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(en) Netherlands, leiden, Eurodusnie collective's Dusnieuws magazine Januari 2003 To the barricades for direct democracy

From eurodusnie <info@eurodusnie.nl>
Date Mon, 24 Mar 2003 16:15:43 +0100 (CET)


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Never before was the world moving and changing as much as it is now, only
it is moving in the wrong direction, one that gives rise to growing
differences and confrontations between people, and to serious environmental
pollution. Despite a number of hopeful years of world-wide anti-capitalist
protest, within which direct democratic movements played a key role, a just
and durable perspective has never seemed as far away.
The esteem of political parties and parliamentary democracy has sunk to an
all time low, and direct democratic movements have not yet worked out how
to use this to their advantage.
The gaping hole between the people and politicians throughout Europe is
being filled by the popular right wing. They wrap their conservative and
xenophobic ideas in a populist anti-establishment package. The question
arises as to how the direct democratic movement can regain political
initiative, and how the restless masses can be won over to an
anti-authoritarian alternative.

The movement for a different globalisation on the defence

For while it seemed to be going well. A series of international protests
focussed on free trade summits, with as culminations the protests in
Seattle (November 1999), Prague September 2000) en Genoa (2001), which
mobilised millions of people for a different world. Although the ideas of
how this different world should look vary, there was a shared criticism on
the point of neo-liberalism, the new colour of capitalism. In only a short
period, they managed to put economic globalisation on the agenda of world
politics. The diversity within the movement for a different globalisation
was also impressive and inspirational. However, the movement has not yet
been able to translate this awakening of the people into a
durable force to be reckoned with.

It soon became clear that society's elite was not planning on taking this
movement for a different globalisation seriously. They increasingly
succeeded in using the movement to pull their own cart. As a result of
this, the protests increasingly became demonstrations of powerlessness.
Events in Genoa, where a fascistic police force attacked demonstrators,
with as a tragic low point the death of Carlo Guilliani, made this even
more clear. For a while it seemed that the awareness within the movement
that it was in a rut would lead to a global reorientation as to which
strategy should then be used. The slogan used during the G8 top in Genoa
"We are with 6 billion, you are only with 8" showed that the power of
numbers is limited and that more than protest alone is necessary to defeat
capitalism. After Genoa in particular, much discussion took place about
which way to go next. However, the events of September the 11th halted the
majority of these discussions quite abruptly.
The movement was aware from the onset that the consequences of the
inevitable retaliation would be far-reaching. Not only was war feared, but
it was anticipated that governments world-wide would seize this chance to
draw attention away from looming economic recession, and to use this
opportunity to deal with the 'enemies of the west'. "You are either with us
or with the terrorists", as Bush so aptly worded the mounting threat.
Fear gripped the world and, led by the US, governments around the globe
began their war against terrorism. The social achievements that people have
gained, such as liberties, social benefits and social security, were
declared dangers to society overnight. Country after country announced
far-reaching measures to increase security. These measures mostly effected
the poorest of the world's population, and only helped to strengthen the
smouldering fear that had been awakened.
The once so successful and optimistic movement for a different
globalisation was quick to declare that this would only help to make it
stronger, but quite the opposite was true. After September the 11th, they
only seemed to be running along behind the facts. Before September the
11th, the movement was capable of planting an important mark on political
debate, but thereafter they found themselves completely on the defence.
There was no time now for the necessary strategical reorientation.

