I've got a fatal weakness for manifestos. So here's another one. Have fun, Peter Lach-Newinsky
AS WE SEE IT 2.0
(Note: this manifesto has used passages from, and been inspired by, Maurice Brinton's, aka Chris Pallis', 'As We See It' 1967 text for the London Solidarity group, available in the IOPS Resources section).
1. The Turning Point. We are at a truly unique turning point in human history, indeed of the evolution of the planet: one of total crisis on all levels, and one of total opportunity. Our actions now, or lack thereof, will determine the very future liveability of the planet, the survival or deaths of billions and the continuation or collapse of some form of humane civilisation.
2. Total Crisis. The total crisis is economic, political, ecological, psycho-cultural, spiritual. The total crisis is not accidental. It is structural, systemic. The unjust and rapacious global system of mega-industrial consumer capitalism and its voracious, profit-driven growth is leading us to the abyss of climate chaos, ecocide, a totally commoditised and artificial outer and inner nature, authoritarian or totalitarian police states, increasing resource wars, possibly nuclear war. We are on course towards creating a chaotic, nightmare world for centuries to come. This is where we start from.
3. Total Opportunity. At the same time, humanity has the objective possibility of realising long held dreams of the ‘good society’, of a peaceful world of ecological balance, social justice and equality, of freedom as participatory democracy and self-management, of the brother- and sisterhood of mankind, of bread and roses for all.
4. Overcoming Ancient Divisions. The exciting fact is that at this point in human evolution we have ‒ despite the ecological and ethical need to abandon overconsumption, overdevelopment, luxury, class society and inequality ‒ the material and cultural preconditions for transforming the ancient divisions and dissociations, antagonisms and alienations that have shadowed all of human history: those between nature and humanity, woman and man, country and city, exploiter class and working class, individual and society, society and the state, local and global, nation and nation, spirituality and science, wisdom and knowledge, surviving and living… ‒ all the many divisions and conflicts that have now led us to the brink of ecocide, or of the good society.
5. Survival through the Good Society. In fact, we now, objectively, need what was previously considered utopian just in order to preserve a liveable planet and survive as a civilisation. Thus the choice is ours: the building of the ‘good society’ of post-capitalism and participatory democracy, or chaotic collapse and barbarism. ‘Buen vivir’ or ecocide. One World, or none.
6. Eco-Socialism? This choice has revolutionary implications. Echoing Rosa Luxemburg’s early call, we could also call this choice: eco-socialism or barbarism. We choose not to because, although we could be wrong, we find the notions of ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ now probably irrevocably ruined by their identification in most people’s minds with the ‘socialism’ of the ex-Soviet empire, China, North Korea, Cuba and other authoritarian remnants of Marxism-Leninism. These societies were/are in our view never ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ in the original 19th century sense of the words. Their leaders did not just ‘make mistakes’, and they did not ‘degenerate’ from laudable beginnings. They were/are, from the start, obnoxious totalitarian dictatorships of state socialist/capitalist industrialisation or imperial annexation run for the benefit of a new and brutal bureaucratic ruling class. We thus have no truck with the little remnants of the totalitarian ‘left’. However, to analyse the latter in the way we have is itself possible because of the left’s own critical and self-critical traditions. Our notion of a post-capitalist participatory democracy is firmly within this critical tradition, the liberty- and civil rights-respecting tradition of libertarian socialism, anarchism and many grassroots workers’, peasants’ and citizens’ movements.
