State of Power 2016: Democracy, Power & Resistance
By various authors
‘Real democracy now!’, the demand of the Spanish indignados as they occupied the squares of cities across Spain, is the slogan which can best guide us in challenging and escaping the prison of today’s power structures.
‘Real democracy now!’ expresses the determined desire of a generation of young Europeans facing a world in which they were brought up to take for granted what they thought was democracy: they found themselves in a political system in which they were in effect without a voice and in which only the rich have a say, and the interests of the banks and shareholders seeking quick returns predominate over the interests of the majority of people.
They have been, above all, the outcome of the conscious mobilisation of elite financial and political power to block punishment of corporate crime and regulations of the financial industry demanded by citizens.
In this sense, the power of financial capital in the USA and in Europe is fundamentally the same, except that in he institutions of the European Union, in effect ‘post-democratic’ in their original design, the banksters can operate more effectively behind the scene, influencing governments that have strategic continental power, but without facing any democratic counter-power or force of accountability.
The institutions of representative democracy are impotent, or have been rendered impotent, in the face of /by the workings of globalised, financialised twenty-first century capitalism. ‘This model [based on parliamentary sovereignty] is finished’.
So long as the goal of democracy is applied only to political power, understood as separate from economic power, then universal franchise provides only an abstract, formal political equality in a society that is fundamentally unequal.
And the more unequal society becomes, the more empty formal political equality appears and the greater the level of disgust with parliamentary politics.
It is a political process which consequently tends to disguise rather than expose inequalities, or worse still, to re-interpret inequality as the fault of those with less power – and to punish them for it; and generally protects rather than challenges private economic power.
Simultaneously, with this obfuscation of the real relations of economic power, the separated processes of political representation also disguise the dependency, especially but not only economic, of the powerful on those whom they exploit or oppress.
When inherited but flawed mechanisms/institutions for calling the powerful to account have been rendered all but useless, what other or new sources of power do people have as a result of their being indispensable to the powerful? To answer this question, we need to investigate exactly how power works.
Historically, social-democratic and communist parties have been built around a benevolent version of the understanding of power-as-domination. Their strategies have been based on winning the power to govern and then using the ‘levers’ of the state apparatus paternalistically to meet what they identify as the needs of the people.
The assumption is the inadequate capacity of the people to govern themselves.
The emergence of power-as-transformative-capacity had its contemporary origins in the rebellions of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A central and common theme of these rebellions was a challenge to all conventions and institutions based on deference to authority.
In their refusal to defer to authority, they broke the unspoken bond between knowledge and authority – the idea that those in power knew best, including what was best for you.
These radically democratic approaches to knowledge laid the organisational and cultural foundations that have underpinned social movements ever since, from the alter-globalisation movement of the late 1990s through to Occupy and the indignados. The emphasis on sharing knowledge and decentralisation also helped to create the conditions for the web – born as it was of the Californian counter-culture of the late 1960s.
A question that will permeate debates and practical experiments in developing counter power throughout 2016 and beyond, is how far, and under what conditions, power-as-domination (essentially having control over state institutions, national and municipal) can be a resource or a source of facilitation for power-as-transformative-capacity.
Historically, the dominant view on the relationship between social movements and political parties was that leftist parties should be the voice of movements whose objectives they shared.
Politics, or rather political parties, seem to have an inherent tendency to close in on themselves - maybe in search of traditional forms of certainty, and linked to this predictability and with it a controlling, monopolistic conception of agency.
The threat to democracy has always been the disdain the establishment has for it. Democracy by its nature is very fragile and the antipathy towards it by the establishment is always extremely pronounced and the establishment has always sought to undo it.
Whenever the ballot box produces a result the establishment doesn’t like, the democratic process is either overturned or threatened with being overturned. *
The European Union institutions in Brussels, the European Central Bank and others, were established as democracy-free zones by design.
It was never meant to be the beginning of a republic or a democracy where ‘we, the people of Europe’ rule the roost.
I was astonished to hear the German finance minister say to me, verbatim, that elections cannot be allowed to change established economic policy. In other words, that democracy is fine as long as it does not threaten to change anything!
