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Can a shared ideology unite leftist activists?

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(The text below was published before on Titas Biswas' blog The Perspectives.)


Drastic change is needed now. Millions upon millions of people are denied a decent life. Our environment is being ravaged in the name of profit for a few. Natural resources are being wasted and exhausted. The emission of greenhouse gases is accelerating and seems unstoppable. Governments everywhere are increasing the surveillance of their citizens and other means of controlling the population. Many problems facing humanity are urgent and must be addressed, requiring concerted action at all scales, from local to global.

If we all keep waiting, this is not going to happen. Not now, and not ever. And what are we waiting for? As civil-rights activist John Lewis, one of the original thirteen “Freedom Riders” who fought to end racial segregation in public transportation in the Southern US said in May 1961: If not us, then who? If not now, then when? What he and the other Freedom Riders wanted to achieve seemed an impossible dream at the time. But in the end, they succeeded. What we hope to achieve may seem even more impossible. But we believe that in the end we will get there. And if not, we will at least have tried.

We do not want to wait. We have a vision of a world in which everyone, young and old, men and women, majority and minority, can contribute to and enjoy the fruits of a just and peaceful society, a society that respects human rights and that values education, science and culture. We want to start realizing our vision now. But that is only possible if enough people join forces to realize it. We believe that everyone who agrees with the vision of an equitable and sustainable world can contribute to make this vision come true.

Activism is globally on the rise. Within a short time we saw the emergence of movements for democracy in China and against corruption in India. We experienced the dawn of the Occupy movement in the United States and the Idle No More movement in Canada. We witnessed the formation of the Indignados (15-M) in Spain as well as the Gezi Park protests in Turkey. And there are countless other examples around the world – all unplanned and without leaders in any traditional sense, bearing witness to people’s desire to have control over their own lives.

The new movements have inspired people all over the world, giving a sense that change is possible, but they have remained relatively isolated and their aspiration to change the world for the better has not yet found an organizational form that allows for long-term sustained and effectively coordinated efforts. The traditional left has mainly ignored these developments, unable to interpret them in their established ideological frameworks and to adapt to a new spirit of people who do not seek to be led but who want to be free to decide for themselves.

Capitalism, socialism and anarchism

These developments should be seen in an historical context, starting with the rise of the workers’ movement in the 19th century in response to the worsening conditions created by the advance of profit-driven capitalism in the wake of the first industrial revolution. This period sees the birth of socialism and anarchism, two traditions in the workers’ movement that seek the emancipation of the worker by overthrowing the ruling class and abolishing all class distinctions.

The primary aim of the socialists was social justice. They wanted an economic system that fairly catered for the needs of all and did not favour a small, powerful elite. This would require abolishing private ownership of the means of production. Anarchists emphasized freedom from coercion by a ruling class – the word ‘anarchism’ comes from Greek ‘an-’ + ‘archos’, meaning ‘without ruler’. But apart from the different emphasis, their demands for social justice and freedom were pretty much the same. A major difference between 19th-century mainstream socialism and anarchism was that socialists sought (and largely still seek) to use the State as an instrument for the emancipation of the worker, whereas anarchists saw (and still see) the State as being a necessarily oppressive institution, not only used now by the ruling class as an instrument to retain its power but also bound to create a new ruling class and new oppressive relations if not abolished in a revolution. The devolution of the USSR after the seizure of state power by the Bolshevik party in the October revolution of 1917, from what was supposed to become a worker state into a brutally oppressive form of state-run capitalism serving the interests of a small power elite, shows that that is not a merely theoretical danger.

In the early days of the workers’ movement, the terms ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ were synonyms. Only after the founding of the USSR did the term ‘communism’ get its present connotation of orientation on the policies of the Communist Party of the USSR, the continuation of the Bolshevists that grabbed power in 1917. In many countries, factions split off from the socialist parties that payed allegiance to Moscow and styled themselves ‘Communist Party’, while the mainstream of the socialist movement lost its revolutionary perspective and focused on improvements of worker conditions by reforms that do not challenge the nature or logic of capitalism. In the present, the term ‘socialism’ is now often used to refer to social democracy. Neither of these present-day common uses of ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ bear much resemblance to the meaning of these terms during the time of Karl Marx. Some movements and parties still use these words though in pretty much their original sense.

In his analysis of capitalism, Marx thought that capitalism would dig its own grave, producing crisis after crisis and eventually and unavoidably collapsing under its own contradictions. He saw a proletarian revolution as inevitable. But as we know now, the State uses its power to intervene continually to protect capitalism and save it from going under. The notion of a “free” market is an illusion, as is most evident when the market collapses again in yet another crisis. Then the idea that the market is supposed to be free is suddenly abandoned and instead the State bails out the capital owners at the expense of the tax payers. Rather than risking an uprising, the ruling elites of many countries have granted several State-enforced reforms that alleviated the worst effects of worker exploitation, such as a prohibition on child labour, a limit on a worker’s working hours, and minimum wages.

After World War II

It took a World War to restart the economy after the Great Depression that had started in 1930. More than before, the Western capital world took on the nature of an Empire after the war, with the United States in a hegemonic role and the West-European states as vassals. The war had weakened the grip on the colonies in Africa and Asia, allowing independence movements to gain massive support, and the so-called decolonization of the Third World accelerated. In many newly independent countries popular movements and democratically elected leaders strove to end the exploitation of the workers and the appropriation of natural resources by mostly American-owned corporations, but almost everywhere the Empire intervened, cynically invoking the need to protect freedom while suppressing these movements, killing their leaders and substituting brutal dictators who could only remain in power by continued Western support.

In the course of the 20th century the developed countries extended universal suffrage to men and women alike, a process that was only completed well after World War II. Rather than suppressing demands for more rights by force, they were given a legitimized and controllable outlet through the medium of political parties and parliamentary representation. Instead of threatening the established order, this actually strengthened it. The formerly revolutionary parties became entrenched and encapsulated in the system. In the general population the view took hold that the only legitimate way to demand social justice, or even moderate changes in general, was through elected representatives. Protests outside that system were depicted by mainstream politicians and media alike as undemocratic and unrealistic, but as long as they were not gaining much strength they were mostly left alone in what Marcuse called “repressive tolerance”. A general view took hold that capitalism combined with the parliamentary system was the best of all possible worlds. There were of course always many people questioning this and pointing out the evident and gross problems with the system, but they were mostly depicted in the media as being unreasonable and either extremists or lunatics.

