Archive for februar, 2017

24 februarja, 2017

We want to welcome! Barcelona demands open borders for refugees


Barcelona wants to welcome refugees. Only a radical movement can substantiate the city’s demands.

On February 18, over 160.000 people took to the streets of Barcelona to demand that the Spanish government and the European Union accept more refugees. The build-up to the protests was spectacular, with the city and Catalan regional governments working together with broad citizen platforms to put the phrase “We want to welcome” (Volem acollir) on everybody’s lips.

For several weeks, leading politicians including Barcelona mayor Ada Colau and Catalan president Carles Puigdemont lambasted Spain’s current policies towards refugees. One week prior to the protest, a special concert was organized by a campaign called Casa nostra, Casa vostra (“Our house, your house”), not in a civic center or public square but in an Olympic stadium. The event was aired on Catalan public television and featured major Catalan artists and cultural figures.

The protest itself was filled with a multitude of slogans calling out Spain and Europe’s response to the horror on the border. The central demand agreed on by the various and often opposing political actors supporting the march was ultimately an administrative one. In September of 2015, Spain promised to receive 17.337 refugees over two years. A year and a half into their commitment, they have accepted only 1.100. The City of Barcelona and the Catalan regional government were simply demanding that Spain keep its promise.

This is hardly the first time in recent history that Mariano Rajoy’s government has been accused of hypocrisy, negligence or outright hostility towards people fleeing misery, death and torture. In February 2013, the Spanish Civil Guard killed 15 people after firing 145 rubber bullets at a group of West African migrants who had tried to swim to the Tarajal beach in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa.

The news of the protest in Barcelona has been well received by an international press thirsty for positive stories. With the rise of the far right in Europe and Donald Trump in the United States pushing journalists to scramble for fresh apocalyptic metaphors, the image of over 150,000 people filling the streets of a major European city to demand the continent open its borders provides an oasis of hope in the rapidly overheating desert of the real. As with any spectacular image, however, we must ask how much of what we see reflects reality.

Here, the temptation to play the leftist curmudgeon is great. Barcelona’s repeated efforts to brand itself as a progressive sanctuary city do not align with the city government’s repression of migrant street vendors. This stance has undermined support for Barcelona En Comú among local activists. When Colau inaugurated a sign counting the number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean during the summer of 2016, migrants’ rights collectives disrupted the ceremony, surrounding her with pictures of her face and the words “The white left is responsible for the repression of street vendors” scrawled across it.

However, Colau’s Barcelona En Comú party has been considerably more sympathetic towards migrants than the Democratic Convergence party of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. At the local level, the conservative nationalist formation has repeatedly spearheaded revanchist campaigns against migrant street workers, depicting them as “uncivil” agents of urban and social decay. During the 2011 Spanish general elections, their campaign posters read, “People don’t leave their countries because they want to but because they are hungry. But in Catalonia, not everyone fits in.”

This background has led some to dismiss the February 18 protest as a farce, another symbolic gesture by local politicians that dissolves once it touches reality. Or even worse, as a case of moralistic posturing aiming to absolve politicians from their responsibilities on the basis of their self-proclaimed good intentions.

This is not an unreasonable position. The Catalan independence process led by Puigdemont’s party is notorious for organizing massive events but taking few steps to actually exercise political sovereignty. Meanwhile, the reforms passed by Barcelona En Comú are dwarfed by the party’s radical campaign promises and weak position as a minority government. Criticizing Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party, which is broadly unpopular in Catalonia, allows both parties to assert themselves as at least more progressive than the central government and pin their frustrations on the ass in Madrid.

However, this view ignores a key actor in all of this. Namely, the ordinary people who took to the streets en masse to denounce the violence, indifference and cruelty taking place at Europe’s borders. In the spectacle surrounding the protest, political parties sought to appropriate its meaning for their own causes. These include the nation-building of the Catalan independence process and the place-making of Barcelona En Comú’s municipalist project. But this is hardly surprising — it is simply the nature of a political opportunity.

For emancipatory movements, perhaps the more important question is not whether the parties’ intentions are as noble as their own but whether they can occupy the protest’s sociopolitical expediency to push society towards radical change. The enormous gap between the protest’s message of welcome and the policies adopted by the government begs to be filled with content, and its legitimacy hinges on the participation of migrant and refugee collectives. Divorced from that substance, any claim of being a welcoming place is shallow at best, cynical and insulting at worst.

This approach was taken by the street vendors union and many of Catalonia’s most combative migrants’ rights collectives, who participated in the march despite their misgivings towards many of its aforementioned supporters. Through critical engagement, they expanded the protest’s message to include not only those who hope to arrive but also those who are already here. Their demands included shutting down migrant detention centers, an end to racist persecution and structural violence and the abolition of the Foreign Nationals Act, among many others.

There is, of course, a risk to this approach. The more substantive content of the protest could be cannibalized by self-satisfaction. After the protest, the social networks were buzzing with enthusiasm. Many described how “proud” they were to be from a place that was demanding more refugees. And in the lead-up to the march, criticism of the political class was similarly self-congratulatory. As he addressed the crowd at the Casa nostra, Casa vostra concert, popular television personality Jordi Évole declared, “On the issue of refugees, our society, the people, the citizenry, are far, far ahead of the authorities.”