7. Revolution as Participatory Democracy. Given modern history, we do not use the word ‘revolution’ lightly. We are only revolutionary because we are radically critical of the whole present social system. We are only radical because ‘radical’ means going to the root (radix) of things rather than sticking to surfaces, symptoms and cosmetic changes that leave the basics of power/powerlessness unchanged. We are revolutionary because we are anti-systemic, i.e. we do not believe that it is possible for humanity and the planet to be saved from the abyss or be liberated by means of the very same economic means and social logic creating the crises, i.e. by business-as-usual (‘markets’) or by merely ‘humanising’ or reforming industrial capitalism (‘green economy’). We are revolutionary because we question the fundamental logic of the global system of elite, oligarchic decision-making based exclusively on profits, power, markets and economic growth (i.e. the accumulation of capital). We are revolutionary democrats because we want to change the very class-based structures of economic and social decision-making of oligarchic industrial capitalism and representative ‘democracy’ and make them radically democratic. (Democracy meaning ‘people power’: demos/people, kratos/power). We are radicals because we want the people themselves to directly determine the key economic and political decisions that affect their lives and that of our planetary commons. We are revolutionary because we are for autonomy (self-management from below) and against heteronomy (management by others from above), because we want to introduce democracy to all workplaces and neighbourhoods.
8. Power & Powerlessness. Whether living in ‘democracies’ or not, throughout the world, the vast majority of people have no control whatsoever over the decisions that most deeply and directly affect their lives. Powerless, they sell their labour power, while the small minority who own or control the means of production and investment decisions have all the social power. They run the economy autocratically and also use the whole machinery of state and the media to perpetuate and reinforce their power, wealth and privileged positions. Both the capitalist economy and the ‘democratic’ state are oligarchic rather than truly democratic institutions.
9. The Most Affected. This lack of control over the decisions that most deeply affect the quality of our, and our descendants’, lives and environments is most strongly felt by the most powerless and marginalised: indigenous and ethnic minorities, impoverished peasants, the unemployed and homeless, the first generation of workers in the industrialising countries, migrants and asylum seekers, the working poor. And within all these groups, women are often the most deeply affected since doubly exploited. Outright patriarchal oppression, misogyny and domestic violence remain strong in many or most countries. Racism and xenophobia remain virulent and oppressive forces everywhere, easily encouraged from above in times of crisis to distract from the systemic failures of the elites. Among the most affected are also the countless other plant and animal species which are being destroyed or suffering under the ecocidal growth of capitalist industrialism. Unless we change the system, future human generations shall be even more affected than present ones.
10. Change and No Change. During the past century the living standards of working people in the industrialised, and now the industrialising, countries have much improved. However, this has often been achieved at the great cost of ecological degradation and of increased exploitation and suffering for the people in the poor countries. Moreover these improved living standards have not altered the essential status of the worker as worker, the employee as employee, the order-taker as order-taker. East and West, North and South, global capitalism remains an undemocratic, inhuman type of society where the vast majority are exhausted and bossed at work and manipulated in consumption and leisure. As passive wage slaves, consumers and voters they are never able to find their own voice, unlock their creative potentials, engage in the key decision-making. Propaganda and policemen, prisons and schools, strident nationalism and authoritarian religions, 24/7 advertising and manic consumption, bread and circuses – all serve to reinforce the power of the few and to convince or coerce the many into acceptance of a brutal, hyperactive and aggressive, time-robbing, fragmented, degrading, wasteful and ecocidal system. The few ‘socialist’ remnants in the world are not socialist, and the ‘free world’ is not free.
11. Voluntary Slavery. However, this widespread acceptance of the system and un-freedom is not only externally imposed. Ancient authoritarian traditions and modern consumerism have combined to reproduce new versions of age-old ‘voluntary slavery’ and a general ‘fear of freedom’ (Erich Fromm). Generations of marketing brain-washing and propaganda by the corporate media and entertainment industries, the early instilling of selfish, competitive values, obedience and hierarchy in education, the breakdown of countervailing forces against capitalism (the family, community, working class movements, humanistic education), increasing social isolation, hectic meaninglessness and narcissism, work exhaustion and information overload… all have led to the widespread internalisation of capitalist and consumerist values in advanced capitalism. Many or most have been effectively ‘privatised’ and depoliticised and can no longer conceive of any radical social alternative to the present system.
12. Working Class Movements. The working class movements started in business to change all this. But they came to terms with the existing patterns of exploitation and alienation. Their trade unions and social democratic parties are now often essential if capitalism is to continue working smoothly. The dwindling unions act as job services and middlemen in the labour market. The social democratic parties have now become the ‘progressive’ wing of capitalist neoliberalism. The degeneration of unions and originally ‘working class’ parties, itself the result of the failure of revolutionary currents and aspirations, has been a not insignificant contributing factor in increasing general ,and particularly working class, disengagement and apathy.