The counterculture of the 1960s

In the sixties of the 20th century, a youth movement originated in the United States, which became global in the mid-sixties. While variegated, it had strong countercultural elements, rejecting the materialist economic orientation and complacent submission to unearned authority of an older generation. The “flower children”, as hippies embracing the concept of “flower power” (passive resistance) styled themselves, were averse to involvement in politics, but others joined the civil rights movement and opposed the US military intervention in Vietnam. The student revolt of May 1968 in Paris resonated among students and other young people elsewhere.

Unlike the earlier revolutionary workers’ movement, which had been dominated by the issue of economic justice and depended on strong leaders, the new countercultural movement took on many issues: civil rights, women’s rights, sexual liberation, ecology, anti-militarism and anti-authoritarianism. None of these issues were new, of course; what was new was that so many were engaged with all these issues. The movement was revolutionary in the sense that it refused to respect the confines imposed by the political system. Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible (“Be realistic, ask the impossible”) was one of the slogans of May 1968 in Paris.

In the United States the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) movement represented the most politically oriented and engaged part of the youth movement. Explicitly anti-capitalist, the SDS demanded democratization of the system of production, but was also oriented towards a broad spectrum of issues, including racial equality and international peace and justice. Its platform is described in the 1962 Port Huron Statement. Unlike the typical political manifesto of revolutionary left-wing groups, the Port Huron Statement “connected the dots” and analyzed the multifarious “single issues” as being manifestations of a common underlying cause. It advocated the establishment of a participatory democracy for the political and economic spheres while espousing nonviolence in the struggle for change.

Although the SDS broke up in 1969 (the present-day SDS represents an attempt to revive it), its ideas and values have continued to inform and inspire many students and other activists aspiring to a better world and remain influential to this day.

One of the characteristics of the system of repressive tolerance is that it allows people to protest, but insists that they formulate “realistic demands”. If the protest movement gives in to that requirement, these demands are like an opening bid in a negotiating process with the powers that be. But these are negotiations between parties with very unequal power: the authorities have behind them the full potential violence of the state apparatus – riot police, and if that is not enough military forces. The final bid will be described as the ultimate compromise, but leaves their power intact.

Where we are today

Many activists are involved in issue-based movements that present compelling and justified demands. However, in a system of repressive tolerance, formulating demands will not bring us much further, unless we “ask the impossible”. That is, we should not only criticize what is wrong, but address the underlying cause – an unjust system from which a privileged small group profits at the expense of many. If we believe that “another world is possible” – the slogan of the World Social Forum – we also need a unifying vision of that other world.

A key question is how to unite all the movements and organizations whose core ideals are in basic alignment, putting aside the differences, in order to effect lasting change beyond what each group can achieve by itself.

This need not mean that each group must give up its identity. But it does require some flexibility. Sometimes I wonder how much of the fragmentation of the left is due to genuine and irreconcilable differences, and how much can be traced back to a clash of personalities. If we take the vision seriously that the world we are aiming for is formed by a collection of freely associating communities, each of which is self-managing and can freely choose its own rules and institutions, we can discuss possible choices with their advantages and disadvantages, but we cannot already now make a choice for them and prescribe it. Some of the traditional divisions are about the “right” way to organize future society, but the notion that we can prescribe this now is pointless and harmful. New rules and institutions will be needed, but they will derive their legitimacy from the fact that the people bound by them have themselves made the choice.

More difficult to overcome are differences that result from different insights in the strategy to be followed. But, obviously, no organization or movement has yet been particularly successful in finding a winning strategy – or else the revolution would already have succeeded a long time ago. This ought to be a somewhat sobering thought for the revolutionary groups that believe they are in the possession of the one and only correct strategy – a bit of humility wouldn’t hurt in this respect.

One thing is certain. Without mass participation, there can be no successful revolution. There can be a coup in some places, where one group of people who hold the power is replaced by another group. But that cannot be our goal, and a strategy that stands in the way of mass participation is therefore bound to fail.

If there is an ideology that can bind us together, with all our differences, it is this: the vision of a world in which every person counts, in which no one is considered insignificant and everyone has the opportunity to have their say and to contribute their share, and the conviction that if we work shoulder to shoulder we can make this vision come true.

IOPS, the International Organization for a Participatory Society, has been set up to offer a home that can bring all people together who share this vision and this conviction. Whether it can succeed in this mission is really up to all the people who could profit from this. If they keep standing outside, waiting for IOPS to “take off”, the project will surely fail. But if enough people come aboard who are willing to work on turning this into a success story, then succeed it will.

Discussion 28 Comments

  • LedSuit ' 15th Feb 2016

    Well, no, I don't think shared ideology is going to unite anyone because it's the small that ends up fucking things up. "You left the lid off the toothpaste again." I mean shit, IOPS couldn't fucking agree even on the way the mission statements were written. And when people get pissed off with one another they stop talking.

    I even have issues with this statement,

    "Some of the traditional divisions are about the “right” way to organize future society, but the notion that we can prescribe this now is pointless and harmful."

    These "traditional divisions" aren't really divisions but debates and discussions over institutional arrangements, which are in fact very necessary and helpful. The notion that say, developing a very cogent and coherent economic vision like Parecon for instance, which is exactly about achieving self-managed freely associating communities that can interact coherently while fostering equity, solidarity, diversity, efficiency and classlessness, is "prescribing" for the future and so therefore "pointless and harmful" is ludicrous. This is a similar kind of position one finds Ethan Miller advocating. It's bullshit. Individuals, or duos or trios or groups can develop things, like economic visions, to any degree of detail they wish and then have it's merits discussed and debated like anything else. That's how collective imaginations and creativity can be drawn together and utilised. But then, maybe the author of the above isn't thinking about things like Parecon, but then I wouldn't know what they would be thinking of then because, particularly after the failure of the Soviet system and the bullshit of other 20th century socialisms, I know of no socialist utopian "prescriptions" being advocated by revolutionary leftists. None. So there's disagreement straight off. But that's OK, I'm training myself not to care much anymore.

