Recently we’d been discussing Ben Reynolds’ essay at Roar Magazine ‘Whose lives matter? The limitations of Bernie Sanders’ and this core thesis:
“Rather than channeling popular anger into institutionalized politics, we need to articulate a vision for the radical reconstruction of the political and economic structures of society. We have to devote ourselves to the hard work of organizing in working-class communities, building power in the streets and in workplaces rather than the halls of Congress. More than anything, we have to recognize that the radical left is at its strongest as a grassroots movement and at its weakest when it tries to bargain with institutional powers.”
The Roar collective feels that there are indications of a revolutionary spirit growing globally, the magazine has set itself the task of stimulating those forces bubbling just below the surface by imagining what the new Building Blocks of power in search of creating a better world not ruled totally by capital as it is now…but spurred by radical imagination for working people might look like.
“We are acutely aware that the construction of a new world is far more than an academic exercise. We do not harbor any illusions about the “Eternal Truths” of radical theory and we certainly do not aim to write any blueprints for a post-capitalist future.
We simply write to learn from each others’ struggles, to share our common dreams and aspirations, and to amplify our collective powers—so that one day we may be able to recount the story of our struggle to future generations:
Yes, we lived amidst the ruins.
Until we picked up the stones,
And we began to build.
I’ve been trying to make my way through them, but some are frankly just a bit over my head, never having learned Marxist dialectics; others are simpler. But in the David Harvey interview concerning ‘Consolidating Power’ was this response after he’d been speaking of Occupy Sandy sorts of community help:
Question: “But how to avoid filling that gap by helping, for example, unemployed people not to get squeezed out by neoliberal state?
Harvey: Well there has to be an anti-capitalist agenda, so that when the group works with people everybody knows that it is not only about helping them to cope but that there is an organized intent to politically change the system in its entirety. This means having a very clear political project, which is problematic with decentralized, non-homogenous types of movements where somebody works one way, others work differently and there is no collective or common project.”
Most of the essays are in agreement on the tenet that self-organizing movements need to be of the dual purpose he names, but as to his final sentence there, I was heartened to run into an interview with Christos Giovanopoulos at Counterpunch the other day (among the host of ‘candidate contrasting’ posts. He’s been deeply involved with Solidarity for All in Greece since:
“…the Greek parliament accepted the mid-term (2011-2016) bailout program (late June 2011). The popular movement responded by attempting to block its implementation. Strikes and government-building occupations – primarily in the public sector – occurred, but most importantly, there was a ‘no pay’ campaign against a new household tax. The tax was included in the electricity bills. Refusal to pay meant you risked having your power cut. The last People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square (end of September) called for the ‘no pay’ campaign. The Assembly stated “we won’t leave anyone alone against the crisis.” This became the banner of the solidarity movement.”
The movement’s About Us page is here, including aims, a Constitution, the Resistance, endorsement of The European Antifascist Manifesto, etc. Our Purpose:
“Solidarity for All is an organisation which identifies and supports the many social solidarity initiatives which have been established in Greece as a part of the resistance to the harsh austerity policies which have led to a humanitarian crisis. People have taken matters into their own hands through grassroots activism and local collective action. The many and varied social solidarity initiatives include – social pharmacies, social medical clinics, social kitchens, social groceries, markets without middlemen, a social collective of mental health professionals, social solidarity drop in centres, time banks (sharing skills and time), olive oil producers sharing olive oil, the ‘potato movement’ where farmers trade direct with consumers cutting out the supermarkets.”
He’s being interviewed by Alexander Kolokotronis, who is the Student Coordinator of NYC Network of Worker Cooperatives, founder of Student Organization for Democratic Alternatives, and more, and his introduction gives an overview of this key movement that’s apparently been a rather hidden part of the solidarity economy movement in Greece (a USian version is here, and Christos had gone on tour with the movement in May 2015.
“In a 2014-2015 report entitled Building Hope: Against Fear and Devastation, Solidarity for All draws attention to “the devastating effects of the radical neoliberal experiment on Greek society.” The report also sets out to highlight “another experiment: that of Greek society taking action through self-organization and solidarity, of people standing up and resisting their economic and political ‘saviours.’”
He cites some horrifying facts and percentages of unemployment, foreclosures, loss of health care, increasing precarity and downright poverty (the majority of Greeks are living below the poverty line) in the report, and notes the figures are from 2014, so they would be far worse now. Having mentioned that the report mentions alternatives that are springing up all over Greece…
“These include solidarity healthcare clinics, food solidarity structures and solidarity kitchens, “without middlemen” networks, immigrant solidarity networks and cooperatives. With the crisis bringing the capitalist mode of production into question, these democratic organizational forms are being sought out and created. As Christos Giovanopoulos – member of Solidarity for All – emphasizes in this interview, these alternative institutions are not simply about fulfilling a need, but about building capacity and ensuring all participants have agency within those same alternative institutions.
