The recent wreckage of a ship in the cost of Greece has cost over 700 human lives. For the policymakers, this has a positive connotation because it conveys a message to people wanting to immigrate to Europe: keep out!
The cycle in which liberalism comes out of the closet in the form of fascism is again maturing in Europe. The absence of anti-capitalist organised groups has played an enormous role in leaving the rows of people to liberal-fascist demagogy. The lack of empathy with the immigrants has a twofold dimension: the dehumanisation of the self and the other.
How is it possible that, as people die trying to cross to Europe, parties and political organisations celebrating their deaths and suffering are getting stronger?
My father used to say: whoever plants winds harvests tempests. In this sense, it is imperative that the contemporary left makes a self-critique.
The death of the anti-capitalist left is the product of a comprehensive strategy of the capitalist elites in which Marxist, socialist, and communist intelligentsia was infiltrated, scattered, divided, conquered, and substituted by the postmodern left. The goal of this new left was to paralyse any attempt to confront and change the capitalist system. It provided instead two sets of theories: first, an eschatological, nihilist framework in which capitalism was recognised as flawed, but simultaneously one had to see that there is no other alternative to it because all concrete socialist tentatives are imperfect; second, the destruction of objective reality in which common goals and pains are felt by us all in constant acts of recognitions, and in its place, a subjective, arbitrary, irrational worldview should become the criteria of the truth, translated in the reactionary notion of personal identity.
Irrespective of how successful this endeavour by the power elites was, it could only occur if the anti-capitalist left imploded. The power of anti-capitalism is embedded in two pillars: to have reality on its side – not subjective perceptions but objective reality – and to be the spokesperson, the translator, the mediator, the teacher and, at the same time, always the pupil of the working masses, of those who are dispossessed from the means of production, that is, the 99% of the people. Therefore, the anti-capitalist left must bear the foremost responsibility for its own disfranchisement.
Before the status quo hijacked social discourse and the hearts and minds of the people, the anti-capitalist left had already suffered a metamorphosis: it had now become the let’s-reform-capitalism left. This was not only a political but also a theoretical and methodological betrayal. Can there ever be a reformed and ethical slavery? Can there ever be a regulated and ethical rape? Of course not! They are ontological impossibilities. Nonetheless, when it comes to capitalist exploitation, in the eyes of the former anti-capitalist, the now reformist left, it could be rebranded. Leftist postmodern irrationalism declares: changing the name changes reality. Therefore, if capitalist exploitation is now painted with the colours of the concepts of liberal democracy, then – voila! – capitalism must have become democratic.
For the reformist left, the oxymoron of capitalist democracy (capitalism = social relations of production based on exploitation by the capitalist elite, and democracy = rule of the people) could simply be ignored. Now, the reformist left felt it became part of the club of the ruling elites; it had the illusion – as most of the so-called leftists have until today – that it could change the system from the inside, while in reality, it was the system that was changing the left.
Although neoliberalism and postmodernism are two sides of the same medallion, their existential condition was the capitulation of the anti-capitalist left. Meanwhile, its new task became to provide legitimation for the system both abroad and at home. Post-World War II has been virtually universally conceived in an anti-historical fashion. Not only the rise of fascism appeared as an anomaly, disconnected from its liberal ties, but also the so-called welfare system (or Keynesianism) was embraced acritically. It ignores its existence as a reaction to the Soviet Union’s welfare state. Moreover, without a socialist path going on, it is, in fact, a system of managing and controlling the (precarity of the) masses so that any emancipatory expectation never comes to fruition while the system is assimilated and protected by those same people being exploited.
And this connects with the second function of the Keynesian system, namely, to destroy any empathy towards the other, to reaffirm the values of capitalist egoism. While third-world countries were being plundered and those who fought against classical colonialism were demonised, capitalist welfare was sustained on the backbone of underdeveloped countries. And needless to say that despite the discourse against fascism (Hitler’s and Mussolini’s), after 1945, through the Paperclip and Gladio operations, Nazi-fascists were assimilated by the United States to enrich their scientific community and also to fight communism in Europe, respectively; meanwhile, the fascist regimes in Portugal, Spain, and Greece, on the one hand, and brutal military dictatorships in the American, African, and Asiatic continents, on the other, did not represent a problem for the liberal democracies as they were usually installed by them through coup d’états while removing the elected people.
The reformist left renders, therefore, war, plunder, destruction, and exploitation as reasonable enterprises when the West perpetrates against the rest of the world. Simultaneously, the power of the left, which was previously anchored on the people, faded; the people, conversely, lost representation because the reformists not only parroted the narratives of the status quo but distanced themselves from the masses with their irrational claims disconnected from the broad demands of the people in their daily lives.
