Why we need a European approach to the Democracy Real mobilizations

We’re reposting the important editorial by Jerome Roos:

“The mass protests currently sweeping through Europe are truly unprecedented and historical both in their creative and non-violent character and in their immense geographical spread. The oncoming exacerbation of the eurozone debt crisis — Paul Krugman yesterday warned that meltdown is imminent and that it’s “time to panic” — will only serve as fuel on the fire of this budding European protest movement.

Yet however inspiring this continental quest for real democracy is, it’s also worrisome to consider its possible fate. Yes, we have plenty of revolutionaries now, and yes, for the first time in decades we have a genuinely revolutionary movement here in Europe. Yet we have no revolution, and at this pace, we won’t have one anytime soon.

The reason is that while we have a movement, the movement has no direction. While we have plenty of ideals, these ideals are not yet embedded within clearly defined ideas. At times, it seems like the the epic clusterfuck within which we currently find ourselves has paralyzed us. Where on earth do we begin to unravel the Gordian knot?

The easiest place to start, logically, has been at the grassroots. In a beautiful irony, occupying city squares has become at once our last resort and our first step. Driven both by despair at the state of our world and by hope for a better future, we are all a bit like Antonio Gramsci, who famously subscribed to “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.”

But while there is a heart-warming and immensely inspiring beauty to the massive popular assemblies that are being organized on public squares throughout Europe right now, there is also something incredibly sad about it. How is it possible that so many hundreds of thousands of people, who despite their outrage have been so remarkably peaceful and modest in their demands, can be conveniently ignored and scorned by the dominant system of power?

How sad is it to see tens of thousands of people sitting down on the street to discuss the most reasonable issues of social justice, financial stability and environmental sustainability — while knowing that 1,000 miles away in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin, a handful of powerful men and women in suits continue to carve up the future without any consideration for such matters at all?

How sad to see, in other words, that in the EU’s handling of the crisis, Puerta del Sol and Syntagma square are just afterthoughts. And how sad to see, as a result of that, that these brilliant protesters are confining their demands to such modest goals as fighting corruption, taxing banks and reducing military expenditure.

The true utopia, as Slavoj Žižek has pointed out many times before, is that these goals of social justice, financial stability and environmental sustainability can be achieved within the parameters of our global capitalist system at all. To paraphrase Žižek, the real utopia is not the idea of a radically different world — but the idea of a radically different outcome within the same world.

The real causes of the people’s misery, after all, are not caused by the corruption of a few hundred politicians or the greed of a few thousand bankers, but in the structural dynamics that enable and reward such behavior in the first place. As Robert Wade, my Professor at the London School of Economics put it, “this is not a crisis in the system — it’s a crisis of the system.”

As a result, today’s crisis cannot be solved by regulation — or ‘cosmetic surgery’, as Wolfgang Münchau recently put it in the Financial Times. It can only be solved by transformation into a different system altogether. The idea of a common market with free trade and free capital flows, but no European government to look after the interests of the citizens who are affected by these cross-border transactions, is just foolish. It was bound to produce crisis.

Since we are all subjected in our daily lives to the economic dynamics of a deeply integrated European market, the structural solution simply has to be European. Turning our back on Europe because the technocrats in Brussels let us down is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As Žižek pointed out in an excellent article on the Greek debt crisis:

One often hears that the true message of the Eurozone crisis is that not only the Euro, but the project of the united Europe itself is dead. But before endorsing this general statement, one should add a Leninist twist to it: Europe is dead—OK, but which Europe? The answer is: the post-political Europe of accommodation to the world market, the Europe which was repeatedly rejected at referendums, the Brussels technocratic-expert Europe. The Europe that presents itself as standing for cold European reason against Greek passion and corruption, for mathematics against pathetics. But, utopian as it may appear, the space is still open for another Europe: a re-politicized Europe, founded on a shared emancipatory project; the Europe that gave birth to ancient Greek democracy, to the French and October Revolutions. This is why one should avoid the temptation to react to the ongoing financial crisis with a retreat to fully sovereign nation-states, easy prey for free-floating international capital, which can play one state against the other. More than ever, the reply to every crisis should be more internationalist and universalist than the universality of global capital.

In future posts, I will delve more deeply into the particular type of changes that will need to take place at the European level (for now, I refer to the last two articles in my ‘Europe in Crisis‘ series). At the moment, it suffices to highlight that blaming national politicians for this crisis, and desiring some kind of return to a ‘democratic nation state’ is futile. As long as the EU keeps operating according to the dictates of neoliberal dogma, politicians will just remain pawns in the hands of the French, German and Dutch banking sectors and democracy will remain just as dead as it is today.

So if the ‘real democracy now’ movement is to move beyond mere indignation and grow into a movement with truly revolutionary potential, it will have to come up with a coherent system’s critique and a constructive alternative. This alternative will have be built on the concerns of the grassroots, but cannot stay limited to it. If the Spanish and Greek revolutions are to succeed, the fight will have to be taken to Brussels.”

1 Comment Why we need a European approach to the Democracy Real mobilizations

  1. AvatarEmil Möller

    Allow me to replace Brussels with ‘Brussels’

    Meaning: Brussels as an exterior phenomenon (institution, laws, regulations, regulator’s behavior etc) will only be changed when the hearts of its en-actors (regulators, constituency, lobbyists, grass roots) co create a new chemistry

    A chemistry that allows for, or perhaps induces, a view of all life as being primarily one and only secondary different. Then differences in outlook are secondary, as in two parents caring for a sick child

    Until a certain threshold of en-actors has taken the required step in consciousness, we will see business as usual 1.1 in Brussels, instead of 2.0.

    What can be helpful is exposing large audiences to wake up signals (like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZUkkGFCyZk&feature=related), triggering their desire to co create e better world

    When this desire is fueled, the change of heart in ‘Brussels’ will spread like wild fire. Then perspectives like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_YOG3jMlV4 will take root and speakers like Charles Eisentein (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5342572150450364780#) will be able to be heard in governing bodies in Brussels

    And will we see channels like http://www.youtube.com/user/willyji1 on prime time main stream TV, so the large audience can inform itself

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