Thus, one finds a range of organizational designs and setups even with one type of alternative institution. As Solidarity for All states, “There is not one model of solidarity clinics, each one is unique, and the same goes for all the solidarity structures.” He offers examples, and then talks about food, then after touching on the cooperative movement, which Giovanopoulos discusses at length later, including pitfalls, potentials for cooptation, state law and financial constraints, etc.
“Food distribution has also taken different forms with solidarity food structures, solidarity kitchens, and “without middlemen” networks. Without middlemen networks connect food producers directly to consumers through mechanisms such as preorder. The result is reduced prices in food, as well as ensuring a higher income for producers. These networks also provide a framework through which socialization of production, distribution, and even consumption, can be steadily built and scaled. One example of this is that each producer of a given bazaar donating two to five percent of their goods, which are then distributed to families that cannot afford to purchase food.” [snip]
“Also, expanding due to the rapid inflow of migrants and refugees is immigrant solidarity networks and structures. These have received increased attention in large media outlets, and have been noted for the inclusion of migrants and refugees in the decision-making processes and apparatuses of such organizations.”
When asked if the movement is largely a response to austerity, Christos expounds at length about varying opinions, but this seems to be the pithiest, most powerful part:
“The solidarity movement transcends those positions. First and foremost, the practice of the solidarity structures holds the potential to synthesize active popular participation – as a response to immediate needs of a population threatened by a humanitarian crisis – while it enables the resilience of this society to stand up and carry on resisting. Beyond supporting the suffering, it aims to engage them in the struggle to change both deeply rooted habits of political ‘assignment’ and the conditions that cause their hardships. Thus, it develops spaces and practices that could form a different paradigm. Specifically, a paradigm for people-managed ‘institutions’.
This implies a different role and practice than that of merely supporting an ailing society. Its modus operandi – based on assemblies and self-organization – can foster new kinds of social relationships, pushing against the disintegration of the social fabric. Moreover, the practices of the solidarity structures develop a favorable terrain for breaking the split between ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘benefactors’. [snip]
“…the solidarity movement does not hide its political role and what it stands for, including its aim to produce social and political change, and to create the material conditions that permit a different democratic paradigm to emerge in order to restructure the existing clientelist public (welfare included) system. Thus, its difference from the ‘traditional Modern Left’ political culture is not in its long-term aims, but in that it goes beyond just demanding and voting. It defends social rights in a very tangible way by trying to develop tools and through standing by the people needs. This means forging enduring social relationships in order to show that there is an alternative based on a different set of principles, ideas (e.g. equality, universal rights), and mode of social organization.”
Now his contrasting ‘taking power’, ‘political emancipation and (exercise of power for)’, and how it fits with ‘the meeting of quotidian politics with the struggle for political power’, ‘open and participatory forms of bottom-up democratic infrastructures of resistance (today) and power (tomorrow)’ gets pretty murky to me, albeit I do think I understand ‘bottom up’, which of course reminds me of the Zaptaista form of grassroots populist government, in which even in the various caracoles, citizens meet to discuss things for a few weeks, then yield their place to others. And they’re saying: “If it doesn’t work….try something else. (i.e., self-critique is key in any new endeavor)
It may be that he and his comrades don’t have a firm vision about how this movement would interface with, or replace ‘state power’, but he says:
“This movement has laid out a different question, or rather task, than the “take or not take power” (in order to change the world). By building self-organized social structures, it delineates processes to “create power,” which also enable the power to change when one acquires state power. If there is a reason to argue for the transformative potential of this movement, it is exactly due to its capacity as a network of (infra-)structures and as generator of policies designed on the basis of its practices through the deepening of democratic processes and popular participation.”
Given that after citing some of the abysmal immiseration statistics in Greece, Kolokotronis notes that: “It is for this reason that a UNICEF report has referred to this crisis as a “Great Leap Backward.” The economic cost is clear, but the psychological and social impact is immeasurable”, how could it not remind me of this Billy Bragg tune?
It may have been Camelot for Jack and Jacqueline
But on the Che Guevara highway filling up with gasoline
Fidel Castro’s brother spies a rich lady who’s crying
Over luxury’s disappointment
So he walks over and he’s trying
To sympathize with her but thinks that he should warn her
That the Third World is just around the corner…