Ben Trott: Notes on Why it Matters that Heiligendamm Felt like Winning

“Weapons are affects and affects weapons”

– Deleuze and Guattari 1

‘We Are Winning’ – the slogan famously sprayed on a wall in Seattle as thousands shut down the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial in 1999; last seen on the side of a burning police van on the streets of Genoa in 2001 – when the G8 leaders last dared to meet in a European city –; and the feeling that thousands of us felt as we flowed through fields, around police lines and onto the roads leading to Kempinski Hotel, the location of this year’s G8 Summit in Heiligendamm. Obviously, the world around us does not look particularly different, despite the purported success of the blockades, and the mobilisation in general. So does it really matter that ‘we’ – the ‘movement of movements’, very broadly conceived – feel like we are winning again?


The beginning of the cycle of struggles characterised as ‘global’ tends to be identified with the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico on January 1 1994; or else with the protests against the WTO in Seattle 1999. Either, analytically, is as useful as the other.

Historically, the international circulation of struggles has been described via various metaphors. Marx used that of the mole: Struggles, he meant to say, sometimes disappear completely from view, reappearing again at another place and time; but even when subterranean, they are always present – below the surface, undermining the foundations of the overt, dominant reality.2 Deleuze, writing well over a century later, argued the metaphor of the mole to be outdated. “We’ve gone from one animal to another,” he argued, “from moles to snakes…”3 Whilst the emergent workers’ movement of Marx’s time could be understood as restricted by structured tunnels, pathways and routes, snakes undulate across an open, smooth surface. A more appropriate metaphor for the control society, Deleuze proposed. Others still have used the metaphor of a virus: breaking out in one place, contaminating not only those in the immediate vicinity, but finding all sorts of often unlikely ways of travelling and infecting others.

Both the Zapatista uprising and the events of Seattle – neither of which, we already know, developed in a vacuum, and both had their own hidden and complex pre-histories – were important moments, not only in and of themselves, but far more because of their communicability and their resonance. In other words, because of the cycles they set in motion (with the start of a cycle obviously implying a certain break with that which came before.)

The response to the Zapatista uprising, then, was not only to send material aid, nor was it only to become international peace observers, and nor was it only to demonstrate solidarity publicly and around the world. More importantly, the response also involved a becoming-Zapatista of movements everywhere. The inspiration of the Zapatistas – as well, in fact, as the protests in Seattle – was the willingness to move beyond both ideology and identity; to ‘walk asking questions’ along an unknown path. For the first time in recent history, both events were an attempt to create a world of dignity and autonomy within a movement where difference was no longer privileged over commonality. This was the contribution of the rebels of Chiapas and Seattle. This is what, like a mole, burrowed its way from North America’s Pacific Northwest coast to Genoa and Quebec. This is what, like a snake, slithered across the globe from the jungles of southeast Mexico to Prague and Chiang Mai. And this is what contaminated movements and struggles around the world, from Europe to Africa, Asia and beyond.


The period which followed the Zapatista uprising, and the Seattle events in particular, was characterised by the affect of winning. Everyone recognised the serious cracks which had begun to emerge in the neoliberal project. Enormous demonstrations surrounded every meeting of the WTO, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the European Union. A series of electoral victories – particularly in Latin America – were won on an (at least superficially) anti-neoliberal ticket. The focus of movements in the global North had shifted from solidarity with those in the global South, to also include contestation on the level of life and work under neoliberalism in the states where the ideology and reality had been born.


Yet the movement’s affect of winning did not last indefinitely. Despite substantial victories – in terms of the size of the mobilisation; the continuation (in the spirit of Seattle and Zapatismo) of a process of experimentation with new forms of disobedience and the search for commonality, … – the declaration of war on the body of the movement in Genoa; followed by the onset of an open-ended global war in the wake of September 11 2001, presented the movement with new challenges. Foucault had already argued this to be the case over a quarter of a century earlier,4 but now nobody could deny that Clausewitz’s formula of war as the continuation of politics by other means had finally been turned on its head. And despite the original promise of the new movement against the new war – and the events of February 15 2003 in particular – the task of ‘waging war on war’ has fallen flat, still in search of the means of its own realisation.

To say that resistance – temporally and ontologically – precedes power; that anti-capitalist struggles drive forward capitalist development, is to say that capital is constantly obliged to respond to those movements for its abolition by both restructuring itself and imposing a decomposition on its enemy. Its response to the initial global cycle of struggles (roughly from 1994/9 – 2001) was no exception.

The means by which one tendency within capital attempted to go about both was through what George Caffentzis described as neoliberalism’s ‘Plan B’: a reluctant short term global Keynesianism.5 In short, this involved the continuation and intensification of processes of primitive accumulation: the incorporation of millions in Africa and elsewhere into the global market, through an investment in education, nutrition programmes, sanitation and health provisions geared to ‘lift’ those formally outside capitalist social relations into waged-labouring practices. On the one hand, the global labour market would be expanded (the key to economic growth and stability in Keynesian economic thought); whilst on the other, capital would appear to grant concessions to the counter-globalisation movement, enabling the incorporation of its ‘moderate wing’ and the further criminalisation of its ‘radical fringe’.