This sense of moral superiority may be intrinsic to turning righteous indignation into meaningful, bottom-up action, but it cannot be an end in itself. Ultimately, what makes protests like the one on February 18 necessary is not how great we are as people, but how shameful it is to be on this side of Fortress Europe, witnessing the cruelty done in our name. To merely lament this situation is a privilege. We must instead take on the responsibility to act.

Carlos Delclós, Roarmag, 22th of February 2017


12 februarja, 2017

Reason, creativity and freedom: the communalist model



Whether the twenty-first century will be the most radical of times or the most reactionary … will depend overwhelmingly upon the kind of social movement and program that social radicals create out of the theoretical, organizational, and political wealth that has accumulated during the past two centuries… The direction we select … may well determine the future of our species for centuries to come.

Murray Bookchin, The Communalist Project (2002)

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, devastating images and memories of the First and Second World Wars flood our minds. Anti-rationalism, racialized violence, scapegoating, misogyny and homophobia have been unleashed from the margins of society and brought into the political mainstream.

Meanwhile, humanity itself runs in a life-or-death race against time. The once-unthinkable turmoil of climate change is now becoming reality, and no serious attempts are being undertaken by powerful actors and institutions to holistically and effectively mitigate the catastrophe. As the tenuous and paradoxical era of American republicanism comes to an end, nature’s experiment in such a creative, self-conscious creature as humanity reaches a perilous brink.

Precisely because these nightmares have become reality, now is the time to decisively face the task of creating a free and just political economic system. For the sake of humanity — indeed for the sake of all complex life on earth as we know it — we must countervail the fascism embodied today in nation-state capitalism and unravel a daunting complex of interlocking social, political, economic and ecological problems. But how?

As a solution to the present situation, a growing number of people in the world are proposing “communalism”: the usurpation of capitalism, the state, and social hierarchy by the way of town, village, and neighborhood assemblies and federations. Communalism is a living idea, one that builds upon a rich legacy of political history and social movements.

The commune from Rojava to the Zapatistas

The term communalism originated from the revolutionary Parisian uprising of 1871 and was later revived by the late-twentieth century political philosopher Murray Bookchin (1931-2006). Communalism is often used interchangeably with “municipalism”, “libertarian municipalism” (a term also developed by Bookchin) and “democratic confederalism” (coined more recently by the imprisoned Kurdish political leader Abdullah Öcalan).

Although each of these terms attempt to describe direct, face-to-face democracy, communalism stresses its organic and lived dimensions. Face-to-face civic communities, historically called communes, are more than simply a structure or mode of management. Rather, they are social and ethical communities uniting diverse social and cultural groups. Communal life is a good in itself.

There are countless historical precedents that model communalism’s institutional and ethical principles. Small-scale and tribal-based communities provide many such examples. In North America, the Six Nations Haudenasanee (Iroquis) Confederacy governed the Great Leaks region by confederal direct democracy for over 800 years. In coastal Panama, the Kuna continue to manage an economically vibrant island archipelago. Prior to the devastation of colonization and slavery, the Igbo of the Niger Delta practiced a highly cosmopolitan form of communal management. More recently, in Chiapas, Mexico, the Zapatista Movement have reinvented pre-Columbian assembly politics through hundreds of autonomous municipios and five regional capitals called caracoles (snails) whose spirals symbolize the joining of villages.

Communalist predecessors also emerge in large-scale urban communities. From classical Athens to the medieval Italian city-states, direct democracy has a home in the city. In 2015, the political movement Barcelona en Comú won the Barcelona city mayorship based on a vast, richly layered collective of neighborhood assemblies. Today, they are the largest party in the city-council, and continue to design platforms and policies through collective assembly processes. In Northern Syria, the Kurdish Freedom Movement has established democratic confederalism, a network of people’s assemblies and councils that govern alongside the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

These are just a few examples among countless political traditions that testify to “the great theoretical, organizational and political wealth” that is available to empower people against naked authoritarianism.

Power, administration and citizenship

The most fundamental institution of communalism is the civic assembly. Civic assemblies are regular communal gatherings open to all adults within a given municipality — such as a town, village or city borough — for the purpose of discussing, debating and making decisions about matters that concern the community as a whole.

In order to understand how civic assemblies function, one must understand the subtle, but crucial distinction between administration and decision-making power. Administration encompasses tasks and plans related to executing policy. The administration of a particular project may make minor decisions — such as what kind of stone to use for a bridge.

Power, on the other hand, refers to the ability to actually make policy and major decisions — whether or not to build a bridge. In communalism, power lies within this collective body, while smaller, mandated councils are delegated to execute them. Experts such as engineers, or public health practicioners play an important role in assemblies by informing citizens, but it is the collective body itself which is empowered to actually make decisions.

With clear distinctions between administration and power, the nature of individual leadership changes dramatically. Leaders cultivate dialogue and execute the will of the community. The Zapatistas expresses this is through the term cargo, meaning the charge or burden. Council membership execute the will of their community, leadership means “to obey and not to command, to represent and not to supplant…to move down and not upwards.”

