On Power and Freedom

This post only expresses the opinion of the author

Freedom is the ability to decide on your own destiny and that of your belongings. Power is the ability to decide on the destiny and property of others. The exercise of power over a third party shows a loss of freedom on the part of the later. Power and freedom are therefore two sides of the same coin. The greater the power hold over you, the lesser your freedom. If there are a few in society that have a lot of power, this implies that others have very little freedom.

We can call capital everything that increases if it is properly invested. If those who have power invest it properly in acquiring more power, it increases. Power is therefore a form of capital.

Monetary capital is of course the fundamental form of that power and the rules governing monetary exchanges are in reality a normalization of exchanges of power and a tool designed for power to be multiplied in the hands of those who hold most, to the detriment of the freedom of others.

Information is also another form of capital. You can invest the information you have you have into acquiring more, or waste it. Democratic legality is undoubtedly another example of capitalizable good, since a state that invests it properly will foster the conditions that favour democracy. It can be strengthened and extended. Democracy, like money or power, can be wasted and ruined. It depends on how we use it.

Freedom is undoubtedly the most important form of capital in our lives. You are free to use the little freedom you have been left to achieve more freedom or use it to lock yourself in a room and throw the key away. In order to see your real freedom increase, in order to live free from the prison of fear, in a place where the streets at night do not imply danger, it is necessary to live in a fair and egalitarian world, it is necessary to contribute to the freedom of others and to make sure each citizen holds only as much power as the ret of society requires. The best way to achieve this is undoubtedly a vigorous democracy where decisions are taken for the common good according to the designs of the majority.

You can choose to use the little freedom that you still enjoy, which is really not too much, in building a democracy that guarantees your personal freedom and your right to hope for a better life. You can also invest that freedom in blindly playing your part in the great game that the world powers have put in place in order to sustain themselves by taking possession of our time and channeling our needs and desires to increase their own benefit.

Invest your freedom in acquiring freedom. You will see, if you do it wisely, that this produces great profits, although that freedom undoubtedly has a cost, since it has to be protected, taken care of. The price of your freedom is your commitment to participate in the democratic process, but you can chose how you do it, there are many ways.

If we choose correctly how to invest our freedom the power of money will be reduced in relation with the value of people. Our lives would be worth more, selfish plots less.

Salud, paz y democracia.
Pj

The Conversation

This post only expresses the opinion of the author

A few months ago, some people where having a conversation about democracy. They had this very particular idea of democracy: all people have the same value as humans, the same right to live and to decide about their future. This people had joined DiEM25 thrilled with the idea of democratizing Europe, but soon realised that the movement was not exactly organized along the lines of what they would call a perfect democracy. It had its good points, good intentions, its flaws and virtues, but it could be improved. They knew for a fact that other people in DiEM shared their feelings, and decided to expand the conversation and find out what other people thought about democracy in DiEM25.

Thus DiD was born. A few of us got together and started sharing our views on how DiEM25 is run. If there is something we almost unanimously agreed upon, is that the quality of internal democracy could be significantly improved. Your opinion should count as much as that of any CC member if this were what we call a true democracy, one in which all members have the same value, and the same right to decide about the direction in which DiEM25 should go. When I get to this terrain I always make emphasis in my gratitude to the initiators of the movement, who have the merit of having generated this incredible momentum. That doesn’t stop me from asserting that the movement needs to be thought all over for its own good. If you think about it, it would have been an amazing achievement to hit bang on target at the first attempt, considering the circumstances that surround the birth of DiEM25. A fully democratic movement cannot be born it its final state. Its members have to democratically construct its organization principles.

So the conversation started inside DiD. We quickly found out that there are things we agree and things we disagree about, but that we could concentrate on the fact that DiEM25 internal democracy needs some work. However, we may think DiEM25 democracy can improve, but over 90% of the membership approved the Organization Principles. That seems pretty legitimate to me, although I was against them. Quite obviously the structure of the organization does not aim to support our definition of democracy and we wondered why so many people, including some of us, did vote Yes to the OP. Did we really think about the consequences of the resulting structure? Could we have known that things were going to turn the way they have, for good or for bad? But that is all talk about the past. The important question now is if you think they can be improved. What do you think of the above definition of democracy? Should we all be equal in rights? Or not? This is the conversation that DiD wants to have now with the rest of DiEM. And that is not an easy task.

In our meetings we are happy to see as many as eight or ten people. We decide very important things, such as what we call a consensus, and how many days do we need to approve something. It is so boring! But it needs to be done, because otherwise DiD could not speak with one voice, a voice that undeniably belongs to DiD. But because we do all the boring stuff, every time we sign with the three letters we know their use is legitimate. DiD has a voice, and that voice has the legitimacy of internal democracy.

