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<nettime> David Graeber: Nuit Debout against Panama everywhere

La Nuit debout contre le Panama partout

[Here's the orgininal version in English, curtesy of David Graeber by
way of Partice Riemens]

 What we have been seeing in the news, this week, with the
juxtaposition of the Panama paper revelations, and the emergence
of Nuit Debout in the streets of Paris and other French cities, is
the struggle between two different forms of solidarity, two global
cultures—the first, all too developed, the second, still in the
process of being born.

 The first is the solidarity of the wealthy and powerful, or, more
precisely, those whose wealth is founded on their power; the other, is
the emergence of new forms of revolutionary democracy that are taking,
increasingly, planetary form. Each relies on creating spaces outside
the formal structure of the state. What we are beginning to see, with
the police show of force last night, was just how differently the
“forces of law” react to each.

 What the Panama papers reveal above all is a global political class
whose ultimate loyalty is to each other. Nawaz Sharif, Robert Mugabe,
Vladimir Putin, or David Cameron…. however much such men might
glower at each other across the world stage, when it comes to what's
really important to them as human beings (the financial security
of their children, for example) they show a remarkable degree of
solidarity. This is, of course, in dramatic contrast to how they feel
about the safety and security of the children of pretty much everybody
else—other, of course, than members of their only real constituency:
the other members of the global %1.

 Still, for anyone familiar with how wealth is really accumulated in
today's world, there is still something genuinely puzzling in these
revelations: why is it so important to these people not to pay taxes
to begin with? This is less obvious than it seems. As the wealth
of the ruling classes comes to be based increasingly on financial
speculation, we are no longer talking about protecting the profits of
commerce and industry from the grasping hands of the state; almost
all these fortunes are based on collusion with state power to begin
with. If your income is based on control of the levers of power, why
squirrel it away in Panama? Would it not be just as easy to extract
twice as much, and then ostentatiously hand half the proceeds back
again as gesture of loyalty?

 It's hard to escape the conclusion that a gesture of loyalty to the
nation-state is precisely what such men are trying to avoid. The
creation of these tax shelters is the creation, not precisely of a
state of sovereign exception, but of one of financial exception,
within an emerging global legal-bureaucratic order of which the
beneficiaries, themselves, the architects.

 The creation of this order is probably the most important historical
phenomenon of the last two generations. Never before has the planet
seen anything like it, a unified administrative system.

 What was the alter-globalization movement of the turn of the
millennium, after all, than the first social rebellion against this
emerging planetary bureaucratic system? As a participant in some of
its most notorious battles—in Washington, Quebec City, Genoa—I can
attest this is exactly how we saw ourselves. What was being billed
as “globalization,” as a kind of natural and inevitable process
driven by “free trade” and the internet, was really created and
maintained of endless grey functionaries, working for bureaucracies
public and private, or even more, in an indistinguishable grey zone in
between: the IMF, WTO, TTIP, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Standard &
Poors, or Bechtel, with the ultimate purpose of maintaining the wealth
and power of a tiny elite. What we've now learned is just how much
members of that elite considered it a point of principle that those
with the power to impose laws on the rest of the world should not be
bound by laws themselves.

 How to fight an anti-democratic enemy that stood outside of any
national, political order? Our solution was to create democratic
spaces that stood outside the legal and political order as well:
prefigurative spaces, as we liked to call them, which also became
zones of experiment in leaderless direct democracy. These new forms
of democracy were not, exclusively or even primarily, products of
Europe or North America; they were, as we liked to call it, part of
new insurgent civilization, planetary in its scope and ambitions, born
of a long convergence of such experiments carried out in every part
of the planet, from the forests of Chiapas and Brazil to the villages
of Karnataka in India, squats from Lisbon to Quito, with substantial
inputs from feminism, anarchism, and traditions of non-violent civil
disobedience; a repertoire of terms, tactics, gestures, endlessly
nurtured and elaborated in thousand local variations, that was to
explode in public squares across the world a decade later, from Tahrir
to Syntagma to Zuccotti Park.

 The great historical sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein once made the
argument that every real revolution is a world revolution. In some the
street battles were all in one place (1789, 1917) in others (1848,
1968) dispersed across the globe, but in either case, it was the world
system itself that was transformed. Above all, this took the form
of a deep transformation in political common sense. In this sense
the French revolution of 1789 really was the quintessential modern
revolution because its effects in this respect were the most radical.
If twenty years before the storming of the Bastille, one were to
propose to the average person that, say, social change is good, that
it is the role of the state to manage such change, or that government
earns its legitimacy from some entity called “the people,”
one would most likely have been written off as an café-dwelling
dilettante or rabble-rouser. Twenty years after the revolution, even
the most stuffy cleric or headmaster had to at least pay lip service
to such ideas.

 And what then, of what Wallerstein is already calling “the world
revolution of 2011?” No doubt it will many years to appreciate its
true historical significance. But there is a real possibility future
historians will see it as marking another profound shift in popular
conceptions of what a revolutionary, or indeed, democratic, movement
even is. Mainstream pundits and Marxist theorists alike never tire of
declaring the failure of the movements of 2011, but if Turkey, Brazil,
Bosnia, Hong Kong—and now, France—are anything to go by, they
have permanently changed the very language of popular democracy. In
every case, popular uprisings no longer take the form either of armed
revolution, or attempts to transform the system from within; the first
move is always to create a territory outside the system entirely, if
possible, outside the legal order of the state: a prefigurative space
in which new forms of direct democracy could be imagined.

 The refusal to engage with the existing political order does not
mean such movements do not aim to have legislative effects. But they
mean to do so not by courting or even, for that matter, denouncing
politicians, but by threatening them with the prospect of utter

 This is what has happened in France. The organizers of the original
march against the new Labor Laws were planning a single day's event.
But things almost immediately escaped their control. A kind of mass
outpouring of the democratic imagination ensued; libraries, gardens,
popular education centers, kitchens, studios, appeared; thousands
taking part in general assemblies began cheerfully adopting, and
in the process, creating their own idiosyncratic version of the
new global language of direct democracy. Hundreds of thousands
followed, and contributed, on social media. As veteran activists from
around the world—myself included—hurried to Paris to lend their
experience with process, wild new demands began to be formulated
(debt cancellation, citizens income, sortition…) that had hitherto
been completely excluded from “serious” political debate. As
the process threatens to expand, next, to the immigrant and working
class suburbs, the initial contemptuous dismissal of the political
classes seem to be turning into a kind of panic, and more and more men
with weapons have come to surround the new agora, as if to literally
prevent democracy from overflowing its bounds.

 The traditional justification for spaces of exception is that they
can become places of creativity: after all, only those who are not
bound by the existing legal order can create new laws. But it's
increasingly difficult to imagine any solutions to the world's most
pressing problems coming from that space of financial exception in
which the world's economic and political elites now live. About the
only kind of imagination that has come out of it has been the design
of ingenious new financial instruments. Yet at the same time, millions
of humans beings who do not have access to such an extra-territorial
space, full of potential ideas and solutions, are live lives which
consist of little more than being constantly told to shut up and keep
working. If we are ever to think our way out of our endless current
logjams, it can only come from the new extra-territorial spaces—if
not legally extra-territorial in this case, then certainly, morally
and politically so—that the world revolution of 2011 began to open

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