[Intro. This is probably pissing against the wind, and of little relevance to most at this early stage, maybe at any stage. Just some stuff from my particular perspective and background as a ‘68er’ that might be of interest to the odd younger member.]
1. The Tradition. IOPS and ‘participism’ (Parecon etc) are firmly within the anti-authoritarian, libertarian left tradition. In contrast to the authoritarian, statist left traditions (Social Democracy and Leninism), this tradition sees socialism/anarchism/the free society as participatory democracy or grassroots self-management (aka self-organisation, self-activity, autonomy, anarchism not as chaos but as ‘free order’). Thus a liberated society, a participatory society, can only be made by a majority of people able and willing to democratically manage society themselves (and there’s the rub).
2. Ends/Means versus Winning. Generally, the desire, will and ability to engage in self-activity and democratic self-management is only found in the activity thereof. Thus the route to self-management is self-management: ends and means are here one. In self-organized, autonomous actions and campaigns, the WAY something is struggled for or achieved is as, or arguably more, important than what has been achieved. In distracting from this process, the fixation on ‘winning’ can be dangerous. Nothing against the odd ‘winning’, but from a libertarian perspective, self-organized grassroots activities are much better, even when they lose, than are activities organized by others or from above since only the former provide opportunities to practise, learn and, want more, self-management.
3. Autonomy and Heteronomy. The opposite of self-management (autonomy) is, logically, management-by-others and management-from-above (heteronomy or ‘power-over’). Heteronomy is the split and inherent conflict between order-givers and order-takers so pervasive throughout all class and patriarchal societies. Except in childhood (and there decreasingly), heteronomy, ordering and being ordered by others, cannot lead to autonomy or self-empowerment. In contrast, autonomous activity both assumes and creates autonomous (self-active, independent, critical) people. IOPS core values are all about autonomous activity, and thus revolutionary.
4. The Authoritarian (Trad) Left. The prime modern expressions of heteronomy and the split between order-givers and order-takers are the capitalist corporation and the State. The mainstream organisations of the traditional working class movements and Left, the trade union and party bureaucracies, also modelled themselves on these capitalist, hierarchical, authoritarian institutions, quickly becoming useful parts of the capitalist system and providing social mobility and career paths for new bureaucrats or ‘coordinator classes.’ The Leninist versions in Russia and elsewhere ‒ by consciously destroying grassroots self-management, spontaneous workers’ councils and factory committees, peasant communes and soviets, by physically liquidating their adversaries on the right and left ‒ instituted new forms of previously unheard-of totalitarianism and exploitation which (as for example Emma Goldman recognised in the 1930s) ruined the notions of communism and socialism, possibly for good.
5. Drawing Boundaries. If the above is an accurate reading of the historical experience of ‘socialism’, I would argue against an uncritical pluralism within IOPS. Obviously, within the libertarian tradition, it should be a wide church and thus here it’s ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’; nobody knows the ‘right’ way to, or actual details of, the concrete utopia of self-management. However, in my view it is not sectarian to say that in some critical issues it is not ‘both/and’ but can very well be ‘either/or’ (e.g. you’re either pregnant or you’re not). I would argue that both in goals and means, there can, logically, be no compromise between libertarian self-management and the authoritarian and statist Left, between the values of autonomy and heteronomy, between, to use Michael Albert’s personifications, ‘Anna’ (anarchism) and ‘Lenny’ (Leninism). In contrast to Michael I’d argue that Lenny’s ‘good intentions’ are irrelevant: Stalin, Hitler, Thatcher, Reagan, Pinochet, all paved the way to their particular hells with ‘good intentions.’ By drawing a clear boundary to the authoritarian Left, ‘strong leader’ myths and ALL current forms of Leftist oppression, terrorism or violations of human rights WHEREVER they may occur, IOPS can only increase its attractiveness as a revolutionary organisation. (This of course does not preclude IOPS members being members of unions or voting for parties if they so desire, much as one also pragmatically uses various other kinds of services within capitalism).