The main thing that one should note about the EU is that the whole operation in Brussels is based on a process of depoliticising politics, of taking what are essentially profoundly, irrevocably political decisions and pushing them into the realm of a rules-bound technocracy, an algorithmic approach.
The European Parliament is a cruel joke, it doesn’t function as a proper Parliament. It is, at best, a simulation of parliament, not a real parliament.
Now, the British Conservatives that are supporting exit from the EU argue that they don’t need the European Union; that they can have the Single Market without the straitjacket of Brussels.
So if you reject the possibility of a democratised European Union, you reject the possibility of a sovereign British parliament and you end up with atrocious trade deals, like TTIP.
We have managed to create a monster in Europe, where the Eurozone is supremely powerful as an entity but where no one is in control. The institutions and rules that have been put in place in order to maintain the political equilibrium that set up the whole euro currency project disempowers almost every player that has anything to do with democratic legitimacy.
The New Deal put in place institutions that act as shock absorbers, whereas in Europe we are back to where we were in 1929. We are allowing this competitive austerity together with bailout loans to destroy one country after another until the European Union turns against itself.
But I think with issues of society and politics, we have a moral and political duty to be optimistic and to say okay, of all the options available to us, which is the one least likely to cause catastrophe? For me, that is an attempt to democratise the European Union. Do I believe we will succeed? I don’t know, but unless I have hope that we can I can’t get out of bed in the morning and go around do stuff.
The sovereignty of parliaments has been dissolved by the Eurozone and the Eurogroup; the capacity to fulfil one’s mandate at the level of the nation-state has been eradicated and therefore any manifestos addressed to citizens of a particular member state become theoretical exercises. Electoral mandates are by design now impossible to fulfil.
We should build a cross-border pan-European movement, hold a conversation in that space to identify common policies to tackle common problems, and once we have a consensus on common Europe-wide strategies, this consensus can find expression of that at the nation-state and regional and municipal levels.
If we fail by 2025 then I don’t think there will be a European Union to save or even talk about. To those who want to know what we want now the answer is: Transparency!
In the medium to long term, we shall be calling for a Constitutional Assembly to be convened by the peoples of Europe, empowered to decide on a future democratic constitution that will replace all existing European treaties.
I put my emphasis on building a pan-European movement. It is because the only way of changing Europe is to do this by a groundswell that rises throughout Europe. Otherwise the protest vote manifesting itself in Greece, Spain, the UK, Portugal, if it is not synchronised everywhere, will eventually dissipate, leaving behind it nothing but the bitterness and insecurity produced by Europe’s unstoppable fragmentation.
There are, broadly, two main and sharply divided positions on the left in Europe. The first is that, however deplorable the brutalising of Greek democracy by the Troika, this is merely a reflection of the weakness of the left in each of the EU ’s 28 member states. As a result, the centre-right controls three main institutions of the EU. If the left were at the helm in more countries and thus in the EU institutions, things would be different.
Look at all the tremendous environmental, health and safety, and human rights protections that the EU has passed, they argue.
Such progressives tend to see themselves as internationalists and cosmopolitans and add as a warning that a retreat from the EU would only open the door further to nationalism and the far right.
Advocates of the ‘reform’ position add that once outside the EU, markets would hardly be any less vicious towards and disruptive of a country’s democracy than the Troika. They are not wrong on this last point. *
The second position holds that the Greek debacle is merely the latest episode in a long line of breaches of democratic norms and that the EU is structurally undemocratic and unreformable.
As a result, rupture with the EU and retreat to the nation-state is the order of the day.
For them, there is no European demos. They cannot imagine one. They do not want one. Advocates of the ‘rupture’ position also point out that the existence of the EU has hardly prevented the growth of nationalism and the far right. They too are not wrong on this last point.
Both positions, however, ignore the key issue at stake: in the era of globalisation, the steady removal of decision-making from democratic chambers by EU elites is serving as a blueprint for post-democratic governance around the world, at the global, continental, national, and even local level. The rallying cry should go beyond reform (however welcome this might be) or rupture (however necessary this might be), and take up once again the demand of Spanish anti-austerity protesters in 2011, of Real Democracy Now—at all levels throughout society, both within and beyond the nation-state.
