Subjects and (Dis)obedience

The last commentary in our symposium on Chris Rossdale’s Resisting Militarism: Direct Action and the Politics of Subversion (Edinburgh, 2019), from Elena Loizidou. Elena is Reader in Law and Political Theory at the School of Law, Birkbeck College. Her research interests range from anarchism and political theory to theories of gender and sexuality, law and culture. Her recent publications include Disobedience: Concept and Practice (edited, 2013), Judith Butler: Ethics, Law, Politics (2007), ‘What is Law?’’ in The Anarchist Imagination: Anarchism Encounters the Humanities and the Social Sciences (2019), ‘Law, Love and Anarchism’ (2018), and ‘Dreams and The Political Subject’, in Vulnerability in Resistance (2016). A rejoinder will follow shortly; all posts will be collected for future perusal here.


Chris Rossdale’s Resisting Militarism: Direct Action and the Politics of Subversion is a beautifully written book and one of those very rare academic books where the concrete (ethnographic) and the theoretical critique each other and reveal the complexity of socio-political phenomena such as anti-militarist actions. The contributions to knowledge that this book offers is immense: (a) it provides us with an ethnography of anti-militarist groups in Britain including, Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), Stop the Arms Fair (STAF); Smash EDO; Plowshares (or Ploughshares) and Space Hijackers emanating either from Rossdale participating or study over the last 12 years; (b) it widens our understandings of concepts such as (but not only) militarism (through linkage of war, conflict, state violence “to more intimate relations of power, authority domination” (p. 4), anti-militarism (through questioning the prefigurative claims of the groups he has studied) and disobedience (by drawing our attention to its attachment to obedience); and (c) it expands the methodological teachings of ethnographical studies by relating them to theoretical claims. Indeed Rossdale should be congratulated for his ability to navigate effortlessly between the concrete and the theoretical and challenge our perceived notions of concepts and politics.  His method of study will guide and should guide ethnographic studies in the future.

Anyone that studies social movements, whether it is the anti-militarist, anti-capitalist or anarchist movements (as I do), tends to present such movement in radical and pure ways. More specifically we tend to present such movements them as being diametrically opposite to what the social/political order that it is contesting. Resisting Militarism presents us with a delicate and nuanced reading of the anti-militarist movement. In doing so it exposes that there is a much more intimate relationship between the anti-militarist movement and militarism, or as Rossdale puts it anti-militarist actions and militarism are ‘mutually constitutive’ of each other (p. 12).  I will go a step further and suggest that as the book reveals they are not only  ‘mutually constitutive’ but rather they depend upon each other in the way in which Judith Butler interpreted Hegel’s ‘masterand servant dialectic’ in Subjects of Desire (1999); the existence of both parties (master (militarism) and servant (anti-militarism) ) somewhat paradoxically– as the former produces and sustains war, domination, authority and the latter contests them – depends on the non-destruction of each other.  If the servant for example annihilates the master their existence – as it is inextricably link to the master’s recognition, will cease to be. Rossdale very carefully tracks down how our protesting, direct actions, blockades, and other activist actions at times resemble the very master that we may want to undo, and how prefigurative politics (politics associated with anti-militarist movements) at times fall short of their very aspirations, namely not reproducing the violence associated with militarism.  Rossdale for example, shows how gender hierarchies may permeate such groups and how such a hierarchy works against the anti-hierarchical structures and aspirations of anti-militarist groups. Nevertheless, the intention of the book is not to suggest that anti-military resistance should be abandoned. On the contrary, by demonstrating the distance between word (e.g. anti-hierarchy aspiration in the structure and organisation of resistance) and the practice Rossdale, is asking us to cultivate a more mindful ‘ethic of resistance’. It is possible as he suggests that if we become more reflective of our actions that we stop from reproducing militarism – racism, sexism, homophobia and authority, the very things that anti-militarist actions desire to challenge and change. Put differently the book teaches how we are all implicated in the production of violence despite our desires or best intentions and how we can attend to this problematic.

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