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IOPS Welcome Event, an interview with Michael Albert

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On Sunday 28th October Michael Albert will be participating at an IOPS Welcome Event to introduce the interim International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS) and welcome members.

Below is the text of an interview with Michael Albert about this event. Questions were posed by Preeti Kaur, Jane Howick and Jamie Richardson

1) The Welcome Event taking place in London on Sunday 28th October has been structured to be participatory. We hope the event will introduce IOPS and the key ideas that underpin it, as well as start a conversation about how current structural and systemic problems may be addressed. Why is this important?

We live in a world of pain - there is a phrase people in the U.S. have, at times, it is said, I am going to rain on you a world of pain. As in I am going to harm you somehow. The trouble is existing social institutions are raining a world of pain on huge populations around the world. People are suffering literal starvation and strafing unto death. Beyond those worst off souls living too short lives, there are those who survive longer, but sometimes barely, and who in any case are deprived dignity and means to even discover much less act upon their own best capacities, inclinations, and desires.

And beyond them, incredibly, even among the beneficiaries of the incredibly warped accumulation of wealth and power into few hands, often, while defending their conditions with unlimited violence, nonetheless, these elites too enjoy not liberation and fulfillment, but more often quite limited, nasty lives of incredible pressure and debilitating hate.
The world is delivering a world of pain, and so it is important - what an understated word, honestly, to get together. For people to get together, reach shared views able to sustain shared actions - and then act, and act, and act - in a trajectory that isn't about merely being right, but is also about successfully ushering in a new world that would let humanity produce its own liberation, cooperatively, with attention to diversity, in ways generating and utilizing solidarity and mutual aid, and all in a self managing manner. 

Part of me wants to scream to people, look around. The climate is a catastrophe, spiralling toward cataclysm. The economy is a catastrophe, devolving into barbarism. Family life, culture, the polity - catastrophes. We are not talking about little problems, we are talking about a society that rains depraved violence and deprivation on people all over the world. What could be more important, however initially fledgling and small it may feel to be doing it, than working to bring together an informed, sober, coherent force for real and thorough change?

2) For people outside of IOPS, there are many Left organizations and many already participate in other movements. Why care about IOPS and why come to the Welcome Event on Sunday 28 October?

Two main reasons, I think. First, of those many organizations and movements, very few span whole countries, much less span world wide - so one might feel motivated by that admittedly very ambitious aspect of IOPS. IOPS already has people from over 100 countries. But, second, I would suggest that if one looks at the IOPS commitments for economics, political life, kinship and gender, cultural life, ecology, and international relations, one considers its commitments regarding the broad features of strategy and program, and one considers it organizational guidelines and inclinations - the even more compelling reason to relate to IOPS is that IOPS manifests the most inspiring and comprehensive sharable views around today. 

IOPS is maximalist in commitment to goals and methods that we can now plausibly see to be absolutely essential for a truly better world. But IOPS is minimalist in not overstepping its bounds, in not going beyond what we can plausibly now know and what we must accomplish. IOPS modestly and properly leaves all additional matters for future resolution, most likely in many different ways via many different experiments in many different places. 

IOPS seeks to generate, and is conceived consistently with generating, international mutual aid and solidarity and international program and struggle, even as IOPS also respects, is consistent with, and would nurture diversity of approaches and outcomes. IOPS is about winning that which will permit collective and cooperative self management in locales, countries, and world wide. IOPS is not about prescribing what decisions self managing constituencies should make. It says, instead, to win and to sustain self management - whatever other social gains we try and implement and refine and augment, we know we need this much - so this much is what IOPS favors as its shared overall vision, internationally, with the rest to be determined in countries and locales, as we learn from experience and by self managing processes. IOPS says, to win and to sustain self management - whatever other methods we might diversely employ and whatever other attributes our organizations might have, we know we need to incorporate at least these particular methods and these particular attributes, so these methods and attributes are what IOPS favors as shared broad strategic and structural features, internationally, with the rest to be determined in countries and locales, as we learn from experience and by self managing processes.

3) Many people work full time and event multiple jobs, have family and friends to care for, live far away, and many are already stretched by the economic crisis. If they are going to join organization, why would they join IOPS and make the effort to come to IOPS events?

Creating a new world is not something we should do in lieu of living now, at the expense of living now. That mindset typically yields burnout as we so completely orient to the future that the present becomes untenable. But creating a new world is also not something we can do without making some changes in what we do now, including finding some time to engage in new types of activity. For the most part, I think getting together with others far from one's place of residence should be rather rare. The most important locus of needed attention for each person will most often be their own workplace, their own neighborhoods, not some capital city or wherever else big meetings and events may be held. Yet every so often, getting together with folks from a wider circuit, say a nation, or even more broadly, can have many benefits, in combining energies, for morale, and for understanding as people learn from one another's experiences. 

