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Norway: How we made our Local Activist Organization IOPS Compatible

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Often, I think it's assumed that IOPS "has no activists", "do nothing", "won't become anything". In short, it's nothing more than a mere internet organization, and won't become anything more either.

I wrote this article to show that, on the contrary, IOPS already has lots of activists, and furthermore: has the potential for gaining many more, up to the point of becoming the driving force of activism globally. As an example of IOPS inspired activism, I'll use the libertarian socialist organization I'm a member of here in Norway.

For four years now, I've been a part of a libertarian socialist organization named Counterpower. Half a year ago we decided to make Counterpower into an IOPS compatible organization. How was this done?

Before answering this question, it makes sense to learn a bit more about our point of departure.

 

Counterpower: Four Years of Solidarity, Direct Democracy and Direct Action

Counterpower was established in March 2009. By that time, the founding convention had been in preparation for many months. This period of preperation was very much needed, as we had close to no veterans to help us out, and close to no theory written in Norwegian. Everything needed to be done from scratch: Write a platform, make rules, produce pamphlets and books, secure a meeting place… – everything! Even in neighboring Sweden, the libertarian socialist movement was much bigger, as the anarchosyndicalist union SAC has had a continuous presence since 1910. Here we had nothing.

Nevertheless, we prepared our founding congress, chose Motmakt (in English: Counterpower) as a name, and Solidarity, Direct Democracy and Direct Action as our overarching guidelines.

During these four years we've grown into an organization with forty dues paying members based in four cities, with more than a thousand Facebook followers (yeah Facebook ain't everything, but it's one of the few concrete metrics available). And even though we're still just getting started we've already been able to do quite a lot:

 

PICTURE: Michael Albert speaking at a Counterpower event, autumn 2012.

From the get go – several years before the IOPS initiative was launched – the great majority of our politics prefigured what would become IOPS' politics. From the start, Counterpower has been an anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian organization, working for a sexism free, racism free, ecological society, based on directly democratic federations of inhabitants and workers councils. This meant we only had one missing piece: complete jobs with fair wages.

 

The Missing Piece: Complete Jobs with Fair Wages

Even though some of us had been reading books of Robin Hahnel and Michael Albert for years, and even though some ideas were found to be quite good, it wasn't really put on the map, as it was always more urgent issues at hand. The impression – unfairly I'm sure, but our impression nonetheless – was that Robin and Michael were mostly just sterile theoreticians, even though their books could be worthwhile reading. And even if they would had tried to establish an activist member organization – something we didn't see – it was thought that it would only have a tiny chance of becoming a significant activist force. Some of us had already seen an ideologue trying to redefine libertarian socialism – Murray Bookchin – and struggle to establish organizations, only to fail miserably… Then – BOOM! – came a professional looking website, with a powerful organizational statement, signed by some of the most well respected, well known writer-activists today: Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, David Harvey, Michael Albert, David Graeber, and more.

This – I thought to myself – looked promising!

PICTURE: An IOPS folder that was made for Michael Albert's European speaking tour, autumn 2012.

 

Organizing Changes Everything!

After the launch of the IOPS website, reading the key documents and becoming a member, I re-read the books and debates about Parecon I already had read, and intensely read a few new books, several new debates and dozens of new articles. I thought: "How has my organization failed to see this?!". Counterpower had completely missed the importance of complete jobs. I – and other members too, I expect – had thought that this would come about of itself, sort of, in some vague future out there, "after the revolution". We had failed to see how important it was to have an explicit politics on the issue, in order to make sure it would be part of the agenda, if we would have our say.

Futhermore, we had missed to see that we'd need some concrete way to allocate products – we had dismissed wages as a mere tool of oppression, instead of considering a new type of wages – fair wages – as a fair and efficient way to get the products to those that most needed and deserved them, and as a way to harmonize production and consumption.

Thus, I started working towards Counterpower's spring congress (we have two congresses each year, one in spring and one in autumn), with the aim of incorporating these important ideas into our political platform.

PICTURE: Members of Counterpower in front of the building where the Anti-authoritarian International was founded 140 years ago at the time of visiting (2012). St-Imier, Switzerland, August 2012.