Now that DiD has a voice, it can strike the democracy conversation with the rest of DiEM25. Slowly bur surely more people take part on DiD, and more will come, and the group size will hit its maximum effective size, ant the conversation will stop flowing. That is always the problem of democracy, we are too many to talk to each other and reach agreements. This is why we choose representatives. We talk among ourselves but let them decide on our lives, because we do not know how to organize ourselves so we can truly be equals. But the conversation must never stop, it needs to grow because it is the seed of democracy, its very essence.

When DiD grows, we will have to break up somehow to rekindle the conversations, but we will break up to construct again. We split the rock to generate building blocks. Those different groups must all be taking part in the same conversation. A conversation where other similar networks, individuals or DSC’s must be welcome, a conversation in which all can take part. How this can be achieved must be the subject of much thought and experimentation, and will be the issue of another post in this blog in the near future, but let us stick to the essence and leave the details for some other time, however important they may seem now.

The Conversation that DiEM25 will then have with itself will be, to start with, about how to find out “what do we all think”, which words express our position as a group, what are the methods which we are going to use to give DiEM25 a truly legitimate voice. We must undergo that boring process of defining quorum, consensus, majority, legitimacy, and lay the basements for a future legal certainty. We must agree on a working definition of democracy. Only then, when the DiEM25 becomes the result of a permanent exercise of democracy will it have a voice of its own, it will become a subject and will make sense to say that DiEM25 “has decided” to become a party or that DiEM25 “has chosen” not to do so. It is not as a result of a yes or not vote, but as a result of a great conversation, probably followed by such vote, how important issues must be decided.

Now, once DiEM 25 finds is true voice, it will be in a position to strike THE CONVERSATION with the rest of Europeans. We can ask, for example, what do you think of DiEM’s idea of democracy? What is your idea of democracy? The conversation will then grow, some people will join DiEM25 and other people will organize themselves in order to take part in the conversation as a group. They may replicate our organizational methods, they may improve them or find new original ones, but if they are going to have the democracy conversation they will normally find democratic methods to organize themselves. No mater what, the most important issue is that THE CONVERSATION keeps growing, includes as many groups and individual as possible, from all countries, ethnical backgrounds, ages, genders, orientations, colours, believes, income and educational levels, and different tastes for ice cream. Only then will it make sense to ask ourselves the question:

What do we do with Europe?

We are so alike, it is almost boring. If you do not believe me, ask an American, an Asian or an African. Listen to what they have to say. I definitely would not put the outer boundaries of my homeland one centimetre shorter than the outer EU boundaries. Certainly my idea of home goes beyond, but I can tell you that before we can be sisters of the rest of the people on planet earth we need to understand we are sisters among ourselves.

So, let us have THE CONVERSATION. Do we want a world in pursuit of equality, or do we want a world on acceptance of extreme inequality? Do we want democracy or not? What does Democracy mean for you, for me, for us?

Salud, Paz y Democracia.
Pj

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

Lessons from anarchist thinking

This post only expresses the opinion of the author

I have recently read a very interesting article called “From democracy to freedom” in which the anonymous author or authors make a intelligent critique of the institution of government. They are, obviously, anarchist.

Although I do not believe in the feasibility of anarchism, I find the text quite inspiring, in the sense that it makes a very good case against the sort of monolithic all powerful governments which we have to deal with nowadays. However, because these governments are elected using by means of formal democracy methods, the article refers to democracy as exactly this type of mechanisms: “This is where democracy comes in: another election, another government, another cycle of optimism and disappointment.” Quite rightfully, the author asks herself “can we imagine 219 million eligible voters directly conducting the activities of the US government?” and just because she cannot imagine what a truly grassroots democracy could look like, she reverts to the idea of removing the state from the picture.

What I find interesting is that most of the objections to democracy as a way of government made from this text, are only valid for the formal democracy we are used to, i.e. for the type of top heavy governmental structures that the traditional powers have managed to coerce into existence in order to control the population by means of democracy look alike states. However they sate a number of issues that must be addressed or taken into account.

In a truly participatory democracy, in a state where people constantly decide their future, many of the issues are resolved locally, because no one can solve the problem better than the people who have to live with it. This means there must be multiple layers and geographical areas of competence and high degrees of autonomy. This sort of structure is already in place. Central governments take some decisions, regional governments take other decision, town halls take other decisions. As we shift power from a central all-powerful state towards the citizens, we do not only change the way in which citizens participate on the top level national issues with their voice or vote, but we necessarily need to shift power from the central government to the regional and local governments. For certain issues national or union governments should have no jurisdiction whatsoever. In the defence of constitutional individual rights and freedom, for instance, all institutions should be involved.