The European Commission is unelected. The members of the Council of Ministers and its top-level incarnation, the European Council, are only indirectly elected and craft laws in secrecy with neither press nor public allowed to witness their proceedings.
The president of the European Council—regularly styled European President—is likewise unelected.
The sole directly elected institution of the EU legislative sausage factory, the European Parliament, has no right of legislative initiative—that is to say, it cannot propose and pass laws; it can only amend what the Commission and Council send to it for approval.
Being restricted in this way makes it like no other parliament in the democratic world.
If voters disagree with the policies of this European 'government', there is no way to vote them out.
This is because these contracts between states trump democracy. “Every new government needs to fulfil the contractual agreements of its predecessors”. “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties”.
Defenders of EU’s current structures regularly point to the Council of Ministers/European Council as supposed evidence of its democratic mandate, because ministers and prime ministers or presidents are at least elected in their own countries.
The Council operates as a senate-like legislative chamber, yet there are no elections to this body. It is as if you were permitted to vote for your local MP, but there were never any general elections.
Why is this such a big problem?
First, voters need a regular chance to ‘overthrow’ their rulers, not merely their local representative. Second, the parties seeking office need to have a material interest in appealing to every part of the country—or in this case, every part of the Union.
These two phenomena are sides of a single coin: accountability, which is the bedrock of representative government.
As governance structures become steadily cut off from democratic restraint, they become much more open to elite capture. Without popular checks on power, citizens begin to feel that there is no way to change who governs them.
Post-democratic international governance structures—electionless intergovernmentalism—are popping up like weeds today in almost every possible policy area, from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the UN Security Council and G7, to the WTO and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and even the International Whaling Commission. We are living in the era of construction of an architecture of global governance—which is certainly necessary given the global problems we face—but in the absence of, or more often antipathy towards, global democracy. *
The EU, not just the Eurozone, is an affront to parliamentary democratic norms that the left has fought to establish, defend and advance for more than two centuries. Its structures are not reformable; indeed the very structures work to inoculate themselves against progressive reform. If reform is impossible, then overthrow is required.
In a globalised economy, the type of social democracy that characterised the 1940–1970 period is no longer possible, even in large economies. Capital flight and economic sabotage will quickly tame a left-wing government.
The Greek debacle provides evidence that, in a globalised economy, even left-of-social-democracy governments such as Syriza must capitulate. This would be true for a Podemos government in Spain or a Jeremy Corbyn-led government in the UK.
Catastrophe is assured whether in or outside the euro, whether in or outside the EU.
How, then, are these two facts reconcilable: that nation-based politics is impotent and yet that there must be rupture with the unreformable EU? It can only follow that there is no use for nation-based politics any more, even of the form of a Syriza or its equivalents elsewhere in Europe, and that over the medium term European parties to the left of social democracy both in and outside the EU must fuse into a single, extra-national party with a common programme: a democratic and social United States of Europe, built afresh from the ground up.
There is no parliamentary forum through which this could be implemented. The European Parliament, as argued above, has no powers of legislative initiative. The lack of general elections to the Council likewise precludes this body as a venue for reform.
And we must extend this argument with respect to the emerging network of intergovernmental global governance structures.
The primary argument of campaigners against TTIP and CETA is that the agreements are a threat to democracy.
If the overturning of democratically approved legislation is to be opposed, then what is essentially the same thing, the undemocratic imposition of legislation, must also be opposed. If something is undemocratic, then it is undemocratic whether we like its results or not.
How, then, are we to decide what to do, what policies to adopt, across borders but in a democratic fashion?
This binary is the global equivalent of the divergence between those who call for reform of the EU and rupture with the EU. *
Elites recognise that there are many areas beyond the nation-state that need to be governed, but they are loath to subject such decision-making to the democratic process for fear that the people might vote the wrong way. It is one thing for the right to lose a national election; it’s another thing entirely for the right to lose the whole world.