 

Counterpower's 2012 Spring Congress

Initially I had doubts that I would succeed, but suprisingly a lot of members thought the idea – especially about complete jobs – was rather uncontroversial, and the initial skepticism there was – mostly about fair wages – was quickly overcome as soon as we actually started discussing the matter in an open-minded, critical and constructive manner. Already before our congress, the tone was set, and the final motion was voted in by an overwhelming majority. The two new paragraphs we ended up with, look like this:

"Inclusive worklife: Since the fruits of labor will accrue to everyone the council society will have interest in full employment, and since the council society will be egalitarian everyone will be guaranteed an approximately equal economic standard of living: The inhabitants councils must determine maximum and minimum wages which are close to each other; guarantee minimum wage to all those who for some reason can't work; and guarantee work to all those who can work and wish to work.

The workers councils must determine each single worker's wage based only upon the worker's burden of care, and the intensity, onerousness and length of the work; and must offer complete jobs which consist of a combination of theoretical and practical, concrete and abstract, special and general, tasks. In this way the division between high status and low status jobs will be minimized, and labor and leisure time will approach each other: The new worker will be a complete human being, with a complete job, belonging to a community of equally empowered co-workers, in a cooperative, safe and inclusive worklife."

PICTURE: Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary praxis. Here from one of Counterpower's many bookstands.

 

While most of our members are still focusing on our local activity – waiting for the day when IOPS has become a full grown activist organization – I think this was a small, but nevertheless substantial, step – one of many, I hope(!) – in making IOPS into a real activist organization, and thus building towards IOPS' founding convention.

 

Towards IOPS' Founding Convention!

This last month IOPS' first referendum took place. The issue was deciding when the time is ripe for holding our founding convention. The result states that we have one year trying to reach at least 20 chapters, composed of at least 5 members each, with no less than 30% female membership in each (and IOPS as such), with chapters in at least 5 nation states in at least 3 continents.

PICTURE: Good, clear and well designed convention compendiums is a must for any effective, directly democratic convention! Here from Counterpower's spring congress 2012.

 

Already, Counterpower could constitute tens of those 3500 members, and might provide several of those 20 chapters. However, Counterpower is not yet integrated into IOPS as such – most of Counterpower's members aren't even IOPS members yet –, but personally I hope we will be when the time is ripe. For now, we'd like others who're not part of Counterpower to be a member of IOPS Norway, without feeling that a pre-established organization – with a much more developed politics – dominates IOPS Norway totally. This partly explains why – even though Counterpower is an IOPS-compatible activist organization – we're not very visible in IOPS. The other part of it is that up to this point we haven't been good at sharing activity reports either. I'm 100% certain there are similar examples – of pre-established organizations becoming IOPS compatible and of individual IOPS members starting up local activity – other places (please do let us know).

And I hope that during this year, even more organizations will – like Counterpower – start discussing the ideas of IOPS and transforming themselves into IOPS-compatible organizations, and I hope that during this year even more IOPS members will – like those from San Diego, USA to Helsinki, Finland – initiate local activities.

PICTURE: Counterpower demonstrating against the racist "Norwegian Defence League", Oslo, Norway, December 2012.

 

This brings me back to the start. IOPS has activists – lots! – even stable, organized local groups that patiently, deliberately, and relentlessly work toward making IOPS the global, prefigurative activist organization it was meant to be, deserves to be, and can be!

However, most of this has not been visible, thus far, as we haven't had a clear understanding of when this will take place. Now we have.

We have one year. Let's make that one year where we organize for the founding convention: Think globally. Act locally!

Discussion 32 Comments

  • Kim Keyser 16th Jun 2013

    PS: This report was written quite a few weeks ago, but I didn't want to publish it before we knew the results from the poll, telling us what needs to happen before IOPS has its founding congress. Not much has happened since though – only the normal, everyday organizing efforts (for instance, today we had an informal, open cafe meeting with a female zapatista and documentarist from Chiapas, which went quite well, but it's just one meeting out of many…).

  • Jon Doe 16th Jun 2013

    This is really wonderful! thanks for your smart, dedicated and purposeful work. Perhaps now IOPS organizers are like mushrooms, already present in the ground throughout the forest, just waiting for rainfall to sprout everywhere...

