Who can resist capitalism today and how? Who can resist capitalism in Georgia or in other peripheral countries of Eastern Europe and Eurasia, where the supposed central agent of the resistance – civil society – according to mainstream/liberal or critical evaluators, is weak, divided, and alienated from local social concerns (Foa and Ekiert, 2017; Howard, 2012)?
In this book I tell a story of the struggle over Rioni river valley in western Georgia, in particular the detailed history of the anti-dam movement that took place between November 2020 and July 2021. In doing so, I engage with this broad, yet continuously politically relevant question: who resists capitalism and how do they resist it? Based on the study of this unique struggle in the history of post-independence Georgia, and drawing on the concepts of subalternity, civil and political society by Antonio Gramsci and Parta Chatterjee, I discuss how hegemonic developmental politics are produced and contested. On the one hand, this research details the strategies of political-economic elites to legitimise the existing developmental politics and exclude resistances to it from the public sphere. On the other hand, it observes the possibilities to resist (even if temporarily or partially) the irreversible destruction or severe exploitation of humans and nature, local cultures and heritages and living environments. It explores existing attempts at identifying and fighting for alternative developmental paths countering the hegemonic developmental order.
Drawing on observations about the struggle for the Rioni valley, my main point is as follows: larger share of the resistances against existing development politics in Georgia, as well as probably in many other corners of Eastern Europe and Eurasia, takes place beyond civil society, on what Patra Chatterjee calls a political society terrain. Civil society, this alleged central avatar of the politics of resistance, is a kind of a battlefield in itself. Struggle over becoming a part of civil society, part of rights-bearing legitimate citizenry, or being excluded from it, is the central characteristic of the battlefield. This observation has a crucial importance for the existing literature, as well as, and more importantly, for ongoing political struggles in the post-socialist space and beyond. To this date, there is an ongoing debate about the reasons why civil society is so weak, elitist, and detached from the concerns of respective societies (Gagyi and Ivancheva, 2019). According to some authors working on the region, the concept of civil society should be set aside altogether. Others would rather broaden the concept of civil society so that it can include not only the actors that are recognized as civil society actors in the post-socialist public spaces – as NGOs or formal associations – but also the marginalised struggles and the forms of everyday resistance (Jacobsson, 2016; Jacobsson and Korolczuk, 2019). I argue that both approaches are theoretically and politically problematic.
Drawing on the experience of the Rioni valley struggle, I demonstrate that the exclusion of various groups from the civil society terrain, and the denial of the legitimacy of their struggle, are the main tools for the existing political and economic elites to maintain their hegemony. In other words, the subalternity of certain groups, their epistemic displacement, emphasising their non-compliance with the existing legal-institutional order, and suppressing their voices in the public space is carried out precisely by excluding them from the civil society terrain. Subalternity therefore, is not simply related to material deprivation, but is shaped in a specific historical context through material and discursive displacement of certain groups from the legal and moral parameters set by the hegemonic order, disconnection from knowledge production, and deliberate deprivation from the opportunity to articulate
one’s political voice and interests in the public space. Those kinds of excluded groups, that are denied access to conventional channels of democratic engagement and are stripped of civil rights, are left to organise on the terrain of political society, that is, on the terrain of alternative values, torn from the existing institutions and structures. Overcoming the delegitimization becomes the main challenge for subaltern groups and determines the strength of the resistance. In other words, political society is a terrain of mobilisation for subaltern groups that are actively removed from the possibility to fight on civil society terrain. Moving beyond the political society terrain, getting under the skin of civil society, and doing so, destabilising the very concept of civil society, instead of “strengthening” civil society or simply attaching this label to oneself, appears to be the way to confront the hegemonic order today. The two dominant academic approaches to the ‘weak’ civil society problem in post-socialist East, one rejecting the concept altogether, and the other one trying to stretch the concept to include marginalised, subaltern struggles, seem detached from current political realities. Both approaches ignore how the exclusion from civil society, or overcoming such exclusion, in itself becomes the decisive object of a struggle for many subaltern groups.