This, in turn, resulted not only in the lack of representation of the people by the intelligentsia but even more importantly in the total de-politicisation of the masses, whose spiritual lives lost connection with each other, with their labour actives, with their communities, with those in need, with daily lives besides their own, in a word, with their humanity. While people were left by themselves as individuals belonging to the same class, the ruling class and the intelligentsia from virtually all spectrums proclaimed the inexistence of classes; “there is no such thing as society”, proclaimed M. Thatcher. Consequently, people were not only atomised at work by the capitalist class, their power as a class, which had existed until that moment, was declared extinct. Now, there was only economic, political, and social atomisation.
Since 2008, many people have started to claim to be anti-capitalist, to participate in the people’s struggles, to be progressives or even radicals. In practice, they are simply relativising postmodern nihilism and assimilating the old posture of the former reformist left. The practical result is the continuation of the disconnection between the real people and the leftists, who considered themselves bearers conveying the message of the people.
Ordinary people, being left to their own fates for the past 40 years, see their confidant representatives in the empty rhetoric of a more extreme wing of the ruling power. The message of the extreme right-wing shows a certain degree of empathy while at the same reaffirming and protecting egoist values, which have become the sole social bond among them after decades of neoliberalism.
Contemporary immigration from North Africa and the Middle East is the perfect example. After allowing the elites to destroy, invade, conquer, and pillage those regions, creating millions of refugees, the reformist left is suddenly surprised that the pain of those trying to seek a better life in Europe is not met with compassion. After decades of an ideology of dehumanisation of the other, of those barbarian terrorists, this left thinks the masses, negatively reacting, are to blame. The refugee crisis is a tragedy that the United States and Europe have objectively created while subjectively constructing an image of fairness, justice, superiority for themselves and inferiority, savagery, and backwardation for the other. Add to this the worsening of living conditions in Europe, especially since 2008, and a recipe for disaster is ready to be served.
History does not contain a destiny, and dark moments are merely transitory. However, if the self-proclaimed left continues on this path of reform and identities, it will only prolong its necessary destruction before a new movement can indeed represent the people; meanwhile, the suffering of both “locals” and immigrants will remain trapped within the logic of capitalist conflict. It is time for self-critique before new affirmative actions can be made.
We must be interested not only in the grand scale, systemic, and institutional changes that we so desperately need, but also in the human center of change that is both root and spark for lasting, fundamental transformation across society.
By uniting these two components of change, they become two sides of a leaf, at once the reflection and the reflected, the potential and the path.
20 theses and a thousand buts
For the last few months, I have been a co-organizer of a project for radical solidarity, a unifying framework of positive vision and strategy for social transformation. In other words, I have joined in the audacious pursuit of developing a culture that fosters collective, strategic action, aimed at building and sustaining a movement of movements.
Before I lose the realists, the seen-it-before’s, the good-luck-with-that’s, and the ain’t-got-time-for-this-shit’s, let me interrupt your “no, but…” for just a moment longer.
Yes, it’s utopian. And, it’s strategic.
I do not propose that the 20 Theses project is without fault, and that no negative or even dismissive reactions are warranted. Rather, I propose that much of the perceived problems and resistance to engagement with this project, and others like it, are reflective of a deeper ailment in liberatory struggle.
Using the 20 Theses project as it was intended, as a jumping off point for developing culture conducive to building collective power, reveals that perhaps the first steps forward must include a step back.
Prisoners of our own device
“The worst walls are never the ones you find in your way. The worst walls are the ones you put there.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin
In a recent email to a fellow organizer, I admitted that my biggest impression from this project, so far, is that I am now even more solidly convinced that the left (and many people in general) are so well conditioned by our society to have a “no, but” reaction, rather than a “yes, and” reaction, to positive formulations.
We aim to see what’s missing, reject-able, or just doesn’t reflect our own personal situation, and we use that as a stopping point rather than as an invitation to listen, add, apply, share, contextualize, etc. We have a reflex to oppose rather than propose – and not because we’re all just narrow minded assholes but because, for a long time, opposition has been understood as our only power.
My comrade advised me to share this observation publicly, and after some thought, I agree. Why pretend this problem doesn’t exist when we can name it, confront it, and maybe overcome it?
What is the lesson and the way forward from this pervasive ‘no, but…’ syndrome? The answer might lie in the question – in order to knock down the walls we’ve thrown up, we have to remember that even though we were pressured and conditioned to build walls, we did in fact build them. And we can let them fall.
The frustrations suffered while initiating, growing, and sustaining solidarity and building collective power should give us all the more reason not to stop. This initial wall shows us how seriously we need such efforts to keep trying to connect, to open pathways for engagement. Behind each self-imprisoning wall are the cries of people who have nearly forgotten that we hold our own keys. In insolation, we will remain captive. In community, we are reminded that the power and potential of interdependence is greater than any wall.