As rightly pointed out in the text, voluntary participation is the best way to ensure the commitment of the individual to a cause, and hence we should allow and encourage the emergence of a whole new range of self articulated organizations which should be empowered to take decisions about what affects their members. I am no talking about active discussion groups. I am talking about ad-hoc institutions with the power to decide over specific issues as presented by the anarchist rationale. The democratic twist is that the vigilant eye from justice will be alerted when this self determination starts affecting others in ways that may lead to conflict. However, unless the fundamental rights of other people are affected they should perform their self chosen function. Ad hoc democratic institutions should be an integral part of society, and should be empowered to act. Freedom is a part of true democracy, and I would argue that a truly democratic state is much more likely to grant freedom and protection to its members that a state of anarchy, which, by definition cannot guarantee anything.

We must stop thinking democracy as a rigid system and start thinking about it as the slipping answer to the eternal question. “How do can we live together with the minimum possible amount of conflict?” Is is really a time to be brave, to dare to think up new ways to answer this question, ways that can be tried out, which do not need a revolution, which do not need magnanimous leaders. It is time to believe that democracy has hope, because it is the only hope we have.

Salud, Paz y Democracia

My vision of DiD

This post only expresses the opinion of the author

It has become clear at this point that there are different flavors to DiD. They range in methodologies, objectives and else. However, there is a strong commonality, the desire to use this working group to improve the quality of the democracy in DiEM25. Moreover, the idea of making of DiEM25 a truly grassroots democracy or at least reduce the power of the top structures in favor of more participation is almost unanimous. DiD has certain specific aims which have been agreed upon but I have a particular vision of DiD which of course encompasses those aims but goes far beyond them. Needless to say, my vision of DiD includes my vision for DiEM25. I try to summarize it in one sentence and then develop it further.

“DiD is the tool through which members of DiEM25 can orchestrate a profound change in DiEM25 structures which will result on an expansive democratic model which can be exported to other European parties, organizations and eventually regional, national and union institutions.”

This means, DiEM25 should be the epicenter of an expansive democratic movement which must be able to reach out to the entire European population. DiD should be the epicenter of a DiEm25 internal democratic movement whose aim is to convert the later in a truly grassroots movement.

Such transformation of the present DiEM25 structures would require a new set of Organizing Principles. However, any attempt to re drafts the OP’s before the grass roots of DiEM are truly articulated and able to take decisions in an efficient and democratic fashion will fail to support a truly grassroots movement. Grassroots democracy cannot be designed or imposed from the top. Grassroots democracy is a state of organization, a living system where people make rules, use the rules, change the rules within a certain framework and methodology which they also change as needed until sufficiently stable for the amount of people who use them, the people who take part in such democracy. If there are going to be DiEM25  Organizing Principles 2.0, these must be a mere description of an existing working organization not the blue print for a top down implementation. The organization principles of a grassroots democracy can only be a statement of facts, not a project.

How do we go from where we stand to where I would like to see ourselves is the trillion dollar question. There is no final answer to the question of how do 500.000.000 people can self organize democratically, but we are much more likely to be on track if we have manged to solve the problem for 5.000.000, for instance. In turn, how to solve that problem will be much easier if we have managed to have a self organizing group of 5.000  individuals. Let us say this is my vision of DiD’s role. Did should engage in the conversation about internal democracy with as many DiEM25 members as possible. The rules of this conversation will have to be modified as the number of participants change, and those rules mus be decided and approved by the group at any time. DiD itself does not need to grow. Only the conversation must grow.

For the conversation to grow organically it must involve a continuous revision of our methods, but also a steady work from our side in order to ensure that we live up to our own expectations. The dues payed to democracy will diminish as the size of our democracy grows, but now that we are few, a significant effort is required to move forward. There are three pillars of democracy upon which we need to build:

1.- Legitimacy
2.- Transparency
3.- Separation of powers

Legitimacy

Our continuous discussion on what are the methods that make a DiD resolution legitimate must be translated into written rules and conditions. We have already started this process, but further procedures must be established for the different types of actions that DiD shall take as a group. These procedures must be drafted, discussed, approved, modified, which means a lot of work.

Transparency

All of our work must be available to anyone who is interested in taking part in the game of democracy, which potentially includes everyone. Total transparency is demanded from whom expects total transparency. I personally believe we are in the right track, but we have not yet specified and approved which are the processes which guarantee we are totally transparent. Once we agree upon them we will need to establish who is responsible for carrying out such tasks. More work to be done.

Separation of powers.