    It would be nice if enough people came on board to any organisation but alas, I think it's not to be. The devil is always in the detail, the nitty gritty, where bullshit reigns. And that bullshit will always fuck things up.

    Try getting four musicians in a room together on a regular basis for extended peroids of time and see what happens. Particularly if there are no gigs lined up.

    • fred curran 15th Feb 2016

      I think many of the troubles with IOPS are structural. They are limits IOPS imposes on the user, the member.

    • Lambert Meertens 22nd Feb 2016

      Welcome back!

    • fred curran 12th Mar 2016

      It is very good to be back :)

    • fred curran 12th Mar 2016

      Thank you

    • Lambert Meertens 22nd Feb 2016

      We may agree more than you seem to think. Maybe you remember one of my first blog postings here: We want blueprints!. In it, I wrote, "I think we should encourage people and projects to draw up detailed blueprints for things that are relevant to our vision and for the transformational transition we seek to achieve, also if they transcend any immediate movement needs." So clearly I agree that debates and discussions over institutional arrangements are very necessary and helpful.

      But I also wrote, "That does not mean we need to select one version to the exclusion of others. In the end, the choice is not up to IOPS anyway, but to the people who succeed in implementing the transformation, and the choice is rightfully theirs." That is what I mean above by "we cannot already now make a choice for them and prescribe it".

      Where we disagree is in the nature of what I called "the traditional divisions". I don't see the debates. I only hear people on one side explain to each other why the people on the other side are ahistorical idiots, class traitors, petty bourgeois, or what not. Can you point me to an example of an open and fruitful discussion between, say, a Trotskyite and an anarchist? One in which each was prepared to change their political positions because of the weight of the other's arguments? Part of the problem of the left, as I perceive it, is that too many actually do demand that you agree with their preferred solutions, and otherwise their kids may not play with your kids, or whatever. Like, I'm happy to have a discussion with you as long as you agree with me.

      But I'm sure that both the Trotskyite and the anarchist would agree that they want a world in which every person counts, in which no one is considered insignificant and everyone has the opportunity to have their say and to contribute their share.

      I don't know who Ethan Miller is and what he is saying. Guitarist/singer Ethan Miller from Comets on Fire? Sheriff Ethan Miller from Smalville?

    • Lambert Meertens 22nd Feb 2016

      The post that starts with "We may agree more than you seem to think" is meant to be addressed to LedSuit ''s comment.

  • fred curran 15th Feb 2016

    I think so.

  • LedSuit ' 16th Feb 2016

    Nah, don't reckon Fred. There are people who do shit by the book and others that don't and everyone in between. Truth is not many people got involved here, either on the website or face to face. But the percentages of those who did compared to total numbers who signed up seemed pretty normal to me.

    I never felt constrained but there were organisational protocols that caused problems. Mission statements and personality clashes and shit.

    Nah, I'm starting to think it's actually organisational fetishism that is the lefts problem. When organising works it is because it does so within limits, both in the goals and on who is being organised. When it is around Big Ideals, Utopian Hopes, building mass movements, it flounders. Fuck the ICC wasn't even on board here and it was full of serious folk. There have been examples of organisational success to a degree, but I think those, if they actually were/are successful, may have been products of much more than just good organising i.e. luck, historical accident, cultural things, the right moment in history where collective pissed offness comes together etc.. The history of the left is a wasteland of organisational failure on a large significant level.

    There have been waves and momentum but nothing lasting and any victories have usually been around very specific goals that may have attracted very specific constituents (just repeated myself).

    IOPS tried something new, different, the digital to the analogue and it failed. But not because it couldn't organise properly. That shit is always in the lap of the Giant Poodle. And most likely will always fall apart. Getting people in rooms, to stay for long periods is fucking hard, even if they like each other, know each other, can play their instruments and there are gigs lined up and a reasonable andboractical outlook forvthe future of the band! But people who have never met one another, with different tastes, histories, ages, levels of knowledge and experience...shit...never going to work. Bound to end in tears. Shit, even the Occupiers who were the major players and organisers had serious divisions and irganisational problems. Nah, rooms with small numbers of people in them may be alright for a while but ones with large numbers just start to smell.

    Energy was a problem and just downright disagreements about what this place was supposed to actually be, could be and foster. The mission statement of this place was grasping at an organisational utopian dream, left nirvana, which I think haunts the Occupy series of books as well, without considering that people usually split up over very petty things rather than the big. Then they go try and start some new Org somewhere else and just butt up against the same kind of shitful problems.

    Most succesful organisations are in fact hierarchical in structure. That's probably why most Marxist organisations tend to be bigger than anarchist ones. The IWW may have been an exception but it may also have been due to where its main constituency was coming from along with the historical moment or period out if which it grew.

    I don't think people like to organise nor be organised and those that do and are good at it tend to stay involved and do most of the work. But even that small group can begin to get on each others nerves, eventually splitting.

    Further, joining groups or organisations can have a kind of cultish feel to it, even if it is well founded on uncultish political pragmatism. There is this notion that exists among many that not joining things is a way of maintaining some sort of individual and intellectual integrity. Even Chomsky said he wasn't much of a joiner. Joining things is a big deal for one's personal identity and where people are at, personally, family wise, friend wise, intellectually, creatively, domestically, morally, ethically, politically and shit is hit and miss as far as expecting others to join something.

    Organisational fetishism I say! And I got no idea what else there is to do. Maybe go sign up to the Next System Project and heavy them regularly about their suspect resource section on their site and get a slap across the wrist for being overly rude, as happened to me. Then apologise, yet hold your ground, but come to the realisation at the same time that everything you did, me that is, was really just a tiny-tiny-useless-needle-in-a-haystack set of meaningless, pointless, bullshit activity that will have no effect on anything. But that's what I do...shit. Or in australian, fuck all.

    I can't even believe that people have actually written something on this website. Fucking amazing.

    So I reckon you should all just piss off again and leave this site to rot and crumble in the stench of its overreaching utopian dream.