6. Small is Beautiful. The main strategic challenge for a revolutionary organization within the libertarian tradition like IOPS is the historical fact that grassroots social movements which share its global, total self-management perspective are far and few between, weak or non-existent. It perhaps needs stressing that IOPS has not come together (like some, only theoretically possible, libertarian ‘Internationale’) as a bottom-up, self-federating organisation of local autonomous groups or radical movements. In my view it should thus not try to be what it isn’t, i.e. some kind of mammoth, all-encompassing movement or quasi-Internationale, and instead be what it, potentially, is (and will most likely remain): a small, inevitably minoritarian organization of internationalist, anti-capitalist, libertarian radicals communicating globally and acting locally within various progressive social movements not as some phony ‘vanguard’ or ‘organisers’ but as supporters, dissenters, catalysers, ruckus-raisers, linkers, wideners, instruments, generalisers, radicalisers, coherence-bringers, creatives, visionaries (much as Alex Lewis and Jay Bostrom have recently described for their Seattle and Missoula chapters).
7. Attraction versus Recruitment. I would argue that both social movements and revolutionary organisations tend to attract rather than mechanically ‘recruit’ or ‘organise’ members. Their primary source of attraction lies in their qualitative difference to mainstream establishment and predictably boring trad left organisations. Their attractiveness derives from the fact that their members simply seem ‘more alive’. When this aliveness, this undefinable drive and energy, leaves the organisation, it’s internally dead, no matter how much it may still externally increase in numbers. Personal relationships of friendship and trust will both express and strengthen this aliveness.
8. Work and Workers. In the ‘post-industrial information societies’ of the global north, the traditional working class movement has all but disappeared. Previous leading notions like ‘socialism’, ‘social revolution’ or ‘the abolition of wage labour’ are now as good as incomprehensible to most people. This inevitably raises an important question for revolutionaries: if not just ‘the American working class is now in China’ (Zizek), where does this leave old libertarian notions such as occupying the factories/offices, the general strike or the formation of self-managing workers’ councils in advanced capitalist societies? What kind of libertarian relationships can be facilitated between diverse social movements in civil society and the world of work, and between workers, peasants, the marginalised oppressed and activists globally within capitalism’s international division of labour?
9. ‘Politics.’ In advanced capitalism there is a mass disaffection with ‘politics’ in general. This disaffection is ambivalent: on the one hand it is merely one expression of the hyper-capitalist privatisation of consciousness, social isolation, community fragmentation, the generalised alienation of passive consumerism; on the other hand, it is a more than legitimate response to the obvious absurdity of the political class and their carefully crafted media spectacles and sound bites as the distracting entertainment wing of Capital. Most have at least a gut-level feeling that ‘politics’ in advanced capitalism has been reduced to mainstream branding and PR bullshit, right-wing populism or worse. This is also an opportunity for libertarian revolutionaries..
10. The Dead Left. However, this popular turning away from ‘politics’ and politicians is also an implicit critique of the Left. Who has not chafed at the predictable boredom of ‘progressive’ waddawewantwhendowewannitnow spectacles divorced from any real self-activity, political imagination or visionary perspective (unions, leftist parties and even most mass demonstrations often share these characteristics)? IOPS’ attractiveness can only be enhanced by a marked distance and difference to this generally perceived deadness of politics-as-usual, especially if it ultimately strengthens heteronomy and hierarchy (e.g. parties), activism-as-passivity (e.g. merely voting), a belief in leader celebrities and/or the state ‘fixing’ the issues instead of people themselves.
11. State-oriented Campaigns. However, this does not preclude IOPS from sometimes contributing to broad progressive alliances and essentially social democratic campaigns aimed at pressuring the state on some issue. Realistically, many survival as well as bread-and-butter issues will for a long time only be able to be addressed by national governments. However, from a libertarian perspective any IOPS participation in such state-oriented campaigns should only occur on two general conditions: (a) that this not become its main focus as a libertarian organisation committed to self-activity and participatory democracy, and (b) that IOPS try and push for maximising all means of non-violent-yet-militant direct action and creative grassroots self-activity within such campaigns and continue critiquing all parliamentary and statist illusions (whether Keynesian or authoritarian socialist: ‘whoever you voted for, the government got in’).
