whom a European residence permit would represent the way to avoid the joint game played by the States and the European institutions.
To highlight then that a strike movement is continuing to appear in the last years does not mean that every uprising takes the well known form of a strike. It is rather a sign that more and more frequently there are subjective movements affecting the rules that the capital is imposing globally and escaping their command, that is, that we are increasingly witnessing insurrections which, if considered together, express the tension to strike against the overall way of producing and reproducing our lives, that is to strike against capital. In front of this strike movement, our political infrastructure cannot simply replicate the established forms of organization and mobilization. It must function on the level of the global social movements, knowing that they produce contingent and unrelated effects, and precisely for this purpose they call for the necessity of a transnational political connection that can be up to the broad movement of freedom, a freedom without borders, which is opposing the coercion of Nation-states, the oppression of patriarchy, the abstract and violent rules of the financialization of life.