    Or go join Mark Evans new organisation What About Classism. But I think it may only be for English locals. http://www.whataboutclassism.org/

    Or go read the book Capitalism In The Web Of Life, like I am, or nearly have. It's a treat. You learn about the Oikeios and that Cartesian dualist analyses of capitalism are flawed, limited and no longer cut it. It's really fun. Capitalism acts through nature, not just upon it, utilising human and extra-human natures, paid and unpaid work, both exploiting and appropriating, via the Four Cheaps, co-producing and reproducing and profucing ecologies and stuff, like environments that also create new ones that all gives rise to abstract social nature along with abstract social labour that just keeps capitalism keeping on like British Paints. Paul Steet calls the author Jason Moore "the brilliant eco-Marxian world-systems thinker". But then everything Paul reads and cites is either brilliant or important.

    Or go read a far more enjoyable book called Academy Zappa:Proceedings Of The First Imternational Conference Of Esemplastic Zappology (ICE-Z) and read great stuff, and I mean this, like,

    "People who talk about Frank Zappa without talking about what's wrong with capitalism, about its deleterious effect on us and the world, about the insolent fraud of television and the reeking atrocity of the arms trade, about global war as a permanent adjunct of a consumer economy, about religion and racism as scandals which prove the untruth and inefficacy of bourgeois reason, about the infinite potential of human cravings versus the draconian law of commodity exchange, about what's subversive about sexual fantasy and what is critical about smut, such people have a corpse in their mouth." Ben Watson p22, Academy Zappa: Proceedings of the First International Conference of Esemplastic Zappology (ICE-Z) 2005, SAF Pub

    Or this from the same book, by Paul Sutton from his “paper” Bogus Pomp and Bourdieu’s Paradox: Zappa and Resentment, from the book Academy Zappa:Proceedings of the First International Conference of Esemplastic Zappology (ICE-Z)

    “If, in order to resist, I have no other resources than to lay claim to that which I am dominated, is this resistance? Second question: when, on the other hand, the dominated work at destroying what marks them out as ‘vulgar’ and at appropriating that in relation to which they appear as vulgar… is this submission? I think this is an insoluble contradiction. This contradiction, which is inscribed in the logic of symbolic domination, is something those who talk about ‘popular culture’ won’t admit.

    Whether to feast upon and celebrate the paltry pabulum of pop, […], or to fall too gratefully upon the rich banquet of bourgeois art, that alibi and congealment of domination, is surely to endorse, rather than to question, the current distribution of resources.”

  • fred curran 16th Feb 2016

    What do you feel were the organisational protocols that caused problems?

    • fred curran 16th Feb 2016

      To me, it seems, that there were people in positions of control. Total control, and they wasted opportunities, and were bad leaders. I do not think that we need leaders, but IOPS had them and they were not very effective in their leadership. They fucked up.
      I think we also lacked a certain interest in where our fellow participants were coming from, we lacked an openness for experimentation.
      We had rules and regulations that had nothing to do with our revolutionary goals. I see that the people who did not want others to move forward are gone now. Why? Because they no longer have followers. They had mutineers on their hands. and it was no longer as self serving as it once had been.
      I am not a fan of bestowing human nature or the nature of the left to the actions of a self interested few as if they are the measure of anything. Or the timidity of people to continue on with something, that is clearly, or was clearly someone else's, that they just came to disagree with, as a bad trait.
      We can jump right back into telling each other what to do, or we can find out what each other wants to do. And work to help them with that, or stop them from doing that.

    • LedSuit ' 17th Feb 2016

      Nah again, I don't agree with ya Fred. No leaders in the sense you say, no self serving whatevers, just disagreements and different expectations. That's what happens when you put multiple people in a room, even a virtual one, people disagree and ometomes the hit hits the fan.

      Then there were the goals that weren't met and organisational protocols and shit and then it all went to hell, or really just died because it never ever got off the deck.

      You know what Fred, I think if you go back and look at everything, no-one was telling people what to do in the sense that I think you are saying, no-one was being self serving or thought this was their baby or project, it was just people trying to deal with shit and some people got more pissed off than others, and some were quite definitive in their views on how shit should be done, and some thought they knew better how things should go...and a whole lot of other stuff if you like...particularly the fact that face to face organising just didn't get going, which when you really think about it, considering what the wide ranging all encompassing project IOPS was, was always goingbto be near impossible for the reasins I said above. Face to face organising is fucking hard to do even when you are chasing a small goal.

      Looking to blame others, individuals, for why IOPS failed is not helpful and plain wrong as far as I'm concerned.

    • fred curran 17th Feb 2016

      No there were and if you look back you will see this. But that is cool, I do not care to reassess the absurdity of the ICC, the lies holding them up etc etc. The arbitrary rewriting of rules to retain control etc etc. But I do not want to look back much, so we do not need to parse through all of that.

    • fred curran 17th Feb 2016

      Same old same old getting caught in that trap.

    • LedSuit ' 18th Feb 2016

      No, wrong again. The ICC were only there as a result of organistion protocol surrounding the right of a non-hierarchical organistaion and its members to make critical decisions regarding its strufture and such before it reach some kind of critical mass. No other reason. The fact that it didn't work or even better, that even the so called members of the ICC weren't all on board with its purpose or just couldn't be bothered carrying out the minimal tasks asked of them, proves my point that it is in fact the little things that fuck things up. That some of the names on the ICC were experienced activists is so fucking disheartening it just isn't funny.

      That I got suckered into joining the org, embarrassingly pisses me off. All that prep work, all that canvasing of opinion,mall those connections between the well connected of the activist world, and it all turns out to be bullshit. What other org dies that sort of prep work and then fails.

      No-one arbitrarily rewrote anything Fred. And no-one went out to "regain" control. Nonsense. Total. And I don't know who you are talking about.

      The left just can't agree with itself.

  • Kristi Doyne-Bailey 16th Feb 2016

    whoa back...there's life at iops ?!!
    if nothing else, this site was a springboard for me to pursue all the interesting topics, links, books and political philosophies addressed in the conversations...
    i'm still at it and still forming my radical opinions...but i have yet to figure out how to unite my community around the iops vision...and it's such a good idea !

