Empire Struck Back

Posted by sepoy on August 27, 2004 · 4 mins read

Is it wrong of me to think that Arundhati Roy is super cute? I think it is. Anyways, she is visiting US (I guess they forgot to cancel her visa) and gave a speech entitled Public Power in the Age of Empire. The speech, in line with her recent public discourse, is largely a challenge to both global capitalism and liberal democracy. They talking about a revolution? you ask. But, of course:

So when we speak of "Public Power in the Age of Empire," I hope it's not presumptuous to assume that the only thing that is worth discussing seriously is the power of a dissenting public. A public which disagrees with the very concept of empire. A public which has set itself against incumbent power - international, national, regional, or provincial governments and institutions that support and service empire.

What are the avenues of protest available to people who wish to resist empire? By resist I don't mean only to express dissent, but to effectively force change. Empire has a range of calling cards. It uses different weapons to break open different markets. You know the check book and the cruise missile.
For poor people in many countries, Empire does not always appear in the form of cruise missiles and tanks, as it has in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam. It appears in their lives in very local avatars - losing their jobs, being sent unpayable electricity bills, having their water supply cut, being evicted from their homes and uprooted from their land. All this overseen by the repressive machinery of the state, the police, the army, the judiciary. It is a process of relentless impoverishment with which the poor are historically familiar. What Empire does is to further entrench and exacerbate already existing inequalities.

And what would Roy do if she couldn't stir some righteous controversy?

There is no discussion taking place in the world today that is more crucial than the debate about strategies of resistance. And the choice of strategy is not entirely in the hands of the public. It is also in the hands of sarkar.

After all, when the U.S. invades and occupies Iraq in the way it has done, with such overwhelming military force, can the resistance be expected to be a conventional military one? (Of course, even if it were conventional, it would still be called terrorist.) In a strange sense, the U.S. government's arsenal of weapons and unrivalled air and fire power makes terrorism an all-but-inescapable response. What people lack in wealth and power, they will make up with stealth and strategy. In this restive, despairing time, if governments do not do all they can to honor nonviolent resistance, then by default they privilege those who turn to violence. No government's condemnation of terrorism is credible if it cannot show itself to be open to change by to nonviolent dissent.
But instead nonviolent resistance movements are being crushed. Any kind of mass political mobilization or organization is being bought off, or broken, or simply ignored.

Now the thing is that Roy is one of the chief idealogues of the protest movements on the left (Zinn, Chomsky etc. has-beens) and I know that this speech is all over the various email lists that are congregating people to NYC for next week. I don't always agree with Roy but hers is a voice that needs to be heard and understood. So, please go read the speech.