13. Unions/ Parties v Self-Organisation. Trade unions and once progressive parties cannot be reformed or converted into instruments of human emancipation. Nor can new unions or parties. Necessarily working within the logic of the economic and political system, mirroring its hierarchical structures, and no matter how initially democratic, these would suffer exactly the same fates as their predecessors. This does not mean revolutionaries need not use unions or parties for any minor benefits they may sometimes bring, much as one uses banks or credit unions. Our aims are simply that people themselves, and not bureaucrats or celebrity ‘leaders’ of any kind (no matter how ‘progressive’), should decide on the objectives and means of their struggles and that control and organisation of these struggles should remain firmly in their own hands. Participatory democracy can only be learnt by people practising it in their grassroots struggles and cooperative efforts.
14. Beyond Capitalism. A post-capitalist participatory democracy is not just the common ownership of the main means of production and distribution. It means material equality, real freedom and democracy at work and in society, a cultivation of reciprocal recognition and diversity, a radical transformation in all human relations and in humanity’s relationships with nature. It is mankind’s coming to consciousness of itself as the active agent of its own history and ecologically informed steward of planetary evolution.
15. Implicit/Explicit Self-Consciousness. As a deep social and cultural revolution, this deep change can be no single all-or-nothing event but rather a long historical process of gaining and widening consciousness among increasing numbers of people. This is also not mere theory or wishful-thinking about some abstract utopia concocted by some intellectuals in ivory towers. It is already implicit and concrete in a wide range of constantly evolving, grassroots social movements all over the world expressing self-activity, self-organisation, self-management, autonomy. It is also expressed in global cultural developments like female emancipation, world music, the free and empowering aspects of the internet, in cultural and genetic mixing. In one sense, all this global social process needs to do is to become more explicit in its increased self-consciousness, i.e. to become aware of what is already happening in real actions and struggles.
16. The Democratic Revolutionary Organisation. This is where revolutionaries may be of use. The grassroots global movements expressing self-activity are, despite networking attempts like the World Social Forum, still largely fragmented, over-focussed on single issues and at various levels of awareness and consciousness. Our function, as part of these movements, is to help all those who are in conflict with the present oligarchic, authoritarian and ecocidal system, both in workplaces and in society at large, to generalise their experience, to make a coherent and global critique of their condition and of its causes, and to develop the revolutionary consciousness necessary if social and/or ecological catastrophe are to be avoided and society totally transformed towards the ecologically sustainable and socially just ‘good society’ as democratically defined and decided by the people themselves in their networked workplaces and neighbourhoods. Our function is to give, within our means, practical assistance to workers, peasants, women, the unemployed and marginalised in struggle and to help those in different areas exchange experiences and link up with one another. It is NOT to act as a party or some ‘enlightened vanguard leading the unenlightened masses’. This is the authoritarian temptation often fallen into by the politically conscious. As libertarians, we emphatically reject this temptation.
17. Participatory Democracy. A post-capitalist participatory democracy can, by definition, only be built from below, by the people consciously organising themselves. Decisions concerning production, technology, work, neighbourhoods, land management – i.e. all the social issues affecting their lives ‒ would be made by the people themselves, self-organised in direct-democratic organs. The specific forms will be practically evolved according to local exigencies but some may take the form of decentralised workers’, consumer and neighbourhood assemblies and councils or co-operatives. These local democratic organs could federate into larger structures on national and international scales. Bottom-up, grassroots planning of general production and consumption is now immensely easier than it was previously due to computer technology and the internet. Although small localised markets and small private enterprises will doubtlessly continue to exist as much as the free gift economy, the undemocratic, unfair, alienating and capitalist principle of ‘the market’ would no longer rule society as a whole. With the economy re-embedded in society and becoming a matter of democratic negotiation and decision-making, things would no longer ‘be in the saddle and ride mankind’ (Emerson). The democratisation of society in all spheres and down to its very roots is what we mean by a participatory democracy.