The reason to join IOPS is if one likes its commitments and would celebrate IOPS being a massive force for change now and into the future. This is one way I think about it. If some person were to wake up tomorrow and read that IOPS had 250 chapters across the UK, and 20,000 members, and that its membership were active in movements all over the UK and were sincerely practicing mutual aid and advocating for classless and feminist and intercommunalist and participatory democratic self management throughout the UK, and were developing local experiments in implementing associated institutional structures where they live or work while also battling for improvement of people's lives and circumstances in existing mainsteam institutions, all the while internally practicing real and effective participatory self management, elevating new folks into confident involvement, combining energies in useful endeavors including meeting the needs of its own members, would the person reading about that be happy about that? Would that person, waking to all that, say, my gosh, how do I get involved with that? If the answer is yes, then I would argue that that person shouldn't leave it to others to make it happen. He or she should, to the extent his or her conditions permit - and that is an important caveat - and also recognizing that success is not guaranteed and will certainly not be instant , join, and begin to try to conceive ways to help, including, as able, getting together with others, even if, for a time doing so requires some travel. 

Here is another way of saying the same thing. How many of us go to movies and watch the emergence of a movement against racism, or for labor, or against authoritarianism, or for women or gays, and so on, and admire the fortitude and will of those who braved the early days of civil rights or anti apartheid, or struggles for shorter work days or rights of workers, or against dictators, or for affirmative action and gay liberation, and so much more - the days when one might look around and say the task is hopeless, the task is thankless? What sense does it make for us to admire those who operated in the past in such ways, unless we do the same in the present? 

What we are talking about now is not a vehicle for addressing a very particular ailment in society, a good thing to do. Nor even for addressing a whole part of social life, an even better thing to do. It is, instead, an organization meant to motivate, galvanize, and participate in raising the ante from addressing parts to addressing the whole - and finally to winning another world in which to live and thrive, not solely winning another policy that will very likely be unwound as time passes. This is history's current agenda. Do we want to partake of it, or be bystanders, is, I guess, the question. If not IOPS, okay, do something better.

4) The Welcome Event provides space for members to start thinking about what active, caring, and vibrant local chapters might look like. We think local chapters that have a supportive framework for their members, are engaged in local communities and work with other local groups, will not only be effective in gaining small, but real changes, but will also be attractive chapters to join. Do you agree?

Yes, and I think it is centrally important, which is why it is given such prominence in the IOPS commitments. We need, in our daily endeavors, to plant the seeds of the future in the present - as we are able - for three broad reasons. First, to learn through the experience of trying new ways of engaging what works best, how to refine our choices, what we want. Second, as a model with which to explain possibilities and motivate desire. And, third, to meet needs right now - because talking only about some future, however distant it may be, without attending to improving lives now, is simply unsustainable. People lose hope, burn out, suffer depression. The alternative to cycles of burn out, is thriving chapters that not only facilitate members collectively contributing to campaigns to educate, motivate, and win changes that better broad constituencies' lives now, but also better the lives of members now, leaving them socially more fulfilled and optimistic and welcoming and energetic - just plain happier. And that matters a very great deal. It isn't just rhetoric one can set aside. Sour activists, dead pan activists, morose activists, exhausted activists, perpetually angry activists, humorless activists, sad activists, all this says to people - whatever uttered words may claim - that our frowns are your future if you join. Our depressed condition is everyone's future if we win. The predictable outcome is that most sensible people run in the opposite direction. So, the immediate social well being of members of organizations and movements is, indeed, profoundly important - not only in its own right, but also as part of the process of winning change. 

5)  Why has IOPS specifically been structured as a bottom-up, international organization, based on self-managing interconnected national branches and local chapters?

This goes back to the earlier mentioned discussion of its being maximalist in seeking the essential conditions of a classless, feminist, intercommunalist, participatory democratic, collectively self managing, peaceful, and sustainable society, coupled to being minimalist in seeking only that which is essential and not all the myriad things that also compose social life but which need to be decided by future people, based on their circumstances and experiences, varying widely from place to place. 

So the structure envisioned for IOPS rests on local chapters, in turn composing national branches, in turn composing an international - so that it can be true to participatory self management, locally, nationally, and internationally, not overstepping its mandates at any level, yet cohering the widest possible agreement and energy, when needed. Those involved most certainly wish that what could have happened would have been for dozens or hundreds of disconnected chapters all around the world to form and become active and grow, and only then link up nationally - until there were many countries - in turn only then linking up internationally. But that just isn't reality as we endure it. That isn't bottom up - it is pipe dream. 

It seems, instead, that for people to have the energy and hope to operate really well, and continually, locally, they have to have some confidence that there is something larger - national and international - that their efforts are contributing to. Thus something on those levels needs to be emerging simultaneously. What makes the effort bottom up isn't that disparate efforts occur without connection only magically linking at the end. It is that at every step the aim is a result that is self managing, and it is including, as one does what is possible to do, commitments and features to ensure that result. And thus IOPS - building internationally, nationally, and locally simultaneously, but certainly waiting on the local gaining traction and scale, before becoming a truly founded and operating organization - via an international convention built on the participation and example of locals around the world.