So progressives must begin to match the scale of their ambition, by putting forward ideas for a democratic world government to replace post-democratic world governance. *
Now is the time to begin discussing what global democracy would look like concretely and to start to build it.
Who is an expert about the economy? This question might seem distinct or distant from matters of political power and debates about the best way to encourage participatory, democratic decision-making.
Many economic matters are removed from meaningful, wide-ranging democratic debate and become the special domain of a few, consensual experts.
Economic policies presented as “technical” solutions are often, in fact, about bringing about politically charged social transformations. These transformations are typically in the interests of a few, powerful actors, popularly referred to as “the 1%”, but legitimated by arguments presenting them as necessary, reasonable and in the interests of all.
There is a gulf between the language of many economic analyses and everyday understanding.
Critics contend that economic decision-making is not about the application of specialised scientific expertise. In fact, it reflects the sedimented power of the former colonial nations, the USA and, as we have already suggested, the patriarchal authority of men, typically from shared upper-class backgrounds.
In short, economics tends to “forget” its socially embedded character, pretending to a God’s eye view developed from nowhere. In fact, economics expertise at the IMF, World Bank and similar institutions is sharply and narrowly socially defined.
Any historical age has the economists it “deserves”. Keynesianism prevailed in a post-war context of relatively strengthened working class power and neoliberal economics prevail when the 1% is particularly powerful.
The affirmation, “Nothing aboutA more just and ecologically sustainable world will never be created by experts, but only by ordinary people given a chance to meaningfully shape their own lives in solidarity with others.
us, without us!” lies at the heart of participatory democratic principles.
Those who hold to this principle reject the idea that experts – or any others – may speak in their place.
Unlike researchers, ordinary people generally have few opportunities to critically engage with their own practical experiences and exchange with others about them.
A more just and ecologically sustainable world will never be created by experts, but only by ordinary people given a chance to meaningfully shape their own lives in solidarity with others.
Nearly eight years after the outbreak of the global financial crisis, it is evident that those who were responsible for bringing it about have managed to go completely scot-free. Not only that, they have been able to get governments to stick the costs of the crisis and the burden of the recovery on their victims.
Finance capital has been the single biggest factor discrediting liberal democracy in the last few years. In the face-off between democracy and finance, there have been few instances in which the latter has prevailed, indeed, only one: Iceland.
Decisive in securing this outcome was what Cornelia Woll termed finance capital’s “structural power”. One dimension of this power was the $344 million the industry spent lobbying the US Congress in the first nine months of 2009, when legislators were taking up financial reform.
While traditional fraudsters such as Bernie Madoff were prosecuted and jailed, the chiefs and lieutenants of the biggest financial institutions, who had caused infinitely greater damage, were untouched.
Wall Street was able to change the narrative about the causes of the financial crisis, throwing the blame entirely on the state.
Brandishing the image of the The triumph of Wall Street in reversing the popular surge against it following the outbreak of the financial crisis was evident in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections.
USA becoming like Greece if the government increased its debt load by going into deficit spending, the Republicans succeeded in bringing about a US version of the * austerity programmes that were imposed as the solution in Southern Europe.
Thus the cost of the folThe political institutions of one of the world’s most advanced liberal democracies were no match for the structural power and ideological resources of the financial establishment.
lies of Wall Street fell not on banks but on ordinary Americans, with the unemployed reaching nearly 10% of the workforce in 2011 and youth unemployment reaching over 20%.
egulating Wall Street was not an issue in the Republican primary debates while in the Democratic debates, it was a side issue, despite the efforts of candidate Bernie Sanders to make it the centre-piece.
The triumph of Wall Street in reversing the popular surge against it following the outbreak of the financial crisis was evident in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections.
Regulating Wall Street was not an issue in the Republican primary debates while in the Democratic debates, it was a side issue, despite the efforts of candidate Bernie Sanders to make it the centre-piece.
The political institutions of one of the world’s most advanced liberal democracies were no match for the structural power and ideological resources of the financial establishment.
