Anti-Geopolitics as (Radical) Politics

The policies and strategies of empires, colonial powers, dictatorships, and states have rarely gone unchallenged by those who have been subjects to various degrees of domination and exploitation. Quite on the contrary, dominating power has almost always faced resistance from various forms of counter hegemonic struggles. Proponents of anti-geopolitics focus on the latter as enacting a geopolitics from below that emanates from subaltern positions within society that challenge the military, political, economic, and cultural logic of hegemonic power. Those contestations can be violent or nonviolent. They include armed struggle against oppressive outside forces or state structures, as well as peaceful mass demonstrations organized by social movements. Anti-geopolitics intends to be a wide open container in which all kinds of protests are considered that organize material and discursive challenges to dominant geopolitical power and representations. Particular attention has been paid to anticolonial and antiimperial struggles, nationalist rebellions, and revolutions, as well as to more recently emerging globalizing resistance movements and transnational activism networks.

Anticolonial and Anti-Imperial Struggles

The imperial and colonial geopolitical order implied a spatialization of the world organized around the interests of Europeans. Although implicitly a violent form of domination that was established and maintained through the physical control, coercion, and co optation of the colonial subjects, colonialism and empire building were seen by the dominating powers as a legitimate, necessary, and even beneficial enterprises for the world at large. Colonialism was not only about the appropriation of natural resources in the colonized lands, but it also saw itself as a civilizing mission on earth to rescue the native savage from ignorance, sin, and superstition. It constituted a vision for the world, in which Europeans would spread civilization into the darkest corners of the planet. The brutal missionary zeal of the Spanish Empire in the Americas, for example, attests to this global visualization of the modern geopolitical imagination underlying the colonial and imperial logic.

Algeria and Frantz Fanon

Anticolonial and anti-imperial struggles were thus not only directed against the physical presence of the colonizer on colonized soil. They also challenged the geopolitical vision and the spatialization of the world that underlies colonialism. As the Martinique born French writer, medical doctor, and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon explained in his incisive critique of colonialism, in decolonization there is the need of a complete calling into question of the colonial situation. While working as Head of the Psychiatry Department at the Blida Joinville Psychiatric Hospital in Algeria in 1953, and confronted with the brutalities and torture of the French colonial system in Algeria, Fanon developed his theory of the psychology of colonial domination. In 1956, he resigned his post with the French colonial authorities to work for the Algerian independence movement from Tunisia and Ghana. Fanon's life history epitomizes the two fronts of anti-geopolitical struggle: (1) the material challenge of dominant geopolitical power and (2) contestations of geopolitical representations of the spatialized normative world order. First, he actively collaborated with the armed struggle of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), as Ambassador to Ghana for the Provisional Algerian Government he helped to establish a southern arms supply route. Second, he vociferously denounced the geopolitical vision of the French imperial project through his writings and publications. Fanon was particularly inspired by the victory of the Vietnamese Viet Minh Communist revolutionary forces against the French colonial power in the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, which effectively ended the First Indo China War and ushered in French withdrawal from its Indo Chinese colonies. Yet, Fanon would not live to see Algerian independence, as accorded between France and the FLN in March 1962. He died of leukemia in December 1961. His writings have inspired anticolonial liberation movements worldwide.

India and Mohandas Gandhi

Another influential anticolonial struggle, though of a different kind, emerged on the Indian subcontinent. Although the Indian independence movement involved a wide array of political organizations, it became most associated with the figure of Mohandas (or Mahatma) Gandhi. Rejecting armed struggle as an option, Gandhi advocated nonviolent mass civil disobedience against British colonial rule, a strategy of resistance that he termed Satyagraha (a Sanskrit compound meaning truth and firmness). A British educated lawyer, Gandhi first gained experience in peaceful civil disobedience in South Africa during the civil rights struggles of Indian communities there. On his return to India, he helped to mobilize poor farmers and laborers against widespread discrimination and oppressive taxation. As leader of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for India's independence from foreign domination, which was eventually achieved in August 1947. Gandhi remained committed to nonviolence throughout his life. The form of protest he advocated was a very embodied one, employing long fasts as a form of self purification and resistance. His life and teachings have been an inspiration for many civil rights leaders and social movements to come. From an anti-geopolitical perspective one may argue that not only did the Indian anticolonial movement achieve independence from Britain, a significant material victory, but also the philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance provided a model of subaltern politics that successfully challenged military geopolitical power and the underlying dominant geopolitical vision and logic of maintaining colonial order by force. More so than the armed struggle in Algeria maybe, Satyagraha is an expression of an anti-geopolitical perspective put into practice, as it challenges the very geopolitical logic of warfare and violence.

