A Discussion Paper
Of course radical change can't take place without popular participation. But There is one other indispensable ingredient for radical change to take place, and that's hope. Hope and a sense of the possible. Those are the seeds, without them no revolution has ever taken place. And without them, the roots, the radical ideas and ideals of a movement will never embed themselves and grow and spread in the rich soil of a truly popular social base.
I think hope is one thing that Reclaim the Streets and the UK direct action movement has managed to re-ignite, both here in the UK and internationally. With its creative collision of carnival and revolution, we see new forms develop such as the street party, a model whose insistence on subversive pleasure has been contagiously repeated all over the world. Since the June 18th global day of action in 99.we have see the re-emergence of the term anti capitalist in the popular media. And we see direct action becoming a preferred tactic by a host of different constituencies.
Whenever I speak to people from The Direct Action Network in the United States, who were one of the principal groups involved in organising the successful shut down of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle, they always say that it was Reclaim the Street's cheek and creativity, which gave them the courage and optimism to believe that shutting down the WTO meeting was in fact possible. Over the past few years, especially since Seattle, things have moved very quickly both inside and outside of this movement, taking even the most pathological optimists such as myself, by surprise. It does feel like a space is opening up, a space within which a radical popular critique of capital could take place. A space where anything could be possible. Those in power are rapidly back pedalling: from the IMF to Davos to the pages of the neo-liberal bible the Economist, they are all on the defensive - the Economists forecast for the world in 2001 admitted rather paradoxically that " The Anti capitalists have been winning the battle of ideas - despite having no ideas worthy of its name." And A Trilateral Commission meeting in Tokyo last year was told by a prominent advocate of globalization that "the anti-globalization forces are now in the ascendancy." It seems, as a prophetic piece of graffiti in Seattle read, that - " We are winning".
And I dont know if any of you saw the front pages of some of the tabloids on February 9th, with their front page stories about corporate profits - Shell and Barclays: Sheer Greed !, The Daily Mail; £2 Million an hour Profits, The Express - I never imagined seeing these headlines in the Daily Mail or the Express, especially not on the front pages. OK they are not critiques of the system and they are clearly fuelled (excuse the pun) by self interested consumers, but reading between the lines I think you can see how some of the ideas of this movement are seeping into places we would never normally expect them. There is no doubt that the roots are spreading and growing.
But there is a big question - Has the soil been well prepared, is it a soil that is welcoming and nourishing to these sprouting roots ? Is it a soil that will encourage popular radicalism ? With runaway success there is always the danger of falling and a big fall at that. The politics of RTS was founded on the idea of opening up space, to quote from agit-prop - " taking back those things which have been enclosed within capitalist circulation and returning them to collective use as a commons. " RTS has promoted the idea of not taking power but dissolving it. Its practise has shown the radical potential of nurturing diversity and difference, and rejecting fixity and sectarianism. These have been some of the uniquely inspiring traits of this movement. But is our movement still committed to opening this radically democratic space, now that we see it opening up rapidly before us. Are we still developing a practice that is sufficiently fluid and nurturing and generous for radical ideas to take root and become popular?
I think not. I think we are often confusing the opening up of space with the creation of a vacuum - something that is empty, something that absorbs everything. I think many people in the movement are frightened of this perceived vacuum - they fear that it will be filled with the reformist policy politics of the NGO's, or by those that think that a benign state can somehow reform capital, or it will be sabotaged and co-opted by the outdated authoritarian leftist parties. We worry that radical ideas will be lost, that they will wither, die and disappear in such a vacuum. This fear leads to a retreat and a concentration of energy on criticising those who are less militant, on highlighting difference rather than seeing it as a creative confrontation of ideas. We forget plurality, diversity and loose faith in spontaneity, the principle concepts of a true ecological politics. In our forgetting the space begins to contract.
The creative chaos and dynamic movement of the revolutionary carnival - the participatory feast of constant change and renewal seems to be over; certainty, stasis and ideology are in danger of returning. I think There has been a failure of nerve, a failure to take a risk and trust that the radical path is the one that will grow from a truly open and nurturing space. Perhaps we have lost touch with the most basic anarchist principle, a principle expounded more than two and a half thousand years ago in Taoism and increasingly seen by contemporary science to be one of the preconditions for natural evolution. The principle that if everything is allowed to go its own way, through a complex and dynamic process of conflict and interrelationship, then the balance of life will be well established.