    • LedSuit ' 17th Feb 2016

      Yeah, I think you and I agree a bit Kristi. I think many underestimate the need for exactly what you are saying, even if it takes place in a virtual space that is clunky at times. This fetish for face to face shit drags conversation into a really narrow space. This site offered an opportunity, even just on that level to do shit, but no, it's like every fucking town or city or place has to be like fucking Occupy, or Rojava, or the Zapatistas, serious hardcore on the ground lets get shit done now and fast and topple that government, that state, that capitalist bastard or if things don't go precisely as planned, as projected, everyone just goes home and a perfectly good site goes to waste. Which, if you also think about it, is totally fucking normal. Why waste one's time on something that just isn't going to work. People get tired and exhausted.

      I fucking hate the word organise, even just the sound of it.

    • fred curran 17th Feb 2016

      I could not agree more. I think some of it was from overlooking what was already on the ground, and maybe still is on the ground, rather than it needing to manifest itself through IOPS, IOPS serving as what Kristi is saying, but maybe more, and I think some of that would come through acknowledging what was already there, in the lively world of leftist activism.
      In between then and now, around the world there have been movements, and continue to be movements. Incredible movements, and IOPS should have done everything possible to support everything possible, that was or is within the realm of our revolutionary goals. Open to everything, but you make an important point regarding organisational protocols and shit. And I see this as running along the same lines of what you said before regarding the importance of a lively debate and discussion rather than a unified vision. And when I talk about being open to experimentation, I think we are talking about something similar.
      And maybe along this line there is a chance to bring together diverse, maybe at times disinterested, or disagreeable groups of people, who happen to share the common goal of wanting a better world.

    • LedSuit ' 17th Feb 2016

      What's already there "on the ground" is already fragmented. The Next System Project is trying to embrace everything from liberals who feel capitalism can be saved to radicals who want it gone. Any "illusion to unification or some sort of open minded embrace of it all is only symbolic. "On the ground" you just have people doing shit over there and other people doing shit somewhere else. Just because someone dies a school project and maps it all doesn't mean everyone is talking to everyone else.

      Bring diverse and disinterested or disagreeable groups together? How? What call them up to meet at a cafe?A pub? Some other website started by some other small group who thinks they have the magic touch, the dinner party skills, the "right attitude"?

      There's a small party ironically called Left Unity in England. How are they doing? The left rallying behind, jumping on and using the Sanders campaign? Will Podemos do better than Syriza? How will a new organisation devoted to highlighting classism as a human rights issue go? Particularly considering the number of well read, devoted Marxist revolutionaries out there who think they have this area covered. How will they take to this new kid on the block? Just jump on board?

      Organising works when the focus is smaller and specific to a certain oppressed constituency. And when it maintains some sort of hierarchical division of labour. It may even be successful. Beyond this...?

  • fred curran 17th Feb 2016

    I think one issue with IOPS and with the article, is maybe seeing IOPS as too much of a "walled-garden" separated off from the rest of the world of leftist activism.

    • fred curran 17th Feb 2016

      As if IOPS were the end all be all, rather than a useful tool, a necessary step, an evolving process, open to the rest of the world of activism.

  • Kristi Doyne-Bailey 18th Feb 2016

    yeah...everyone has good, even great points...radical progressives (for want of a better description) all want basically the same thing, we just can’t agree on how to get there...
    maybe that’s it...maybe all ways will get there eventually...and all this debating/arguing on whose way is best or right, is just a waste of time...
    here at iops...regardless of all the disagreements, we all agree with the basic premise of self-management, equity, diversity and solidarity...for me, that’s a good starting point for any system...
    beyond that, how to maintain those goals in a “new system” is when the self-righteousness begins...
    i read somewhere recently that any system is only as good as how it treats everyone when it fails...that sounded like another excellent guideline for organizing (sorry james) ourselves...
    but it’s that leadership question...lots of people want to be led...lots don’t...self-management isn’t something most people have experience or confidence in doing...
    not to mention those who think “others” are incapable of self-management...
    what’a conundrum...
    i’m certainly better informed from hanging out at iops...about socialism, anarchism, etc...
    i’m reading a very interesting book about gramsci...you’all have any comments on his political theory...?
    so much to read and absorb...so little time in this rat race...

  • Lambert Meertens 22nd Feb 2016

    I think IOPS can still be a useful tool. Clearly, it is not working now. The original plan was great, except it didn’t work. I have my own ideas why, on which I have written extensively elsewhere, mostly in a Cassandra role.

    The grandiose “preconditions” for launching were successively weakened but remained totally unrealistic. There was no plan B. There never had been one. In an emergency move, control (if you may call it that) was handed over to the five “active” chapters, of which two almost immediately became defunct. The other three are hanging on but are not in regular contact and have no particular interest in keeping “international IOPS” afloat. This doesn’t work either.

    There is again no backup plan. If we want to save and revive IOPS, we, the members, will have to take the initiative. No one else is going to do it.

    Am I the only one who thinks that IOPS can still play a role as a place where people gather together? It worked for some time. If it hadn’t been for the unrealistic goals and expectations, and the insistence of some on focusing on these goals and these goals only, it might have worked a lot better.

    • fred curran 18th Mar 2016

      "we, the members, will have to take the initiative." What did you have in mind?

    • Lambert Meertens 21st Mar 2016

      I'm not sure IOPS can be revived, but I think it's worth a try.

      The first step, I think, could be to hold a poll in which members can indicate what they expect/hope a revived IOPS could or should do, as well as to what extent they feel they can play a role in that. Informed by the outcome of that poll, we can make a plan that would include some form of governance for the international chapter (that is, the top-level "chapter"), in particular with regard to managing the website, and hold a second poll in which members can choose whether to adopt the plan or else disband IOPS and donate the remaining money to some noble goal.

      (I believe some members think that the first poll should directly be about disbanding IOPS, and that we should only discuss alternatives if that option gets rejected.)

  • Alex of... 24th Feb 2016

    “A key question is how to unite all the movements and organizations whose core ideals are in basic alignment, putting aside the differences, in order to effect lasting change beyond what each group can achieve by itself.”

    putting down a large quote from Fanfare Strategy to explore this:

    Dealing With Difference

    Around the world activists argue that we should show that “another world is possible.” We should be internationalist. We should generate solidarity. We should reduce racial, gender, sexual, political, and economic hierarchies. We should seek ecological sustainability. We should demand peace and justice.