6) At the Welcome Event, we will be discussing the principles that underpin IOPS. In a June 2012 interview with Noam Chomsky, Professor Chomsky described the core element of anarchism as rooted in the idea that structures of authority and domination, at an level from personal relations to international affairs, are not self-justifying: they carry a burden of proof, and unless that can be met (which is rare), they should be dismantled in favor of others more conducive to basic human values. How is IOPS, and the documents that form the IOPS Interim Organizational Description, guided by this principle?

The idea you describe means, for me, basically implementing cooperative and collective self management in context of a clear and full commitment to human values, and that viewpoint at the very heart of pretty much everything about IOPS. The visionary commitments of IOPS, for example, are precisely about determining in each major realm of social life the institutional features that preclude self management - or using Chomsky's terms, that impose unjustifiable rule from above - and, thus, also determining what new institutional relations are essential for attaining self management in light of human solidarity and mutual aid, diversity, equity, ecological sustainability, and peace. The programmatic and structural commitments of IOPS are in turn about thinking through and advocating for and acting on the key strategic steps and organizational norms essential to winning those new institutions, even as we also meet needs and develop potentials in the present. 

So, to return to your previous question, I hope people will come to the Welcome Event out of a desire for a new world, out of belief in the need for new structures in it, out of understanding that we need new methods to attain it, and out of willingness to consider being part of such an ambitious and optimistic - but also realistic - undertaking. And I hope many people will decide affirmatively, at the Event or after, and will band together in the UK to grow IOPS-UK, and its branch and local components, in a way that provides a powerful example that others elsewhere can emulate.

7) What are your hopes and aspirations for the Welcome Event and what outcomes might be possible on the day?

Honestly, I don't know. I typically have hopes and aspirations that way exceed what is likely - and I would like to see the emergence of many chapters with people having ties not only to their own local memberships, but to at least some people in many other chapters. I would like to see a greatly invigorated commitment to the IOPS defining statements. I would like to see, perhaps, I don't honestly know - not knowing the actual circumstances in the UK - the emergence of some process leading to a UK wide convention for founding UK IOPS, adopting shared program across the UK, crystalizing commitments further, etc. - all of which could then serve an exemplary role for others elsewhere to learn from, and take further. 

But, honestly, as ambitious as the above might sound, I myself think all that is the relatively simple part. To my thinking, the hard part is arriving at a program of outreach and implementing it, as a very high priority in people's lives, so as to get more members and more chapters. After that, the rest, occurs in context of growing collectivity to sustain hope and energy. It is the initial phase that occurs amidst nothing but will. So that kind of commitment to a program of outreach, would, to me, be the most hopeful gain that could be attained, and, in writing up the plan and continually reporting on its implementation, could be the most exemplary thing for others to learn from and emulate that UK IOPS members might do.

8) Since March 2012 this year, 363 people have signed up to IOPS in the UK and Ireland. Nearly 100 have signed up in London alone, although only a small core of individuals are active. Nonetheless, what do these numbers tell you about the possibilities for IOPS in the UK and Ireland?

Seen one way, nothing much, I suspect. My guess is we all knew before trying that there is a large set of people who agree with the commitments IOPS has - way over 363 in the UK, way over 100 in London, way over 3,000 internationally - actually, my guess is well over 3,000 in just London. In other words, we knew before, and we still know, there is a much larger potential membership.

We also knew that the most difficult aspect of building new organization is not having good ideas that people that would quietly agree with and even advocate, if they encountered them in private discussions - so those people are plausibly potential members, even now. The problem is, instead, getting that large pool of people who would agree to and even advocate IOPS ideas in private discussion, to encounter the ideas at all and to then agree to and advocate them in very open and assertive public organizing. 

The problem is, as well, to not only get the allegiance of all those who would, in discussion, currently quietly agree - but also to energize their involvement in working to reach out to new people as one of their highest personal priorities. That hasn't happened widely yet. So measured against that goal, what we have accomplished so far doesn't say much that we didn't know, and doesn't point too far forward.

However, seen another way, just a few months is not even gestation time for a new International Organization. With this sense of proportion, in just a few months there has been established a small but very serious and sincere beachhead of commitment and work seeking to create something new and historic - an International Organization with heretofore rarely if ever widely shared visionary, strategic, and structural commitments. That achievement, however limited and small - so far - does point to promising possibilities. Specifically, it points to the possible emergence of IOPS as a worldwide organization built on national branches and city and local chapters - all sharing key visionary and strategic and  commitments in turn manifested in very diverse but mutually supportive ways in the varied contexts confronted around the world.

You can read a blog about the event and register to attend here: http://www.iopsociety.org/england/events/iops-welcome-event

Discussion 1 Comments

  • Kim Keyser 18th Oct 2012

    I liked this interview, and especially the answers to 4 and 7. Thanks! :)

    There's one claim that AFAIK is factually incorrect though: "IOPS already has people from over 100 countries."

    If you use the menu at the top of this site, called countries, you'll see less – not more – than 100 countries. And if you take a detailed look, 9 of these do not have a single member. (There have been accounts – spam accounts or not – that have become members, but are no longer members, and thus their countries should've been deleted from the list. However, the software doesn't do this automatically, and the admins haven't done so yet either). Sorry about being the pedantic party pooper, but right gotta be right. ;)