12. Meaningful Action. So what should IOPS be primarily focussed on if it remains true to its anti-authoritarian, participatory values? I know of no better general summary than Maurice Brinton’s (aka Chris Pallis’) from 1967: ‘Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists their demystification.’ (from ‘As We See It’, Solidarity group, UK)
13. Harmful Action. Conversely, Brinton defines ‘sterile and harmful action’ for revolutionaries as being ‘whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their 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.’
14. Betrayal, Nostalgia, Meaninglessness, Vision. In relation to material everyday ‘bread and butter’ issues in advanced capitalist societies, one might speculate that there would seem to be a dual social psychology at work. On the surface, mass protest consciousness since Seattle/WSF and Occupy/Indignados/Syntagma Square seems to express a general feeling of ‘betrayal’ by the neoliberal ruling elites (the ‘1%’) or the ‘capture’ of ‘democracy’ and the political class by the ‘plutocracy’ and thus an im- or explicit nostalgia for the ‘golden age’ of the post-war Keynesian welfare state up to Thatcher and Reagan. However, at the same time beneath, or interwoven with, that nostalgia lies the hunger for self-activity, cooperation and direct democracy manifested, for example, in some of the innovative, ‘horizontalist’ forms of the Occupy movement. And within that one may also perhaps sense the, albeit as yet only partially conscious, rejection of the absurdity, meaninglessness, wastefulness, obscene inequalities and ecological suicidality of the whole system, even as that may concretely manifest in everyday phenomena such as the increasing stress and time poverty of precarious work and a harried daily life looking at screens (rather than at each other or nature). IOPS thus could provide both a forum for libertarian debate for ‘Occupiers’ etc and a concrete but flexible vision for coherently fleshing out the main general slogan of these diverse protest movements: ‘another world is possible’, and this is one of IOPS’ key strengths. It could thus help democratically deepen, widen and shift (not ‘lead’) such movements beyond their predominant Keynesian nostalgia and implicit social democratic limitations of seeking a ‘good’ (‘clean and green’, welfare) capitalism.
15. Industrialising Countries. In the industrialising countries other issues obviously predominate. Generalising wildly, one could say these countries are mostly still experiencing the militant and open class struggles of the rapacious, peasant-proletarianising, commons-enclosing development of early urbanising capitalism. Predominant forms of political consciousness, apart from reactionary fundamentalisms, seem to be outrage at nepotism and corruption by the elites, various forms of populism, a general belief in leaders and hope for a progressive state bureaucracy and/or parliamentary democracy to ‘welfarise’ rapacious capitalism and facilitate greater consumerism and a larger middle class. Here IOPS could provide support for militant indigenous, peasant and worker resistance to capitalist enclosures and land grabs, hyper-exploitation and community-destroying consumerism, global linkage to worker and relevant activist organizations in the north and an internationalist libertarian perspective of revolutionary self-organization in these struggles. Means of mutually equalizing average consumption levels between ‘north’ and ‘south’ (also within countries) towards an ecologically sustainable ‘fair earth share’ for all should be central to this internationalist mutual aid process as well.
16. Gaps and Tensions. Like us as individuals, IOPS as an organization needs to maintain the creative, at times unbearable, tension resulting from an awareness of a series of huge and interconnected gaps: the gap between the actual and the possible, between current global levels of average mass consciousness and the levels of consciousness and self-activity needed to institutionalise participatory democracy, between the increasing urgency of global ecocidal threats like climate chaos and nuclear weapons and the slowness of psychological and cultural change, between the everyday realities of alienated labour and life and the planetary realities of catastrophic ecological tipping points, the communication gaps between the various single-issue movements…Perhaps a cultivation of humour, music, poetry, art, a sense of human ambiguity, complexity and paradox all may help IOPS members in the ongoing struggle to creatively maintain this tension and balance.