DiD critique

This post only expresses the opinion of the author (Lauri S)

I’ve been thinking about the topics of grassroots democracy and the problem of democratic centralism in DiEM. These topics boil down to a single question. Should DiEM be a 20th century left-wing ideological group or a 21st century network movement? I compare ideological groups and network movements, and propose some ways DiD could help develop DiEM on the network model.

20th century left-wing groups often organized according to a democratic centralist (Jacobin?) conception of politics. The foundation of politics is a general will, which is built on pre-political class interests, ethnic national ways of life or a fixed ideology. Democracy is the expression of the general will by voting. The general will is embodied by a centralized bureaucracy or a charismatic leader, who stands above the movement. The basic building-blocks of 20th century leftism are 1. a general will based on a pre-political identity or an ideology that ensures sameness 2. democracy as an expression of a general will and 3. a bureaucracy or a leader that stand above the people.

Occupy, the Arab Spring and Indignados were networks of networks. They brought real life social networks, networks of NGOs and online networks together to form a public sphere. The networked public sphere linked different local settings into an autonomous global conversation. Political conversations establishes a political community between the participants of the discussion, and between different parts of the network movement. The networks do not have a centralized leadership or a single center. Instead, they are made of connections between smaller networks and the network as a whole makes its decisions in a democratic way. The networks organize mass protests and occupy public squares to change public opinion.

21st century network movements build on the liberal, federalist and anarchist theories of democracy. 1. Political community is built on a common democratic deliberation (liberalism) that is formed by connections, pacts and agreements between networks (federalism). 2. The network orders its different parts and voices into common actions by pluralist democratic deliberation (discussion and voting). 3. There is no centralized executive or charismatic leader (anarchism). The tasks of leaders are to implement decisions made by the network as a whole, possibly by acting as a project network of teams.

The network movements have not managed to reform globalization or the nation-state. They lacked clear goals, so that they could have organized for change. They didn’t have a unified leadership system, either a centralized board of leaders or a network of autonomous groups carrying out a common plan. The networks aimed to change public opinion. They did not try to pressure governments directly by lobbying or nonviolent actions. The network movements lacked strategic coordination and a mechanism of change.

It looks like some post-2008 radical left groups are trying to fix the problems with network movements by building a 20th century democratic centralist system on top of them. Pablo Iglesias took the Spanish Indignados network movement and turned it into the Podemos Party by setting up a centralized leadership structure. It seems that the same is going on in DiEM.

1&2. DiEM leaders reject federalism by insisting that European and global democratic movements should not be “loose alliances” of NGOs and national parties. The reason for this seems to be that loose alliances or confederal structures do not make up a general will. The movement should instead be based on common ideology and a centralist voting system. Common ideology and monolithic voting in effect form the general will of DiEM. 3. There are no formal national, city or task-oriented groups between DSCs and the CC. DiEM is in effect a hub-and-spokes network, where members and DSCs face the CC and membership votes (both VC and policy votes) without a common space to discuss matters. The CC organizes events and directs discussion on the political papers in a fairly top-down manner. Varoufakis, Chomsky, Marsili and other left-wing intellectuals who founded DiEM also act as charismatic leaders.

In short, DiEM has inherited the political culture associated with 20th century intellectual radical left groups: democratic centralism, a political project based on ideology and ideological charismatic leadership. Ideological democratic centralism creates a lot of problems for DiEM:

  • The hub-and-spokes structure of DiEM prevents the formation of a European public sphere.
  • The lack of national and local autonomy hinders mobilization and alliances at the grassroots level.
  • DiEM has no system of representation for NGOs and sections of society (like classes), so it is difficult to bring civil society into the DiEM democratic process.
  • The top-down policy process makes it difficult to use DiEM as a platform for NGO, class, local and national grievances.
  • Building political community on a common ideology risks turning DiEM into a traditional left-wing sect, who believe that all the answers are given by the center and its ideology.
  • The ideology of DiEM can look too abstract and idealistic, if it is not connected with bread-and-butter issues on the local and national levels.
  • Top-down coordination by left-wing intellectuals can be seen as meddling in national affairs, which can rob DiEM’s legitimacy at the national and local levels.

DiD should address the difficulties of democratic centralism and develop the grassroots network movement model as an alternative. We should also try to fix the lack of strategic direction in network movements. DiD could help build DiEM into a European network movement by

  1. Building a European public sphere in DiEM by building functional discussion groups.
  2. Formulating a federal structure of organization based on the network movements. The structure should include both regional (city, nation) and functional (NGOs with different interests, functional discussion groups) representation.
  3. Developing a model for a distributed and decentralized executive that uses task-based project networks. The executive should be able to manage common resources and form campaign networks for DiEM’s campaigns.


Lauri S


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