    But activists report: “We are fragmented. We are less effective than our cumulative size, energy, and wisdom warrant. People repeatedly, naggingly, and divisively dispute vision, strategy, and tactics with one another.”

    Two values we all universally favor, solidarity and diversity, can speak to this problem.

    Solidarity celebrates entwinement– we will both benefit if you and I empathize and act on behalf of one another. But solidarity also embraces the idea that we disinterestedly respect one another’s plights and possibilities out of a sense of human community. We all act on this considerably already, but to the extent that our natural empathetic inclinations have been worn down by vicious market competition– something that has certainly happened, to one degree or another, to everyone in modern societies– we can consciously nurture them back into prominence. A proviso, however, is that of course we should not pursue solidarity to the point of disallowing sober critical evaluation. Solidarity isn’t blind allegiance or unquestioning support of one another, but we should certainly put a high burden of justification on refusing to offer aid and logistical support to other radical and progressive actors. Informed and reasoned solidarity is mutual aid.

    Diversity means that in pursuing our own agendas we also pay attention to preserving and exploring options that others favor, even when we have doubts about their logic or efficacy. We shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket, lest we misjudge, and, having explored no other options, leave ourselves powerless, disarmed, and otherwise inadequately prepared to redress our error. Whether individually or in organizations, we should celebrate differences and, when possible, we should keep alive varied approaches so that everyone benefits from lessons and accomplishments others attain. That is, we understand an “insurance” logic to favoring diversity to ward off making grave errors. We also understand an “exploratory” logic to seeking diversity, so that we gain benefits from many more paths explored than we can ourselves embark on. We shouldn’t diversify into micro-fragmentation, but we should pursue diversity well beyond homogenized unity.

    We understand the immense benefits of mutual aid. We need to transcend the dehumanizing ills of aloof individualism.

    We understand the gains of avoiding uniform approaches. We need to welcome the positive educational and vicarious implications of advocating varied explorations.

    Can we massage these insights into explicit ways to deal with movement difference?


    One kind of difference that plagues movements is about focus. Prioritize race. No, prioritize gender. You are both wrong, prioritize class. Authority? No, I prefer sustainability. War and peace? No, I prefer gay liberation. For every major area there are folks who think it is primary. They think everything else should be understood in reference to it. If you don’t see things their way, then you aren’t their ally. Advocates of different focuses butt heads. Why? And what’s the solution?

    People butt heads this way because we live in a multi-dimensioned world in which different aspects of life profoundly and very differently impact our possibilities. Some people identify primarily via their roles and circumstances in one part of life. Others situate themselves primarily in reference to another part. We get feminists, nationalists, labor organizers, peace workers, environmentalists, gay activists, disability activists, and so on. This partitioning of priority for individuals is not going to go away. And, in fact, this partitioning of priorities for individuals is desirable because individual people have different priorities due to their different life experiences, conditions, and insights. They are experientially attuned to address different aspects of life with their organizing energies. In any event, regardless of whether we like this or not, there is no point bemoaning it. It will not cease.

    There are two widely proposed solutions to the ensuing fragmentation, but in practice it turns out that they are not solutions at all.

    The first approach to unifying is for someone to say, hey, the conflicts are no problem. We should all do our own thing, but we should all also recognize that one thing (and it always turns out to be the speaker’s thing, of course) is above the rest. My thing is the organizing principle, the heart of the matter, the core of concern. We may each address everything, that’s fine– or only part of it all, that’s fine too– but we should all do whichever we prefer in light of the defining, foundational priority that I espouse and which you all need to agree with me on.

    And then the speaker says this central priority that should contour how we understand everything else should be smashing the state. Or perhaps the speaker says it should be uprooting patriarchy. No, it should be transcending capitalism, or attaining peace, or winning multi-culturalism, or sustainability, says the speaker.

    The idea of marching behind one banner that elevates one focus– even as everyone can also focus on their own personal priorities– doesn’t work because every constituency wants its domain to be the elevated one. Worse, people in each constituency, rightly, realize that the minute some other focus than theirs is elevated, theirs will be subordinated. Passions run high. Unity will not emerge via even the most broadminded exaltation of one focus above all others.

    The second approach to unifying disputing actors is called coalition building. We do not get behind the banner of one school of thought and practice– not even if we each retain our own autonomy and focus but must prioritize another’s conceptual and programmatic priorities all the time, above ours. No, we all instead get behind one tiny morsel of thought and practice that we can all enthusiastically support. We join hands for ending a particular war, or for pursuing some other mutually acceptable short-term aim that we can all agree on, and we are silent, when in each other’s presence, regarding everything else. We avoid rocking the coalition boat. We practice least common denominator politics. The aim we all share, we steadfastly share. The rest, we studiously ignore. It isn’t that coalitions are worthless. It is that coalitions, on their own, don’t produce lasting, mutually supportive unity. In fact, to a considerable extent, they institutionalize separation.

    Here is an alternative to trying to get folks to accept one overarching banner or to only celebrate a least common denominator coalition. We build a bloc.

    We take the left, the whole broad left– and we will see how it is defined in a moment– and we call it a bloc. If your group wants to be in it, fine, it has to assent to providing people-power and other support for the bloc’s overall agenda while also, autonomously, developing and pursuing its own focused agenda as well. The same holds for my group. The same holds for every other group. The peace movement pursues peace and supports the whole bloc. The movement against racism, patriarchy, whatever, pursues its agenda, and supports the bloc agenda as well. And what is the agenda of the whole bloc? It is the sum of the agendas of all its components. It is their greatest common sum– not least common denominator– including all the differences.

    This is not as odd as it might at first seem. It is precisely what a society is, after all– the totality of all its components, differences and all. In our case, we just add that the totality’s components– when we are speaking of the totality of activists– must be mutually respectful and supportive, even about their differences. The resulting bloc, this new amalgamation, is the active left. Maybe some people or groups think they are part of the left but just can’t abide being part of the bloc. Okay, but in fact, you are in the bloc, or you aren’t, and the bloc is, or aspires to be the active left. Maybe some people or groups aren’t welcome. Their commitments are clearly contrary to the bloc’s central allegiances. Fine. It happens.