    • Kim Keyser 15th Jul 2013

      I think so, yeah. But it seems like we need a lot of rain! LOL. Well, rainy days are coming so…

      And thank you too, for the work you're doing. :)

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 17th Jun 2013

    Thanks for this great report Kim, one gets the sense of an energetic, friendly, libertarian org. Well done!

    • Kim Keyser 15th Jul 2013

      Thanks, Peter. What are you involved in. IIRC you were a member of The Commune, right? Are you now active in Plan C (I met a couple of members in Berlin, while doing a workshop on direct democracy)? Or are you involved in something else? Do you see any prospects?

      Just curious…

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 4th Mar 2014

      Hi Kim, sorry for the late reply. I think you may be mixing me up with someone else. Although I lived in Germany for twenty years I never lived in Berlin. I've been living in Australia for the last 27 years.

  • David Jones 17th Jun 2013

    Nice! I watched that talk with Chomsky a while back on youtube, didn't realise you guys had organised it. Cool. Your book looks really good too (although I can't read Norwegian, so I just looked at the pictures!)

    Important question: what is Piglet saying? (the banner in the last photo)

    • Kim Keyser 17th Jun 2013

      Piglet says: "One is never too small to achieve big things. Crush all racism!"

      (I tend to not snap up pop-cultural references, so you'd have to ask members of my organization what the specific occasion was again – I have forgotten…)

    • LedSuit ' 17th Jun 2013

      Ah yes. The Chomsky talk. I thought I recognized the face of the guy on the right in the picture above outside the building where the Anti-authoritarian International was founded. Is it the same guy. Very different hairstyle!That was the talk that prompted me to write something regarding Chomsky's remarks on Parecon remuneration to Michael.

      Great blog Kim. Real helpful I reckon.

    • Kim Keyser 17th Jun 2013

      Yes. It's the same guy (AD – "A-dee" is his name). Thanks for your kind comment, James.

    • David Jones 17th Jun 2013

      Yeah, I remember something of an offhand dismissal of parecon remuneration from Chomsky during that talk...

      Your own appearance has also changed somewhat James ;) (I mean the new profile pic, hah)

      Agreed, helpful blog. Takk Kim :)

    • LedSuit ' 17th Jun 2013

      My 17 year old daughter snuck in and changed it. That's her giving me the finger.

    • David Jones 17th Jun 2013

      Yeah, I thought it might be her! I think it fits quite well, actually, it is kind of like the younger generation saying "Fuck you, what are you doing with our future?! I am so through with being 'good' and 'sensible' and 'realistic' and doing as I'm told - let's take back our futures together!" Well, it made me think that anyways. And we'll need some of that youthful energy if we're gonna win: "your sons and your daughters are beyond your command" and so on.

  • Will Henry Lapinel 18th Jun 2013

    The most positive and relevant blog to be published in quite a while. THIS is what IOPS needs. I feel the same way about San Diego. And SD is significant because there was no libsoc organization in San Diego prior to IOPS. Even if IOPS disbanded we would stick together I am sure. That's a victory that should be claimed. Not a big online presence, but I think there's a lot happening there (I'm not there at the moment but returning soon). Thank you Kim!

    • Kim Keyser 15th Jul 2013

      No, thank you, Will. :)

      "That's a victory that should be claimed."

      Indeed. Work on it on a consistent basis, and I'm sure we'll be able to kickstart IOPS, when the time is ripe (sooner rather than later, but obviously we don't have the capacity /right now/).

  • Michael Albert 21st Jun 2013

    Hi Kim...

    I think it would be very good if you posted this, as well, on the znet blog system. Good that iops members get to see it - but why not more people - and, now that I think of it, this is a recommendation to other iops bloggers too...

    • Kim Keyser 15th Jul 2013

      "but why not more people"

      Indeed. Will do that then. I'll log in later today, and see if I can make sense of the system (like where to post, how to format HTML, and so on).

    • Kim Keyser 17th Jul 2013

      I'm sorry. But I don't understand much of where to post. Znet? Zmag? Zspace? Zblogs? Zforums? I find it confusing (yes, I did read the descriptions on Zcom, and tried to poke around in some of the section, but it didn't help me…). Tell me where to post, and I'll try posting there (and can do so in the time to come as well, on and off).