18. Meaningful action for revolutionaries is thus, given these values and this vision, whatever increases the confidence, autonomy, initiative, participation, solidarity, equalitarian tendencies and self-activity of the people and whatever assists their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces people’s passivity, apathy, cynicism, differentiation through hierarchy, alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others – even by those allegedly acting on their behalf. Because of these libertarian criteria for meaningful or harmful action, we are thus obviously not interested in activities centred on parties, elections or parliaments or on those centred around small sectarian groups of the trad left.
19. Taking/Dissolving Power. No ruling class in history has ever relinquished its power without a struggle and our present rulers are unlikely to be an exception. Power will only be taken from them through the conscious, autonomous action of the vast majority of the people themselves. The building of participatory democracy will require mass understanding and participation. By their hierarchical structures, ideas and activities, all parties, sects, conspiracies and elitist organisations discourage this kind of understanding and prevent this kind of grassroots participation. The idea of any one party or organisation acting ‘on behalf of’ the people or working classes is both absurd and reactionary. Historical experience has repeatedly shown that the best way of achieving self-management, cooperation and participatory democracy is by self-management, cooperation and participatory democracy. Ends and means cannot be separated. If we want a self-managing, cooperative, peaceful, ecologically sustainable society, this means the self-activity of mass civil disobedience, non-violent direct action, solidarity and mutual aid, this means abandoning voluntary slavery and the fear of freedom, it means cooperative and pre-figurative institutions of all kinds.
20. Inequality and Ecocide. It also now means reducing the wasteful consumption and unsustainable ecological footprints of the wealthy and global middle classes. Despite some limited damaging ecological impacts of over-population in local areas of some poor countries, it is the rich who are destroying the earth as a whole. For all to live at Australian or US or European average levels of resource consumption would require several planets since, globally, resource consumption and waste production have already long overshot planetary carrying capacity. Not only financial but, more importantly, historical and current ecological debt has gone through the roof and we are living on borrowed time. The colonial legacies, unfair trade patterns backed up by imperial war machines, the sheer global power of transnational corporations, the unregulated speculations of financial casino capitalism – all have led to global heating, a global species holocaust and to around 80% of the world’s resources being funnelled to the wealthy 20% of the global population, while the poor 80% are left with 20% of the resources to live on.
21. Climate Justice and Fair Earth Share. Because further economic growth and resource consumption are thus no longer ecologically possible without collapse, ecological and climate justice are now a central part of global social justice. When the cake as a whole can no longer grow and crumbs no longer fall, it must be newly divided. Ecological and climate justice is the radical process of democratically negotiating a ‘fair earth share’ for all, i.e. an average ecologically sustainable consumption and emissions level. It means the equitable sharing of the complex and deep costs and opportunities resulting from the necessary ending of economic and jobs growth in rich countries. ‘The rich must live more simply so the poor can simply live.’ As the hungry and impoverished increase their consumption levels towards the fair earth share, this may mean reductions in consumption of 80-90% for the rich and middle classes.
22. Bread and Roses for All. The revolution for the good society is not just about bread and survival, but also about roses and life, about putting back the poetry into the daily life of all. A liberated society is also one that will find much space and time for cultural celebration and carnival, for honouring the inevitable surprises, risks, ironies, ambivalences and contingencies of the Trickster in all human life and institutions. Empowered, self-managing neighbourhoods and work places are the institutional core of participatory democracy, of the good society. This is not a perfect, ‘utopian’ society without conflict, acquisitiveness, ordinary human meanness or evil. Rather, it is a society in which this meanness, acquisitiveness, aggressive competitiveness and evil are not made the key drivers of the economy as they are in capitalism and where these inherent human possibilities are kept in check by participatory institutions and customs. It is a social system in which human creativity and dignity, the love of freedom and equality, a willingness to cooperate and share, and a deep sense of ecological stewardship for our endangered planet, are the central drivers of the good society.