In Europe, finance capital showed its most ugly face, where it harnessed the power of the state – indeed, the collective power of 18 Eurozone states led by Germany – to crush peoples’ efforts to control their economic destiny. *
The subjugation of the Greeks is the latest victory notched up by finance capital since it began its scorched-earth counter-offensive against forces seeking to constrain and regulate it for bringing about the financial crisis that broke in 2008. Yet, its victory is likely to be Pyrrhic, an extremely costly affair that is likely to lead to a greater disaster.
In October 2015, Iceland’s judicial system sent the heads of the country’s biggest banks to jail, along with 23 of their lieutenants.
The economy of Iceland did not collapse when its biggest banks were allowed to fail.
What happened in Iceland commanded attention because it was a contrast to what happened elsewhere.
Iceland pointed to the possibilities of democratic control of the banks. But it was the exception to the rule. Elsewhere finance capital got off scot-free. This is not only unjust and tragic. It is dangerous.
The combination of deep austerity-induced recession or stagnation that grips much of Europe and the USA and the absence of financial reform is deadly.
With the interests of finance capital now the driving force of the big Western democracies, and virtually unchecked, the question then is not if another bubble will burst but when.
The failure of the current institutional arrangements of liberal democracy to promote the counter-movement in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis probably means that the next crisis might trigger no less than a fundamental institutional reconfiguration of society ’s relation to finance capital, indeed, to Capital itself.
The World Economic Forum ’s Global Redesign Initiative is perhaps the best reflection of how corporations and other elites envision the future of governance. It calls for marginalising intergovernmental decision-making with a system of multi-stakeholder governance, but what does this mean for democracy, accountability and the rule of law?
Prompted by the uncertainties about the stability of globalisation, in 2009 the World Economic Forum (WEF) convened an international expert group to formulate a new system of global governance.
What is ingenious and disturbing is that the WEF multi-stakeholder governance proposal does * not require approval or disapproval by any intergovernmental body. Absent any intergovernmental action the informal transition to MSG as a partial replacement of multilateralism can just happen.
The proliferation of multi-stakeholder governance arrangements has, however, gained credibility without a careful analysis of the democratic and political consequences of these institutions. For the wider public and particularly for grassroots communities affected directly by the issue it seeks to address, it is not then surprising that an announcement that a new MSG is taking a lead on global issues is greeted with a good deal of scepticism and anxiety.
The World Economic Forum proposals for multi-stakeholder governance are a timely reminder that we need to take a new look at the current rules of engagement in international affairs. It is then timely for a broader range of other social groups, particularly those most adversely affected by globalisation, to re-think how they believe global governance should work.
Why are activists struggling for a more democratic system unable to attract more people to their side?
Why, despite the intensifying ecological crisis caused by capitalism, is the movement for radical system change still confined to the margins?
This essay seeks to contribute to understanding the causes of the movement’s weakness by drawing attention to another, typically overlooked, way by which the dominant seek to contain challenges to their undemocratic rule.
I argue that part of the reason why activists struggling for a democratic alternative to capitalism find it difficult to draw more people to their cause is because a section of the world’s dominant classes have been waging what we can think of, as a kind of global “passive revolution”: an attempt to re-construct or secure (global) hegemony by attempting to fundamentally reform global capitalism in order to partially grant the demands of subordinate groups.
To better understand how world elites seek to contain counter-hegemonic challenges to their rule, it is useful to go back to the late 1960s when new radical movements, including those mobilising around ecological issues, burst onto the world stage as part of a broader resurgence of radicalism.
To constantly intensify their exploitation of both workers and nature so as to maximise profits they argued that they needed to challenge nothing less than capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and other forms of domination.
Only then, they argued, would it be possible to prioritise people’s welfare and the planet’s well-being over the need to constantly maximise profits.
These radical intellectuals began to reshape people’s subjectivities by providing alternative ways of looking at the world, of understanding their identities, of diagnosing and overcoming their suffering.
Many started to think of themselves as members of oppressed and exploited classes and also began to connect ‘environmental problems’ and their social impacts to capitalist, patriarchal, colonial, racial or other forms of domination.
Many began to aspire to a post-capitalist, if not socialist, society. And they recognised the need to confront and overthrow the ruling classes and other dominant groups determined to perpetuate capitalism.