    Those in the bloc operate in it as an encompassing combination of components: a movement of movements. The anti-racists get aid and benefit from the energies and assets of the gay liberationists and the peace activists. The peace activists get aid and benefit from the energies and assets of the environmentalists and the anti-capitalists. And so on, around and around, for all those in the bloc, each getting mutual aid from all others in the bloc. In contrast, those outside go it alone, which gives them a big incentive to join, of course.

    The leadership for the emergence of agendas in each facet of life comes from the people who are most affected by that facet of life, which means from those most attuned to it, those most focused on it– not the individuals, but rather large and representative movements. Everyone appends the insights of the rest of the bloc to their own insights in the totality of their thinking. Friction is abided. Difference is part of life and of activism too. Unity of this broad type is deemed so beneficial that attaining it dwarfs any worries about differences– save for the most egregious. And at the same time, differences aren’t confused, ignored, or made either subterranean or put destructively forefront. They are instead treated to serious, informed, and often vigorous debate, and abided in their place.

    Is there a mindset that can sustain such commitments among folks with different priority focuses? We think there are two, at least.

    The first will be held by only some folks, most likely, but we strongly advocate it and would like to see more people adopt it. It says, in accord with Occupy Theory, that society is a product of the impact of different spheres of institutions and contexts– economy, polity, culture, kinship, international relations, ecology– each powerfully influencing all our life prospects while dividing people into different and often opposed constituencies. There is no a priori assertion of the importance of one focus as compared to any other– of economy as compared to polity, culture, or kinship, or vice versa– but instead their relative effects on life and their centrality to efforts at change are determined only in practice. In societies like the U.S., the evidence is seen as overwhelmingly indicating that all these spheres of life and their influences are fundamental, and that all of them generate defining influences and pressures that mold the rest of society and contour possibilities so greatly that to dramatically transcend the limits of any one of these phenomena requires that we address them all. With this attitude, the need to combine autonomy and solidarity in our organization and movement building seems self-evident. We have no choice. We arrive at the bloc.

    Luckily, a second viewpoint exists that could support this bloc approach and which can be held even by people who themselves continue to believe that one particular sphere of influence is fundamental and that all activity should be organized in accord with organizing its constituencies. This second view can be held, that is, by people who believe that women in homes should address kinship prioritizing implications for class struggle, or that workers in firms should address pay scales firstly prioritizing women’s liberation, or that peace activists should address wars with prioritizing attending to race, or vice versa, each favoring one sphere above all others as the central focus for strategic calculation, whichever the operationally dominant focus might be.

    The mitigating view is to realize that solidarity without a preferred prioritization (be it around class, or gender, or race, or whatever) is vastly superior to seeking universal prioritization around a preferred focus and failing miserably to attain it.

    If I think patriarchy (or capitalism, or racism, or war, or whatever) should be the main underlying organizing focus even on other issues, if I have this additional understanding - it doesn’t matter to my attitude toward being part of a bloc. The fact is that I understand that not everyone is going to agree with me, so that requiring that everyone must agree with me in my prioritization of one sphere of life above all others as the only route to solidarity will not yield solidarity.

    It doesn’t matter if I think that were we to get solidarity based on my prioritization we’d be in better shape, because I know it isn’t going to happen. And, likewise, I know that while forming coalitions will sometimes have merit, coalitions will not yield full solidarity either. So I should argue for my beliefs when people are interested in discussing such matters, but I should prefer that people with other views help each other and help me, and that I, in turn, help them as they help each other– rather than that we all compete. This type of thinking, can, if sincere, support the bloc approach.

    One of the things that can prevent such insights from becoming majoritarian is that typically an advocate of prioritizing class or race or any other particular focus not only thinks they are right, which is fair enough, but also actually wants to be right and wants others to be wrong more than they want to win change. This desire is what breeds real trouble.

    We should all want a better world. If you say the route to a better world is by way of paying priority attention to class, and she says, no, we should prioritize gender, and he says, no, it ought to be race, and so on… still, we should all want some approach to succeed way more than we want our own viewpoint to be advocated if it isn’t succeeding.

    Isn’t the best way forward– supposing that more than anything else we all want to succeed– to insure against the error of our all adopting one wrong approach. Therefore, shouldn’t we advocate an overall design that preserves and explores many approaches, even as we personally argue the benefits of whatever one we most favor?

    In other words, it turns out that even if I think a single focus approach would be intellectually best, so long as I am sufficiently humble to respect the possibility that I could be wrong about my favored sphere’s priority, then I ought to favor the bloc approach. In any event, if I am remotely realistic, I ought to advocate the bloc approach because the real world alternative to the bloc is not my preferred idea of unity behind my banner, which simply won’t happen whatever banner I may favor, but no unity at all.

    in general, i agree. as for the two possible mindsets that could “sustain such commitments among folks with different priority focuses,” not sure i really see the second as a second, but more a logic process to arrive at the first. and, to some extent, the descriptions of divides hint mostly at inter-spherical relationships, but i won’t take that to imply it should be limited to such. the concept of spheres, alone, can’t quite capture the landscape of activism.

    we could also talk about, for example, potential divides between those who feel we need to define an alternative economy to strive for, and those who are more focused on developing cooperative structures within the existing market. seems the only reason these would be at odds is if goals of one are seen as counter to the goals of the other, or one doesn’t follow the bloc principle, and is bent on imposing their priority above others.

    if we’re talking about a bloc based on “the whole broad left”, then i suppose we have to ask what defines the left. that is, the bloc’s agenda “is the sum of the agendas of all its components,” but “some people or groups” will not be welcome, as “Their commitments are clearly contrary to the bloc’s central allegiances.” so, there must be some initial principle or set of principles which encompasses the people and groups welcome as part of this bloc, and differentiates from those who conflict (even if we feel we have their interests at heart as well). the more specific the principles, the less broad the pool becomes, and at some point ceases to encompass the broad left, wherever that line really is (gray).

    in regards to IOPS, i think it’s important to realize that the intention was NOT about creating a Left-Bloc-kind-of-network. in Michael Albert’s words:

    “IOPS is not trying to network the whole left, the whole of all dissenters, much less the whole of everyone in society. That is not what it is. IOPS is, instead, trying to find and welcome those who are left, who are dissenters, but who also agree with our vision, our structural commitments.”

    those commitments included chapter building toward an organizational convention, not inviting established groups to form, share or network here. pretty vague on the role of those not able to form chapters. and, there seemed to be an unwritten expectation to study Fanfare and join the Fanfare Q&A Groups. i think that should have been included in the commitments, if that was the intention.

    i was personally more interested in something similar to the bloc concept, and still am. actually, i apologize for trying to push that idea in the past. clearly Michael sees the value in it, but not what he was looking for out of IOPS. there would be value in some kind of international fanfare/parecon-study-group-become-organization with voting and dues, but my personal priorities are more angled toward finding methods (largely utilizing online tools) to build solidarity through leftish-core-aligned, autonomous efforts and practices.

    if the key question is how to unite the different movements of ‘the’ broader movement, i think part of the answer is simply more attention to that question, and building it in to the culture of activism. and i see it possible to encourage this through an online social network, one intended to evolve around that principle, while allowing multiple forms of usability.