These principles of diversity, autonomy, interdependence and self-organisation are alive and well in every single molecule around us, lets have the courage to keep them in our politics. Lets have the courage to believe that this time history may well be on our side. As Johnson famously said "courage, sir, is the first of virtues, because without it, it is sometimes difficult to exercise the others." We have to have the courage to let go. The courage to work hard preparing the soil so that the radical roots can develop freely and then the courage to let things take their own path. We have to have the courage and the belief that a truly radical popular insurrection can and will take place, if only we would just let it. The courage to believe as the situationists did, that "our ideas are in everybodys mind". So what models are there, that are genuinely taking these risks and opening up space to radical ideas and popular participation ? For me its is zapatismo - a revolutionary movement that has broken the mould of all past revolutionary struggles, an armed insurrection "whose weapons aspire to be useless" an army that defies all categorisation by demanding radical democratic dialogue. A movement which understands the irresistible power and beauty of political paradox. With the zapatistastas we see a movement that is extraordinarily popular - not only within their own local indigenous communities, who ultimately dictate what the army does through collective consensus decision making during village assemblies. But also within the broader civil society of Mexico and the world. During their last consultation the "consulta" of 99 - two and a half million Mexicans expressed support for the zapatistas radical demands. And across the world diverse movements have gained hope and inspiration from their words and actions - the most recent example being the White overalls movement that was developed out of ya basta in the Italian Social centres and is now spreading across Europe. In an interview the Zapatista spokesperson sub commandante Marcos explained that:
zapatismo is not an ideology, it is not a bought and paid for doctrine, It is...an intuition. Something so open and flexible that it really occurs in all places. Zapatismo poses the question: "What is it that has excluded me ?" "What is it that has isolated me ?" ..In each place the response is different. Zapatismo simply states the simple question and stipulates that the response is plural. that the response is inclusive...
Im inspired by this notion of the revolution that hears, I recently read how Eduardo Galeano described how:" Marcos went to Chiapas and spoke to the indigenous, but they didn't understand him." The author, not Galeano, then goes on to say "then he penetrated the mist, learned to listen, and was able to speak." That same mist that prevents one person from seeing is also the window that opens onto the world of the other, the world of the indigenous...Let us look in silence, let us learn to listen; perhaps later we'll finally be able to speak." This idea of a listening revolution turns preconceived notions of struggle on their head. Zapatismo throws political certainty to the wind, and out of the shape shifting, flowing mist, it grasps change; change not as banal revolutionary slogan, but as actual process. Change as the ability of revolutionaries to admit wrong, to stop and question everything. Change as the desire to dissolve the vertical structures of power and replace them with radical horizontality, real popular participation. Change as the willingness to always listen and always be ready and willing to change. As a modern day parable that speaks of a new politics of difference and diversity, a truly "ecological " politics, a politics of profound poetic paradoxes, the story of Subcommandante Marcos, the ultimate macho vanguardist urban revolutionary, entering the ancient world of the rural Mayan indigenous communities and having to relearn everything, and then through dialogue develop a revolutionary movement that defies every categorisation, it is perfect.
Zapatismo is a model, I think we can all learn a great deal from. A living example of how we can really open the space, prepare the soil and through direct democratic dialogue witness the radical roots growing deep. Zapatismo is a creator of possibilities, its not a model that can be imposed lock stock and barrel on different context, but it is an inspiring "intuition", a set of stunningly beautiful ideas, and yet simultaneously one very very simple idea that can but give us hope that, as Marcos wrote 2 years before the insurrection, one day "the world will no longer be the world, but something better". (Marcos :a storm and a prophecy - August 1992). So lets have the courage, lets have the heart that lies in the root of the word courage, le coer - the heart to build a rebellion that embraces, the heart to insist in an insurrection that listens, the heart to create a revolution that when it looks in the mirror understands that it begins with the word lover. Lets have the courage to demand nothing for us, but everything for everyone. The courage to keep that space radically open, rebelliously inviting and profoundly popular.
John Jordan - email@example.com
Phone: (+44) 020 8257 1440