With these changed subjectivities, people connected the struggle around ‘environmental’ problems to broader struggles for social justice and equality.
Critical of “existing society” and pressed into action, a growing number of people began fighting for what later activists called ‘system change’.
Not since the Great Depression and the New Deal, notes political scientist David Vogel, did US capitalists feel so “politically vulnerable”.
Breaking with other elites, they effectivelyhey deployed their vast economic resources and social connections—straddling the worlds of business, politics and science—to build this movement’s capacity to engage in ideological and concluded that in order to defuse such a threat, at least some of the grievances and demands of subordinate groups needed to be addressed—something that could be done only by fundamentally reforming global capitalism. Under siege, many dominant intellectuals and corporate elites struggled to understand what was going on, how to define their interests in the face of it, and how to react.
Many thought that the so-called ‘environmental problems’were not problems: they could be solved through the normal workings of the market. Many sought to protect them by simply rejecting the grievances aired by subordinate groups, killing their proposals, and resorting to coercive measures to intimidate or discredit their proponents. But there were other intellectuals who pursued and advocated an altogether different response.
Unlike other elites, they were generally more open to the view that global warming and other ecological changes were indeed happening. And, unlike other elites, they thought that the problem involved far larger threats. They also worried that environmental degradation would further fuel public dissatisfaction and anger and therefore encourage support for radicalism.
Breaking with other elites, they effectively concluded that in order to defuse such a threat, at least some of the grievances and demands of subordinate groups needed to be addressed—something that could be done only by fundamentally reforming global capitalism.
They deployed their vast economic resources and social connections—straddling the worlds of business, politics and science—to build this movement’s capacity to engage in ideological and political struggle on the world stage.
So, like radicals, they explained to people that they could only alleviate their suffering by pushing for what radicals called ‘system change’. But against radicals, they told people that changing the system did not entail overthrowing capitalism, but rather enhancing the global regulation of capitalism through what the Club of Rome called “radical reform of institutions and political processes at all levels”.
They told people that they should aspire not to the creation of a post-capitalist society but to a greener, more regulated, capitalist society.
They called upon the public to join the moral, responsible elites as ‘partners’ in pushing for and bringing about ‘system change.’
They mobilised to equip their supporters with cutting-edge knowledge on global environmental problems—and with ‘policy options’ for managing them—by funding or otherwise supporting hundreds if not thousands of universities and government or inter-governmental research departments and think-tanks.
Ford, Rockefeller, Anderson and others, for example, bankrolled the formation of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC), and possibly thousands of other moderate or non-radical groups across the world.
Simply put, if it had not been for the independent but converging initiatives of these reformists—and the elites that supported them—the UN negotiations on climate change might never have happened.
Thanks to all these investments in political and ideological mobilisation, the reformist movement was able to go on the offensive from the 1970s onwards.
In so doing, reformist elites did more than just provide limited relief and material concessions to members of the dominated classes; they also countered radicals’ attempts to reshape their subjectivities and succeeded in dispelling their attempts to channel people’s anger and anxiety towards fighting for radical system change.
For this and other reasons, radicals worldwide have not only found it harder to gain new adherents from the 1970s on, but even once committed fighters would either lay down their arms or ‘defect’ altogether.
Thus, without always deploying the violence they constantly keep in the background, the more forward-looking of the world’s elites have at the very least been able to d issuade people from struggling to replace capitalism with a different, radically democratic system; they have not only prevented or restrained more people from expressing or venting their anger, but have been able to harness that anger towards tinkering with the system in order to keep it the same.succeeded in completely defeating or eliminating this challenge altogether.
And yet, it is also important to stress that they still have not yet succeeded in completely defeating or eliminating this challenge altogether. For our movement has not only survived the reformist offensive but in recent years, we have even become resurgent again.
This does not necessarily mean always opposing the reforms and concessions that the more ‘radical’ among the reformists are promoting, or refusing to work with them. But it does mean constantly subverting their attempts to channel people’s anger to only their chosen enemies and to confine them to just aspiring for a greener, more ecologically-conscious ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.’ *
It means pushing people to go beyond the horizon that the reformists seek to restrict them to, and to help empower them to dream of a democratic, because socialist, alternative. *
Herbert Villalon Docena
Through a dismantling and remodelling of the post-war welfare state, and the democratic rights associated with it, neoliberal globalisation has unleashed what might be called capitalism’s law of increasing precarity.