Unholy Trinity

After September the 11th, part of the direct democratic movement focussed
itself on anti-war protests. War is correctly seen by some as an extension
of western neo-liberal politics, with varying use of economic and military
means, the battle is fought for a political and economic hegemony.
However understandable this switch towards the anti-war movement may be, it
led to repetition and variations in strategies and practices otherwise used
by the movement for a different globalisation, of which the sell-by-date
had long passed. Demonstrations and actions, sometimes internationally
co-ordinated, have the upper hand within the anti-war movement, while past
experience shows that 'reaction' alone is not enough. A reactive political
strategy can bring to light unwelcome developments and in doing so hamper
further development. To actually bring about a fundamental political
change, the foundations of the 'old politics' have to be smashed and be
replaced by something better.
As long as nation states exist, wars will follow each other one after the
other in much the same way as capitalism flourishes under a parliamentary
democracy. We are talking here about an unholy trinity (capitalism, nation
states and parliamentary democracy), which has over the last century not
only given rise to many wars, but has organised and institutionalised
exploitation. This is what one century of parliamentary capitalism has
taught us, but of course this does not mean that wars have not been fought
through and by other political systems.
The aim is not to claim a larger piece of the pie, but simply to change the
recipe. To do this we will have to step outside of reactive and
parliamentary boundaries and create a new terrain for ourselves in which we
can combat the causes of war and exploitation. This calls for a
redefinition of the notion of 'politics', through which politics can become
something for and by everyone, instead of being defined by elitist
big-wigs. This could be realised by setting up different direct democratic
organisations which, through their organised structure and means of
practice, are actually accessible for large groups of people. Amongst these
organisations' aims would be the identification of the most pressing causes
of social unrest, and areas in which people can be organised. Direct
democratic alternatives could be formulated on these grounds, and through
means of direct action these alternatives could actually be realised or
demanded.
It is actually quite incomprehensible that within the anti-authoritarian
movement for a different globalisation, that little or no attention is
given to the promotion of direct democracy as an alternative to
authoritarian capitalist structures. Despite the amazing amount of energy
and originality that has been shown by the direct democracy movement in
past years, little has been done to explain the basis and conditions of our
alternative to the people, namely direct democratic control and decision
making over the way in which we want society to be organised. Even though
the undemocratic nature of free trade organisations (where states
coordinate trade policies), and the undemocratic consequences thereof, is
often pointed out, the emphasis is on criticising policies and organising
actions. A clear and emphatic plea for radical democratisation of society
and the economy, supported by the construction of accessible direct
democratic organisations, is missing completely or is snowed in under all
the anti-arguments (2).
It's not possible to give one clear cause for this. Within the anarchist
(1) movement, for example, it is tradition to differ on how, why, in what
form and of course, even if, a formal form of organisation is desired.
There are however a number of modern movements which help understand why
the reactive struggle dominates the proactive struggle. Two of these are
activism and the role of 'internetworking'.

Trends in the movementTrends in progress

Without doubt, activism is of great importance in determining the (public)
face of the western direct democracy movement. Activism, through means of
non-parliamentary methods (actions), aims to realise a political goal. In
the Netherlands there are a lot of people who are structurally involved in
activism. These activists meet in and around so-called 'action-groups'.
These groups are subject to constant change as regards composition, and
organisational structures are usually informal (3). There is no talk of
formal membership. To become 'active' within such a group one has to be
introduced by another activist, otherwise the only other option is to wait
until a public action takes place and then try to make contact with the
group. These tactics make it difficult for the authorities to get a good
idea of how the groups work or to establish any form of control over a
group's actions.
At the same time this lack of a defined structure is also the Achille's
Heel of the group. This (lack of) structure, with informality as the most
important mode of organisation, tends to make the majority of groups
inaccessible, non-transparent and elitist.
The closed shop character of action groups is often justified by the
argument that secrecy is necessary for certain actions. Of course, this
cannot be contradicted, but a consequence of this is that the political
arena through activism is being constricted instead of being widened. These
action groups create a new category of professional politicians, while the
main aim of the direct democracy movement should be making 'politics'
accessible.
Possibly a part of this activist culture can be explained by the fact that
the majority of the actions are instigated from a luxurious position. Here,
unlike in the more impoverished countries in the south, there is seldom the
question of activism in order to save your life. (4)
Another important trend within the movement for a different globalisation
is the increasing role of the internet. Not only the exchange of
information via internet sites, but also 'internetworking' has increased
rapidly since the mid- nineties. A non-transparent maze of flowing,
informal, internet communication and cooperation platforms determine for a
large part the practices of the movement for another
globalisation. Without these (for a relatively large group of people,
accessible) possibilities of the internet, which connect social movements
around the globe, the world would probably never have heard of the movement
for a different globalisation.
Although the internet seems to have unlimited possibilities, there are
however a number of drawbacks. In practice it seems that taking an active
role in 'internetworking' means belonging to a select group of professional
desktop activists, in other words activists who mainly carry out their
political activities on-line. It is obvious that the majority of this
group consists of 'reasonably financially independent white men' (with a
lot of leisure time). Women, manual-workers and non-westerners are less
frequently on-line, and subsequently miss out on communication and gaining
information. People and social movements in the south are way behind when
it comes to internet use. (5)
A consequence of the above is that those who suffer the most under
oppression and exploitation can make little or no use of the international
co-ordination platforms that strive (also) for their freedom.
There are, however, more disadvantages to moving the struggle into
cyber-space. In practice, many of the discussions and decision-making
processes have migrated to the internet. This is true mostly for
international co-operation, as the distance between the participants means
that internet is the most important communication and coordination
platform. The result of this trend is elitism and the undermining of the
conditions of democratic decision making, such as transparency,
accessibility and accountability. One dollar one vote is thus replaced by
one modem one vote.