The primary ideologist of Plan B is Jeffry Sachs, and its highest political expression to date was articulated through the Live8-Make Poverty History-British New Labour Party matrix around the 2005 G8 Summit at Gleneagles. Here, Plan B became almost hegemonic and the counter-globalisation movement was wrong-footed. On a discursive level, it failed to develop and articulate a critique of Plan B. At the same time, it failed to live up to its own self-description; namely to be or become a ‘movement of movements’ – more than simply the sum of its parts. At Gleneagles, the movement was fractured and divided into different camps. There was very little willingness for cooperation, or even coordination, between the three different mobilisations (Make Poverty History, G8 Alternatives, and Dissent!); and little in the way of political intervention on the behalf of radicals to either introduce anti-capitalist critique, or else to open up room for disobedience by those not already embedded within networks of resistance. By mid-July 2005 at the latest (and some would argue that this was already the case by the autumn of 2001), the affect of winning had been replaced by that of fear and the apparent omnipotence of a power turned against us.


Affects, of course, are not simply ‘feelings’; they are a material force. Feelings refer to that which is experienced by an individual – or at most, by a number of individuals in a similar way. Affects, on the other hand, are social. The movement’s affect of winning (or any other affect, for that matter), then, is produced by and from the body of the movement itself (which at the same time has no clearly identifiable borders) through its interaction with both itself and everything which is other. In the 1600s, Spinoza had already explained, “By affect (affectus) I understand the affections of the body by which the body’s power of activity is increased or diminished, assisted or checked…”6 To say, then, that by Gleneagles the affect of winning was gone, does not just mean that many of us did not ‘feel’ like we were winning (although this is also true); but that the conditions which allowed for the movement to affect and be affected in the way that it once did had themselves undergone a change. As such, new modes of behaviour needed to be sought out.


In many ways, Heiligendamm was Gleneagles’ opposite. Radicals took the initiative, learning from the mistakes of 2005 as well as the lessons taught by Seattle, Genoa and a thousand other events. Through an almost total openness towards coalition work – critical cooperation on the basis of identifying, uncovering and building new commons, which simultaneously sought to respect (and certainly not obscure) difference – across the left (the right, naturally, were nowhere welcome within the broad left’s mobilisation, despite their best attempts); the movement entered a period of recomposition. This occurred, primarily, on a territorially restricted level through the work of the Rostock Action Conferences, the Interventionist Left, the Block G8 campaign and a number of other initiatives. But resonance was also found on a more international level. The efforts towards recomposition – and the form that this took – appeared to make sense in realities beyond (and very different to) Germany and the German left.

It should go without saying, however, that the primary establishment of commons and the real movement of recomposition did not take place in the year and a half of preparation, through the thousands of emails exchanged over e-lists, or in the long and stressful coalition meetings – although they were its precondition. Far more, it was in those moments in which a concrete antagonism was articulated: in the demonstration on June 2; in the refusal of the 10000 participants in the demonstration for global freedom of movement to allow themselves to be provoked by a heavily armed police force on June 4; in the explicit rejection of imperial war and the global state of exception around Rostock Laage military airport on June 5 and 6; in the Block G8 mass blockades, and the dozens of smaller, spontaneous and surprise efforts to shut down the Summit; and most of all: in their interplay. Recomposition is a project of organisation; and the question of organisation is one which can only be worked out in practice. Heiligendamm took us a number of steps in the right direction.


The notion of the movement’s victory in Heiligendamm is of course not unconditional. The movement must now enter into a process of reflection, drawing out the lessons to be learned for the future. In particular, the question needs to be posed, why is it that despite the apparent success of the mobilisation – and the blockades in particular – the G8 and its German hosts were also able to claim the Summit as ‘their’ victory? Despite the production of a huge spectacle of resistance (as well as a resistance which was undoubtedly also real and material), why was the movement unable to effectively intervene or claim a victory on the discursive level? That is to say, on the level of the (il)legitimacy of global imperial command in particular relation to the issue of climate change? Why, for example, was there such a spectacular failure to pose the question of property and accumulation as central to the problematic?7


The ‘feeling’ – or better, the ‘affect’ – that we are winning again, then, emerges from a material reality. Through the articulation of antagonism and the (only partially) successful attempt to challenge the legitimacy of the G8 as an instrument of imperial command, our movement has been able to undergo a productive recomposition, increasing its (counter-)power in relation to that of capital. The new ways of being and acting which emerged in Heiligendamm are a tribute to our movement’s collective intelligence. The question, then, is whether – or to what extent – the constituent forms which articulated themselves in the roads and fields around Heiligendamm and on the streets of Rostock (as well as those around the world with which they resonated), will be able to maintain and productively deploy this realised potentiality. Where do the possibilities lie for developing organisational forms which build on this victory, helping set in motion a new cycle of struggles? And how could a new cycle develop means of avoiding – or at least minimising – capture and a further decomposition in its efforts to bring about a more substantial rupture in capital’s as-yet-indeterminate global project?

1 Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (2004) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (Continuum) pp 441.

2 Marx, K. (2004) The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Kissinger Publishing) pp 77.

3 Deleuze, G. (1995) ‘Postscript on Control Societies’, Negotiations 1972-1990 (Columbia University Press) pp 177-183

4 Foucault, M. (1997) ‘7 January 1976’, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France 1975-1976 (Penguin) pp 15

5 Caffenztis, G. (2005) ‘Dr. Sachs, Live8 and Neoliberalism’s ‘Plan B’’, Harvie. D. et al. (Eds.) (2005) Shut Them Down! The G8, Gleneagles 2005 and the Movement of Movements (Autonomedia/Dissent!)

6 Spinoza, B. (1992) Ethics, Part III, Def 3. (Hackett) pp 103.

7 A similar question has been asked by Tadzio Müller and Kriss Sol in A Tale of Two Victories? Or, Why winning becomes precarious in times of absent antagonisms (see: (28/06/07))