    • Lambert Meertens 24th Feb 2016

      My thoughts on this are not fully formed and have not set – and most likely they never will. Let me give some tentative thoughts, mainly based on my personal observations in the Dutch context. My limited observations elsewhere tend to support the idea, though, that the trends I see are much more general.

      What I hear when talking with activists who focus on one specific issue is that most do not think “their” issue has strategic priority over other issues. It is more a pragmatic choice driven by opportunity. If a company wants to cut trees in your neighbourhood you mobilize people to save the trees. That’s a lot easier than to mobilize people to demand a radically democratic economy. Of course there are activists who believe that the workers’ struggle should have primacy over the struggle for equal rights for gay people. The reason they believe this is ideological, like it must be true because Karl Marx said so. But they tend to be regarded as relics of an earlier age. Almost all activists have never read Marx, or perhaps only the Communist Manifesto, and have merely a vague idea how the tenets of Marxism differ from the general aspiration to an equitable world. In short, I just don’t see that the differences with regard to prioritizing issues are by themselves severe barriers that keep us apart. They may have been so in the past, but no longer now.

      I’m not sure about the meaning of “bloc” in this context. I guess it’s not the same as “network”. I think it would be very valuable to have a functioning network connecting small and large groups better than the current, mainly haphazard, contacts between groups. That will make the struggle towards common goals more effective. But it is, of course, not the same as unity out of a shared ideology. From the context, I understand Albert’s notion of bloc includes its having an agenda, which is kind of the sum total of the agendas of all constituent groups. On reflection, I think this is even more odd than it already seems at first.

      To start, different groups’ agendas might be incompatible. I know leftist groups who struggle for sustainable energy and want more windmills, while other, also leftist groups wage a fight against windmills – and I don’t mean the Don Quixote way.

      Even assuming this is a minor bump and all agendas are basically compatible – but what happened to favouring diversity? – what would be the practical meaning of having this joint agenda? I could collect all agendas from the various groups and publish them in a bundle, under some title like “The Left Bloc’s Agenda”. But would that make a difference? The operative words in the moving passage from Fanfare are, I think, these: “Those in the bloc operate in it as an encompassing combination of components”. But what would cause this dramatic difference with the current situation? What would give rise to this orchestrated joint activity, like a well-oiled clockwork? The availability of the joint agenda? It seems to me that something else is needed.

      To me, fragmentation is the same as a lack of cohesion. And cohesion is not the same as having a joint agenda. That is not even a requirement. All over the world there are communities in which there is a shared sense of having an intertwined destiny. That's what it means, being a community. In sociological terms, they have cohesion. What is lacking on the left is such a shared sense. That does not require a joint agenda. It does require compatible goals, but that too is not enough. I've written something about this before, and I hope to write more about it.

    • Alex of... 25th Feb 2016

      fully formed thoughts are a government hoax.

      i have my 'general' agreement, but i can’t be entirely clear about Albert’s description of a “bloc” either, of course. i’ve taken a fairly wide interpretation when it comes to the sum of the agendas, to at least imply that including “your” agenda as part of a larger whole, in mutual solidarity with others, your efforts will be strengthened. maybe not that direct or simple in practice, but essentially true i think. i’m not really sure how formal Albert sees this pact being, or by what means. my thought process mostly revolves around applying different ideas toward a social network.

      i see a lot of different reasons why different individuals pursue the things they do within the realm of “activism”, sometimes pragmatic, sometimes from necessity, sometimes due to familiarity, sometimes from perceived lack of another option, sometimes from outdated ideologies, or from belief that there are strategic components that will bring about lasting change to many issues if energy is shifted from traditional methods, etc. i do feel i’ve witnessed my share of frictions over priorities, so i’m not sure that can be discounted. but i also think it’s often that issues or agendas are just being worked on in various forms of isolation from each other, all of which contributes to that lack of cohesion, and arguably weaker results.

      as the bloc is described, it does sound a bit to me like a solidarity exchange pool. your group’s solidarity for the bloc in exchange for inclusion in the bloc’s agenda. and this doesn’t tell us much about the actual relationships being formed between agendas or groups, thus why being added to the 'list' should yield better results for your goals. to me, the concept of a bloc conjures images of more of an organizational structure than the kind of social network i’m envisioning, yet i can imagine bloc-like entities and others being formed through the connectivity and tools of such a social network.

      i see a place for an organizational structure to govern the actual social network itself, but users and groups choose their own agendas and use.

      certainly, it could help connect people already working on the same issues, not previously aware of each other, or without much way to share resources and work together. or, it could help people gain exposure to other approaches, influencing or expanding their own approach while building new alliances. much beyond that is mostly speculation i suppose. but even that much intrigues me.

      ideally, i’d like a social-network organization that can respond to the changing shape of content and ideas users create, and translate that into new functionality, creating an increasingly flexible platform, which by design and available tools and templates, allows people to work together in the most user friendly and technically innovative manner possible.

      but what would that change? will groups merge, split, reform, and cross-pollinate toward more strategic and unified goals and actions, or forge a shared sense of vision in this diverse virtual community? because of a social network? well, maybe not JUST that. still, we can ask what kind of social network can aid that process or even encourage it. and try to create it.

      it does seem to me we lack the culture of cohesion. i’m certainly open to ideas on how that culture can be nurtured.