Perhaps even this might sound wishful, vague, or even self-helpy. Again, I challenge your “no, but” with a YES, it has to do in part with collective and personal psychology and wellness, AND it can be strategically linked to systemic conditions. Within our problem lies an invitation: any ways in which to foster connectivity and a culture of ‘building up’ are urgently needed. We can’t expect to have any collective power or left unity without such a culture, let alone any appeal to wider groups or any skill at grassroots organizing.
An honest look within
“Without community, there is no liberation…but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”
– Audre Lorde
Refocusing on positive vision and strategy toward mutual aims does not imply that we abandon critique. Rather, it requires getting better at critique. Critique is one of those things where quantity can drown quality, washing away everything in its path.
Part of good critique is self-critique. I do not intend to steamroll the nuance out of millions of participants in diverse struggles. I highlight our “no, but” syndrome not to point a snide finger at “us” or “you”, but to confront some shared experiences honestly. I fully recognize that I am making generalizations, and I do so in an attempt to create space for an increased appetite for nuance. I recognize and celebrate examples that diverge from the problems I describe. They are not the exception that proves the rule, rather they are bastions of the true human spirit serving as guides if we will only follow their light.
Now for the self-flagellation…
It has become normalized to focus solely on what we reject or oppose. We are not habituated to linger over the possibilities between the constructive versus the deconstructive. The space between these two types of critique is where many potential choices lie, and it is highly self-defeating to squander such opportunities. Sometimes, deconstructing is beneficial, as in deconstructing gender binaries to reveal that the binary itself is a mere construct. This has significant liberating potential. However, without constructive critique, a feedback method that offers specific, actionable recommendations for change and improvement, this potential cannot be built upon. While good constructive critique certainly exists in gender justice and in other realms of struggle, it must often fight to be heard and to thrive over the din of demolition. This does no favors to the movement.
The effect renders us into solitary homing missiles for what we each want to destroy, yet we have little skill in the work of constructing, repairing, rebuilding, and including. Our landscape is littered with the burnout and rubble of our own movements while the ecocidal-racist-cis-heteronormative-ablist-patriarchal-imperial-colonial-capital-authoritarian-corporate-war machine takes our uncoordinated hits in stride and chugs along.
In searching for the roots of this phenomenon, we can certainly point to our confidence having taken a beating. It’s possible that “no, but” syndrome is caused by prolonged attacks on liberatory movements. Driven from a constructive focus to go underground, all that’s left is deconstructive activity leading, over time, to a culture dominated by deconstructive thought. Eventually, our identity itself is based on being deconstructive. We might wear “no, but…” on a T-shirt. The key is in recognizing that this is actually an individualistic perspective that limits our collectivism, and where we easily mistake extremism for radicalism.
The implications of this demolition-mode span all struggles. Deconstructive critique flourishes, and though important when holistic, careful, and nuanced, it is increasingly impotent as we have become so unskilled in seriously and collectively engaging with what we want to build and promote. It is the constructive component of critique that solves problems, that builds numbers and commitment, and that makes fundamental change happen.
Yet history is riddled with repression and suppression, and though our time is certainly troubled, we shouldn’t be tempted to place all the blame on the past, conveniently out of reach. We cannot erase decades of repression, but we can confront the lack of hope that it has promoted. It is the mentality that fundamentally changing society is either not possible, or not important, that must now be confronted and debunked through practice. Frequently, we don’t even know our own foundational values and norms clearly enough to be able to apply them to diverse contexts, and so we end up reflexively rejecting things that are actually examples of practice. It’s time to come back above ground, re-root in a broadly shared framework, and connect positive vision to examples of prefigurative practice, giving each other something real to point to and aim for.
It’s not me, its you
“Coalition-building is not easy. You don’t make a coalition because you like those in the coalition. You make a coalition because none of us are going to triumph alone.”
– Audre Lorde
Beyond transforming critique from bludgeon into wand, and perhaps more personal than reviving a commitment to elevate positive vision and strategy, there is another consistent pothole in the road to sustaining healthy, powerful communities of struggle. And very commonly, it’s not me, it’s you.
Can I be brutally honest? You fellow progressives and proponents of radical liberation can suck to be around and work with. Tell me you’ve never had this thought cross your mind? Anyone who regularly engages in meetings, forums, projects, etc can attest that we are often lacking even in skills for conversation and deliberation itself, regardless of topic. It’s draining.
Why is this? Are you actually awful, no fun, oversensitive, either totally lacking in confidence or possessing it in unjustified surplus, disconnected from reality, and generally ready to pounce on any perceived difference we might have in ideology or priorities? And am I just so enlightened, committed, and well-meaning that your failings couldn’t possibly also reflect on me?