The UK’s convergence with US policies following the dominance of ‘New Right’ thinking during the Reagan and Thatcher years has led to dramatic consequences relating to inequalities and poverty. Unprecedented cuts to public services and education, austerity measures and debt-crisis management have become the rule, rather than an exception.
What is unique about the production and management of precarity is that it has become central to a much wider range of apparatus that characterise this historical ‘moment’, designed to serve the purpose of capitalist accumulation and control. As such, precarity is essential to understanding contemporary politics and economics.
On the ground, precarity has become entrenched in experiences of life and work. Although the current UK government continues to laud its ‘success’ in lowering unemployment rates and increasing (weak) economic growth, this has been accompanied by a rise in temporary, insecure and precarious work for British and migrant workers, and draconian cuts to public services.
The production of precarity is based on new forms of power and exploitation that have become central to the neoliberal logic, according to which the organisation of social and economic ‘security’ requires precarity as a way of life, both undermining social justice and eroding the core of democracy itself.
To maintain new forms of hardship at a ‘tolerable’ level, that is, without risking insurrection, neoliberal advocates need institutions of the welfare state to create the appearance of shared responsibility.
The multiplication of zero-hour contracts, freelancing, and unpaid internships are concrete examples of the normalisation of insecurity.
Clearly, by placing risks and responsibilities on the individual that ought to be shared by all members of society, such as the right to work, precarisation negates the notion of shared responsibility that is integral to democracy.
While universal suffrage, human rights and welfare entitlements are compatible with democracy, institutionalised individualisation is not.
When risk becomes a ‘daily necessity’, and the removal of social safety nets occurs alongside the promotion of a perverse politics of responsibility it soon becomes clear why the result is an extreme and brutal neglect of vulnerable people.
In the UK, the normalising of insecurity, through the very institutions designed to provide welfare and support, is also highlighted in the punitive assessments of those who receive social benefits and the frequent sanctions imposed that withdraw benefit from vulnerable people.
We are hirable on demand, available on call, exploitable at will, and firable at whim.
Due to the hard work of time-stricken activists, an increasingly dense network of addressing the issue of precarisation is growing, and it is traversing and conversing across borders significantly, not only in Europe.
It is, after all, collective action and a re-articulation of the conditions in which we live that will represent the most honourable manifestation of support for these ideas.
The past five or six years have seen an explosion of political initiatives around the globe in which tech-minded actors of various kinds have played leading parts. From whistleblowing to online protests, from occupied squares to anti-establishment parties, their political actions can no longer be ignored, particularly following Edward Snowden’s revelations about the mass digital surveillance capabilities of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and allied agencies.
Indeed, freedom technologists regard the fate of the internet and of human freedom as being inextricably entwined.
A good place to start our enquiry into the contribution, if any, of freedom technologists to progressive political change is Iceland.
A key turning point came on 1 August 2009. The then unknown WikiLeaks had obtained documentation that exposed the tight grip of cronyism on the country’s financial system. * This incident made WikiLeaks an instant phenomenon in Iceland.
on 16 June 2010 the Icelandic parliament unanimously passed IMMI as a resolution.
A team of Icelandic and foreign freedom technologists launched the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI). The aim of IMMI was to strengthen information freedom both in Iceland and globally.
On 16 June 2010 the Icelandic parliament unanimously passed IMMI as a resolution.
In 2013 Birgitta Jónsdóttir became the leader of Iceland’s Pirate Party, which holds only three seats of the national parliament’s 63 but currently leads the polls in voting intentions for 2017. For people like her, all systems, including political systems, are there to be continually tinkered with – i.e. hacked – so that they can be improved.
Spain’s housing market “bubble” had burst in 2008, leaving almost half of the country’s young people unemployed.