Although we are so few, and there is little power to be separated in DiD, we need to start taking into consideration this critical issue.  Democracy’s corner stone is separation of powers and we have very little idea of how a grassroots judicial system could look like, and how can it be made effective. It would be wise starting thinking about it now, from the very beginning, so it is inbuilt in the system and not superimposed on it.

Thus, I believe there is a lot of work needed to make the miracle of democracy possible, but I see a very clear path which stems from groups such such as DiD. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of groups which are now working on this same objective in Europe and beyond. Our aim is not to build our own little perfect democracy, but share with all of them, inside and outside DiEM25, our knowledge and our troubles, our solutions and our failures, in order to finally unite with them first in a truly paneuropean democracy and later we will see.

Salud, Paz y Democracia
Pj

DiEM25 democracy survey

This post only expresses the opinion of the author

It is quite obvious that the people who make DiD are strong supporters of a type of democracy in which people have a say all the time. Some people call it grassroots democracy, other people participative democracy, others direct democracy. The ideas is to have a society where citizens are not just voters, but rather decision makers. You name it. However, as I mentioned in my last post, it may well be that other diemers have different opinions, and this is what we are about to find out.

Within DiD, there are several running projects, and many ideas for many more. In particular, we are now working on an internal survey to be distributed to all DiEM25 members. Our objective is to get a feel of what we, in DiEM25 as a whole, think about democracy. What we expected from DiEM25 before we joined, what we think we have, what we would like to have.

We are well in the way to have this survey ready, but presenting it all diemers and collecting the responses for further analysis, is one of our next big challenges. If you have any ideas on how to go about it, or you want to collaborate in the project, you are most welcome.

It may be important to point out that DiD is not a closed group, you may come and go as you please. You can participate in one project and forget about the rest, or just join the online meetings discussions, or drop by for a political debate chat.

It’ll be good to see you around.

Salud, Paz y Democracia
Pj

Is DiEM25 a grassroots movement?

This post only expresses the opinion of the author

One of our colleagues in DiD recently asked herself if we are not being naif expecting to find grassroots democracy in DiEM25. As she rightly points out there is nothing in the manifesto about grassroots or direct democracy. As far as the movement goes, establishing democracy in Europe refers to having all decision power centres respond to the mandate of the European parliament. The question of how that parliament is elected, and if that parliament is the result of a truly democratic exercise or it is just the democracy lookalike we are used to today is nowhere to be found in the founding principles of DiEM25. Furthermore, the nature of internal democracy in DiEM25 is not questioned either. With respect to my own idea of democracy, DiEM25 organization still needs to improve its organisation and communication methods, even accepting this is not a grassroots movement.

She is probably right thinking “have we just interpreted our hopes of «authentic grassroots democracy» into DiEM25” and we are probably naif thinking that DiEM25 as a movement will actually fight to achieve high standards of internal democracy, never mind grassroots democracy. (NOTE from June 20th 2017: DiEM25 has now taken a very clear direction towards the grassroots movement DiD originally dreamed of. May be it was always the case but our perception was not accurate. However, may this post remain here to remind us how, one way or another I have felt that the work of DiD has changed from demanding internal democracy to actually help to build it with the help of all other existing institutions like the CC and AP)

She is probably right, but I see it in another way. I agree with her on her observation, I just prefer to dream on.

Because Europe is not democratic, to the point that the President of the EU helps organising legal schemes for the powerful to still taxes from us, the powerless, DiEM25 stands up to change that, and we are naif enough to think we are going to change things. We who are not satisfied with the nature of democracy in DiEM25 are naif enough to think we can change that. Or not?

We, in DiD, must reach out to other diemers. We must find out what they think of the nature of democracy in DiEM25, we must find out if they are happy with the OP, we must find out if they are interested in a truly grassroots movement. May be they are not. May be the majority of DiEM25 is happy with the way things are. May be the majority of the Europeans is happy with corporate tax evasion (Believe it or not many Irish people will defend the government helping Apple legally and illegally stealing tax money from the European and Irish people). If such is the case we will have to accept we are a minority who have an idea of democracy which does not correspond to the world we are living in. We may have to accept that diemers do not want grassroots democracy.

However, if we find out that most of the them agree with us, then we are not naif. Then I do not care less what the OPs say about internal organization: I only care about how the DiEM25 members actually want to organize themselves, and if that is in a truly grassroots democratic movement, then that is what DiEM25 must be. And shall be. If we manage to make the people of Europe understand that their future and the future of the continent may be in their hands and they do not need to relay on the political elites, then, that is the way it will be. Call me naif, but I shall not stop until a reach the conclusion that I cannot change the world. And that is not going to be tomorrow.

Salud, Paz y Democracia

Pj