Nationalist Rebellions and Revolutions


To proponents of anti-geopolitics, postcolonial nationalist rebellions and revolutions also provide a focus for analysis, in particular those enframed by Cold War geopolitics. The Cuban revolution of 1959 is a case in point. Led by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, and others, a group of guerrilla fighters who had landed on the shores of Eastern Cuba in the yacht Granma in December 1956 began an armed struggle against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Helped by local peasants and with support from Batista opponents in Havana, the revolutionaries finally drove out the dictator who fled to the Dominican Republic on 1 January 1959. The initial aim of the barbudos, the bearded guerrillas, was to rid Cuba of a brutal dictatorship and affirm national, political, and economic interests against the oppressive interference of the United States. As such the revolution posed a significant material challenge to US foreign policy and the geopolitical world order in the Americas. In his amendment to the original Monroe Doctrine of 1823, US President Theodore Roosevelt had asserted in 1904 the right of the United States to intervene in the countries of the Americas in order to stabilize their economies. In reality, however, the Roosevelt Corollary was little short of being a license for the US to practice its own form of colonialism. Subsequent interventions in the first half of the twentieth century in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti were justified by recourse to the Roosevelt Corollary. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 therefore marked a clear opposition to the US imposed geopolitical order.

Nicaragua and El Salvador

Inspired by the success of the Cuban revolution, similar challenges were raised by guerrilla movements in Nicaragua and El Salvador. In Nicaragua, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979. They saw themselves as concluding the unfinished business of revolutionary leader Augusto Cesar Sandino who opposed US occupation of Nicaragua in the early twentieth century before he was assassinated by the US trained National Guard in 1934. In El Salvador, the Farabundo Mart? National Liberation Front (FMLN) was founded in 1980 as a union of various guerrilla movements with the aim of overthrowing the US supported government. After a series of military offensives a stalemate was achieved in 1989 that forced negotiations between the FMLN and the Salvadoran government, leading eventually to Peace Accords and a ceasefire in 1992. Since then the FMLN has been a political party aiming at taking control of the country through democratic elections.

Cold War geopolitical battles

Both the FSLN in Nicaragua and the FMLN in El Salvador inherited the radical tradition of the Cuban revolutionaries to challenge US geopolitical dominance in the Americas. As such, they may be seen as examples of an anti-geopolitical approach to US hegemony in the region. However, all three revolutionary experiences were simultaneously enframed by Cold War geopolitics. The US response to these challenges was to declare them a Communist threat to be opposed. In the case of Cuba, the US imposed economic sanctions and a trade embargo on the Caribbean island in 1962, which are still in force today. This, in turn, drove Fidel Castro's vision of a free and independent Cuba into the geopolitical arms of the Soviet Union's sphere of influence. In the case of Nicaragua, US President Ronald Reagan accused the Sandinistas of importing Cuban style socialism. The US consequently provided significant military and financial assistance to the Contras, a group opposing the FSLN, which resulted in a long and bloody civil war. Reagan's support for the Contras formed part of his wider strategy to actively support and promote movements that opposed Soviet influenced governments. The nationalist struggles of Cuba and Nicaragua were thus drawn into the geopolitical battles of the Cold War period.

Social Movements and Transnational Activism Networks

A further field of anti-geopolitical struggle is said to exist in the myriads of social movements, human rights groups, land rights movements, environmental groups, neighborhood associations, and others that challenge the power of the state, transnational companies, and the worst excesses and effects of global neoliberalism. Different from anticolonial struggles and nationalist rebellions, these challenges are mostly located in the sphere of civil society. They do not generally aim at overthrowing governments, but are concerned with achieving significant reforms within an existing governmental system. In the social movement literature, many of these struggles have been grouped under the term 'new social movements', because they are frequently cultural struggles over the practices and meanings of everyday life.

Globalization from below

While most movements and groups mobilize around a specific issue – from housing for the poor in Douala, preservation of indigenous cultures in the Amazon, land rights for landless peasants in Brazil, protests against dam construction in India, to an immigration bill in the US – many also connect to wider issues. They recognize that their particular grievance is just one cog in the machine of a neoliberal economic globalization that favors transnational capital at the expense of workers' rights, community values, and the environment. As these groups make these links and articulate their particular struggles against the more structural macroeconomic logic of late capitalism, it has been argued that these resistances embody a globalization from below. This entails a different vision of the world, one that challenges the geoeconomic discourse of transnational liberalism and the geopolitical representations underlying it. As such, these resistances have also been seen as a form of geopolitics from below, or anti-geopolitics of protest.

The World Social Forum

The World Social Forum, held annually since 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil (except in Mumbai in 2004), is maybe one of the most exciting developments in this transnationalization of protest beyond borders. The Forum effectively constitutes a convergence space for globalizing anticapitalist resistance that connects a large number of social movements, activists, NGOs, and trade unions across space and beyond state boundaries to articulate protests globally against the privatization of every aspect of life, and the transformation of every activity and value into a commodity. It draws up alternative visions to the dominant global neoliberal project and aims to show that another world is possible. The success in mobilization has been attributed to the decentralized, nonhierarchical and web like structure of such a movement of movements. This mobilization has been significantly facilitated by the use of the internet, which allows for local, regional, and national real life experiences on the ground to connect and cooperate.

Another important worldwide coordination network of (anti-geopolitical) resistance to the global market is Peoples' Global Action (PGA). PGA was launched in February 1998 in Geneva by grass roots movements from all continents as an alliance of struggle and solidarity against free trade and the World Trade Organization, and as a global tool for communication and coordination to build local alternatives to globalization. PGA defines itself via five hallmarks that include a clear rejection of capitalism, imperialism, and all forms of domination and discrimination, and a call for direct action and civil disobedience. Its organizational philosophy is based on decentralization and autonomy.