This was also a period of rapid growth in the uptake of social and mobile media in Spain, with a dramatic increase (65%) in mobile internet usage between 2010 and 2011.The connections and overlaps between Spain’s digital freedom scene and its indignados (or 15M) movement are numerous.
Although the role played by hackers and other computer experts in lending the indignados (15M) movement its strong free culture character is crucial, it is important not to overlook the part played by both amateur and professional journalists.
The mainstream news media were often portrayed as an integral part of a monolithic “system” hostile to the protesters, while “citizen journalism” and other form of “horizontal” and “networked” communication were celebrated.
WikiLeaks had “brought something really good for journalism and for society”.
Podemos is a leftist formation rooted in the indignados (15M) movement and led by the charismatic political scientist Pablo Iglesias, aged 37.
On 24 May 2015, local elections were held across Spain. In Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and other major cities, new anti-establishment candidates either won or came very close to winning, signalling a major change in the country’s political landscape.
In Spain’s general elections on the coming 20 December Podemos became the third political force in Spain with over five million votes, surging to 20.66% of the total vote, which gave the new political party 69 MPs and put an end to the country’s two-party system, in place throughout the post-Franco era.
It is the coming together of everyday people, technology nerds and other political actors via social media, mainstream media and in physical settings such as streets and squares that drives processes of change.
It is worth noting that Spain boasts what is arguably the world’s most advanced techno-political field. Even more remarkable, Spain’s civil society has achieved this leading position while pursuing agendas that are as much concerned with social justice as they are with liberty.
Arguably, the most urgent issue to tackle precisely how to use our collective techno-political and research savvy to address the present global system’s grotesque inequalities. How can the social justice impasse be overcome beyond these small internet freedom circles?
It is amply clear by now that the so-called digital divide cannot be bridged through technological means alone, as it must be understood within broader systems of entrenched social and economic exclusion. Digital rights are not only human rights, as we often hear in net freedom circles: digital rights are social rights.
Experiences and experiments in Spain, Brazil, Istanbul and other cities suggest that a transnational municipalism, based on concepts of an open source city (free online tools and active citizen participation), has the potential to regenerate democracy and build a geopolitics of the commons against neoliberalism.
In June 2015, a 25-year-old called Pedro Kumamoto became Mexico’s first member of parliament to win a seat without belonging to a political party.
The surge in support for Pedro Kumamoto’s Wikipolítica was matched at a state-wide level by the Citizens’ Movement, a new political party that won control of 24 local councils.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in Spain, we find a similar situation with new municipal governments whose ambition is likewise to go beyond their established powers.
‘Municipalism’ represents the most visible face of the growing role of cities and local governments around the world. * “Made in Spain municipalism” has become the first of a series of networked rebellions started by the Arab Spring.
These two cases also open up the possibility of a global network of cities working for the commons and challenging the neoliberal order.
All states have done is feed the spiralling public debt, hand over public funds to the private banking system and downsize themselves through austerity policies. *
The smart city model created by the big multinationals sees the city’s data as a commercial product. Furthermore, the way this data is managed is opaque and lacks transparency.
The relationship between the multinationals and local governments also tends to be strictly commercial, which contradicts the spirit and practices of public services.
The ‘Big Society’ idea touted by David Cameron in the UK or the Dutch government’s community participation projects are to a large extent about promoting voluntary work by citizens in order justify the disappearance of the welfare state. To avoid reinforcing this, city autonomies and citizen self-management and collaboration have a crucial role to act as an incentive for mutual complementarity between public administration and citizens.
In Madrid, the arrival of Ahora Madrid in local government has opened the way for a new form of public management of the common good. *
Furthermore, in the budget drawn up for 2016, the city council has introduced participatory management of these initiatives by neighbourhood residents.
At the end of 2015, the Madrid city council also approved a regulatory framework for ceding the use of public spaces to community groups. *
The combination of ceding public resources and spaces and respect for the autonomy of social movements could pave the way for a new municipalist model of cities against the neoliberal state.
What is at stake is the life of neighbourhoods and, at the same time, the survival of democratic participation worldwide.
Open source local government is the first step towards scaling up new public policy spheres and interwoven citizen practices that can make neoliberalism unnecessary.