The way is the goal

There is nothing wrong with activism or networking as long as it happens
within the boundaries of direct democracy and does not become a goal unto
itself. If building up counter-power is the aim, then we will also have to
give form to our direct democratic alternative to capitalism and
authoritarianism within our own organisations. The way is the goal. Elitist
activism and the undermining of the direct democratic decision making
processes by the internet should not be allowed to happen. Building a
durable direct democratic opposition cannot happen by way of networking and
activism alone, but demands accessible direct democratic organisations.
Anarchists can only regain their inspiring and directive role within the
much wider movement for a different globalisation when they renew their
theories and practices, and manage to organise the ideologically
floundering masses within a new type of organisational structures. The old
and authoritarian left was and is unable to do this. Time is of the essence
as it's clear that only the populist right is winning as a result of this
eroding of ideologies.
The new organisations should not limit themselves to traditional radical
left-wing issues, but must manifest themselves in all areas that are of
importance to society. They should, in time, make the state superfluous.
They should able to offer a home to the large and growing group of people
who have had enough of market politics, and who see no alternative offered
by the welfare state, nor by the "workers' state".
A number of important lessons can be learned from the movement for a
different globalisation. An inspiring side of the movement is that it is
searching for means of co-operating within a non-restrictive political and
organisational form, and creates space for different cultures of
cohabitation and co-operation. With this practice, much has been achieved
over the last few years, and for this reason deserves an important place
within the new-to-be-formed direct democratic organisations. Regarding the
new organisations' activities, they should be 'for' rather than only
'against' (6), for example the development, promotion and realisation of
direct democratic alternatives.
Lastly, our organisations should also be places where people can dance and
celebrate, and not only celebrate the ultimate victory, but also the fact
that we fight together and are together, because in these difficult times
there is a lot to be said for even that.

Marco
From Dusnieuws magazine, Eurodusnie collective leiden, the Netherlands
Januari 2003

(1) Anarchists are pro direct democracy and associate with this particular
political positions (for example in relation to the state)
(2) there are always points of exception. Over the last two years
initiatives have been made in the US to form regional anarchist
federations. For quite a while already anti-authoritarian movements have
existed such as anarcho-syndicalism and communalism. Their aim is the
realisation of a completely alternative social model organisation.
(3) Read also 'Tyranny of Structurelessness' (in English)
http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/hist_texts/structurelessness.html
( 4 ) Read also 'Give up Activism'
http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no9/activism.htm. The epilogue takes back a
lost of the criticism, which is unfair and in poor taste in my opinion.
( 5 ) Read also Kommunikatietechnologie. Gouden kalf of paard van Troje?
('Commincation technology: Golden Calf or Trojan Horse?') (in Dutch).
http://squat.net/eurodusnie/articles/dusnieuws/2000/troje.htm
( 6 ) By 'direct action' is meant forms of action which are supposed to
achieve direct results through non-parliamentary means.

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