  • Sarah Owens 23rd Jun 2013

    Seconding thanks for the Counterpower report. Forty people in 4 cities indeed. Oregon could do that, with a little...what? What? Is there a commonality that allowed these people to come together this way, with those values? They all look so hopeful in the photo. Oregon has over 40 IOPS members, but not even weird Portland is organized.

    • Kim Keyser 15th Jul 2013

      Hi Sarah! Sorry for the late answer. I hope to be able to share quite a lot of thoughts on how we can organize together, from scratch, soon-ish (right now, I need to focus on finishing up my first book, which hopefully also will be helpful).

      Just shortly, regarding your questions/impression: These weren't (internet) members of IOPS (they have mostly not even answered PMs/forum msgs, commented on blogs or anything, thus far at least, and the one person who did doesn't speak Norwegian and was staying only for a few months, and then there's one person that sent me a msg which I responded to, but haven't gotten anything back yet). Can't expect too much from internet members, as of yet. Some will come, when there's regular, profiled, meaningful activity going on. Others likely won't.

      Also, there's not much commonality. Few knew each other from before, and the whole thing was started by a series of public meetings, study groups, and so on, until we had a (very) small core, which could start to plan rules, platform and so on. From there on, things get a lot easier. But the first phase is the most difficult and taxing one. Many feel alone, feel overwhelmed by the responsibility, and get demoralized when few people show up/engange/join in, in the first phase.

      If you wanna get something up and running, I think it's just to start having some public meetings and study groups – regular ones – and keep on doing that, until one has a core group who're ready to take things farther. One doesn't need Michael to tour, or 100 (internet) members, or magic. But one do need realistic expectations, consistent organizing, and stamina.

      Probably, that didn't help that much. It was just a short comment. I hope to share lots of more practical tips, materials and so on, in the time to come (early 2014). But like I said, now I need to first finish a book!

  • Sean Michael Wilson 4th Jul 2013

    Excellent stuff, well done Norwegians! (oh Kim - did i tell you that we have done 3 comics in Norwegian? - about devestment from the Occupied territories).

    • Kim Keyser 5th Jul 2013

      No, as a matter of fact I didn't know. Internet link? Or at least title+publisher? (I'd be interested in checking it out.)

  • Sean Michael Wilson 5th Jul 2013

    It was published by Norsk Folkehjelp, who im sure you know. 3 small but nicecomic booklets by me - all about Norway's role in the occupied territories. I can ask them to send you copies if you like? Please email me here, Kim: smwilsom23@gmail.com
    tusen tak!
    Sean

    • Kim Keyser 15th Jul 2013

      Sent once. Bounced. Checked your name against your email and figured you probably meant to write "n" and not "m" as the last letter in your email. If that's correct, you now have an email. :)

  • Daniel Marty 13th Jul 2013

    Hi Kim,

    Very good publication. Michael is right, if you haven't yet, you should publish it on Z.
    Here in Spain, things are going in the right direction, I'm going to publish about it as soon as possible.
    Again, thanks for sharing your experience Kim, I think we should all talk and share organization matters. We could all learn about it.

    Daniel

    • Kim Keyser 13th Jul 2013

      Will do then. In fact, I'm in Spain now (Barcelona to be specific, Madrid in a couple of weeks), to guide fellow activist through the places connected to the revolution in '36. I'd be interested in hearing about your views on Spain. Even if it's just a short piece.

  • Daniel Marty 13th Jul 2013

    Sure, send me your questions.

    • Kim Keyser 15th Jul 2013

      Don't have any specific questions really, I'm just curious in general, about the situation in Spain, what you think about prospects for chapters, when, where, how, and so on. :)

    • Daniel Marty 12th Aug 2013

      Hi Kim,

      It is hard to draw a general picture of Spain with few words, I think it would make my life much easier if you could send concrete questions ;)

      About IOPS, I have written a blog about organization issues which I think might be of your interest.

  • Daniel Marty 14th Jul 2013

    There's a guy called James Cartwright in Barcelona. He's from Liverpool. He's a member of IOPS and he's going to create a chapter there. Maybe you could talk to him, he's a very nice guy, I think it could be a good idea to meet him.

    • Kim Keyser 15th Jul 2013

      Great! Sent him a PM. (If you happen to know his email, I could perhaps get in touch earlier?)

    • Kim Keyser 15th Jul 2013

      Forget that. We've already established contact (he was quick on PM), and'll meet tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. :)