A second critical distinction between professional-driven politics as usual and communalism is citizenship. By using the term “citizen”, communalists deliberately contradict the restrictive and emptied notion of citizenship invoked by modern-day nation-states. In communal societies, citizenship is conferred to every adult who lives within the municipality. Every adult who lives within the municipality is empowered to directly participate, vote and take a turn performing administrative roles. Rather, this radical idea of citizenship is based on residency and face-to-face relationships.

Civic assemblies are a living tradition that appear time and again throughout history. It is worth pausing here to consider the conceptual resources left to us by classical Athenian democracy. Admittedly, Athenian society was far from perfect. Like the rest of the Mediterranean world at that time, Athens was built upon the backs of slaves and domesticated women. Nonetheless, Athenian democracy to this day is the most well-documented example of direct, communal self-management:

Agora: The common public square or meetinghouse where the assembly gathers. The agora is home to our public selves, where we go to make decisions, raise problems, and engage in public discussion.

Ekklesia: The general assembly, a community of citizens.

Boule: The administrative body of 500 citizens that rotated once every year.

Polis: The city itself. But here again, the term refers not to mere materiality, but rather to a rich, multi-species and material community. The polis is an entity and character unto itself.

Paeida: Ongoing political and ethical education individuals undergo to achieve arete, virtue or excellence.

The key insight of classical Athenian democracy is that assembly politics are organic. Far more than a mere structure or set of mechanisms, communalism is a synergy of elements and institutions that lead to a particular kind of community and process. Yet assemblies alone do not exhaust communal politics. Just as communities are socially, ecologically and economically inter-dependent, a truly free and ethical society must engage in robust inter-community dialogue and association. Confederation allows autonomous communities toscale up” for coordination across a regional level.

Confederation differs from representative democracy because it is based on recallable delegates rather than individually empowered representatives. Delegates cannot make decisions on behalf of a community. Rather, they bring proposals back down to the assembly. Charters articulate a confederacy’s ethical principles and define expectations for membership. In this way, communities have a basis to hold themselves and one another accountable. Without clear principles, basis of debate to actions based on principles of reason, humanism and justice.

In the Kurdish Freedom Movement of Rojava, Northern Syria, the Rojava Social Contract is based on “pillars” of feminism, ecology, moral economy and direct democracy. These principles resonate throughout the movement as a whole, tying together diverse organizations and communities on a shared basis of feminism, radical multi-culturalism and ecological stewardship.

A Free Society

There is no single blueprint for a municipal movement. Doubtlessly, however, the realization of such free political communities can only come about with fundamental changes in our social, cultural and economic fabric. The attitudes of racism and xenophobia, which have fueled the virulent rise of fascism today in places like the United States, must be combated by a radical humanism that celebrates ethnic, cultural and spiritual diversity. For millennia, sex and gender oppression have denigrated values and social forms attributed to women. These attitudes must be supplanted by a feminist ethic and sensibility of mutual care.

Nor can freedom cannot come about without economic stability. Capitalism along with all forms of economic exploitation must be abolished and replaced by systems of production and distribution for use and enjoyment rather than for profit and sale. The vast, concrete belts of “modernindustrial cities must be overhauled and rescaled into meaningful, livable and sustainable urban spaces. We must deal meaningfully with problems of urban development, gentrification and inequality embodied within urban space.

Just as individuals cannot be separated from the broader political community of which they are a part, human society cannot be separated from our context within the natural world. The cooperative, humanistic politics of communalism thus work hand in hand with a radical ecological sensibility that recognizes human beings a unique, self-conscious part of nature.

While managing our own needs and desires, we have the capacity to be outward-thinking and future-oriented. The Haudenasaunee (Iroquis) Confederacy calls this the “Seven Generations Principle.” According to the Seven Generations Principle, all political deliberations must be made on behalf of the present community — which includes animals and the broader ecological community — for the succeeding seven generations.

While even a brief sketch of all the social changes needed today far exceed the scope of a short essay, the many works of Murray Bookchin and other social ecologists provide rich discussions about the meaning of a directly democratic and ecological society. From the Green Movement, the Anti-Globalization Movement, Occupy Wall Street, to Chile and Spain’s Indignados Movements, communalist ideals have also played a growing role in social and political struggles throughout the world. It is a growing movement in its own right.

Communalism is not a hard and rigid ideology, but rather a coherent, unfolding body of ideas built upon a core set of principles and institutions. It is, by definition, a process — one that is open and adaptable to virtually infinite cultural, historical and ecological contexts. Indeed, communalism’s historical precedents in tribal democracy and town/village assemblies can be found in nearly every corner of the earth.

The era of professional-driven, state “politics” has come to an end. Only grassroots democracy at a global scale can successfully oppose the dystopian future ahead. All the necessary tools are at hand. A great wealth of resources have accumulated during humanity’s many struggles. With it — with communalism — we might remake the world upon humanity’s potential for reason, creativity and freedom.

Eleanor Finley, Roarmag, 11th of February 2017