Unlikely. There’s an obvious point here in that we are a group of people who all feel passionately about our activism, and so are predisposed to be extra sensitive and even volatile about that which we care for so deeply. Bunker mentality is real. It’s also true that we tend to feel most hurt and let down by those to whom we feel closest — it’s why you might feel less personally stung upon learning that Trump had committed sexual assault, than if a member of your coop made an unwanted sexual remark about a colleague’s appearance, even though Trump’s offense is more extreme. You’re not surprised by Trump but you’re disappointed and hurt by your coworker. The two offenses are also different in that your immediate power to directly oppose injustice is much more accessible the nearer the offense. All these personal dynamics play their parts.
However, there is something more going on – it’s not just you, it’s not just me, it’s us. The good thing about this fact is that we can address movement culture both personally and systemically, together.
To start, many if not most of us, have at some point been hurt deeply, even traumatized, which has led us to identify and become opponents of hegemonic systems of oppression. Joining in collective struggle is a valiant response to experiencing or witnessing suffering, but we must still recognize that we are largely a collection of misfit toys. The “successful, well-adjusted radical” mirage may occasionally present itself on TV or YouTube, but even our superstars have scars and even people who were born and raised into counter hegemonic perspectives still suffer under the same oppressive systems. However we got here, we are all “other” in relation to existing social norms by default of our resistance.
This can be both a blessing and curse depending on how our internal movement culture is developed. By striving to organize internally according to the values we seek for society, we are better able to unleash a full diversity of perspective, experience, thought, and practice, thereby enriching movements and empowering people. Through organizing, we have more than just the chance to analyze and critique the system. We have the chance to construct meaningful connections among people in extraordinary and impactful ways. Community is built more by means than ends. Without strong community, the ends are out of our hands.
In addition to organizing through liberatory practice, walking the rocky road of radicalization towards empowerment requires that instead of victimizing ourselves and each other, we must again let down our walls and practice regenerative, interdependent activism. To confuse adding our own suffering for alleviating the suffering of others is a recipe for burnout, and it is ineffective. If we oppress ourselves and each other inside while fighting oppression outside, only the masochists will remain. Our movements might not always be able to be “safe spaces” or fun spaces, but they should at least be regenerative spaces.
Just a taste of community and collective power inspires hope and determination. Why then is it so often ephemeral? We can call for interdependence and solidarity, but to work collectively takes trust, which takes time to build and is easily destroyed. Having the courage to believe in the possibility of change through collaborative efforts is foreign and enormously daunting for many people. It requires challenging the prevailing myths of our system, reshaping our habits and fears, and actively participating in collective endeavors. We will have to help each other in envisioning a world where mutual reliance is fostered, even if we don’t always agree or even always like each other. Overcoming the grand scale challenges we face will require a cultural shift towards believing in each other and believing that we can collectively create better alternatives.
“Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. So, what is utopia for? That’s what it’s for, it’s for walking.”
– Eduardo Galeano
To inspire massively and seriously, when asked, “what do you want?”, we have to have an answer — not a rigid blueprint, but a framework. This is one goal of the 20 Theses project. It does not make the leap from broadly shared vision and strategic norms to any specific program or policy. Instead, it aims to establish a communal gathering place from which diverse applications of a shared framework can be self-determined by people in many places over various timeframes.
The second goal of this project is simply to suggest that by sharing some roots, we might build interdependence and trust between movements. The 20 Theses is a living foundation, able to guide and be guided, without overstepping or overprescribing. The original authors made it explicit that engagement, critique, and adaptations are encouraged — in fact, collective engagement itself is the purpose, developing a culture of solidarity that enables desperately needed strategic organizing.
I do not claim that we shouldn’t search the 20 Theses, or other proposals, for flaws or gaps. However, if that is our primary and final response to positive vision in general, we will not get anywhere. Instead, we must connect positive vision to today, to program and practice, each in our own ways and contexts. At the same time, we can identify immediate and medium-term struggle and let visionary frameworks guide strategy and program towards long-term goals in a positive, plausible arc.
Why does this simple logic for moving forward so often stall and fail? Perhaps we can’t just walk towards Utopia – it is not a place to which one can arrive alone. Perhaps, we must take a step back, hold hands, and dance.
Building community, coalitions, and power blocs, and attracting mass participation along the way, can only be done with a “yes, and” culture. It also requires a look within to overcome defeatism and cynicism, to relearn how to behave with each other, to offer positive pathways that inspire mass involvement over a fixation with purity of ourselves, our identity and aesthetic, and our movements. We need to promote new forms of desire and practices that offer meaningful self-determination towards fulfillment that are not tied to oppressive systems. A large part of this work will be to develop as a hopeful community, interlinked in deep solidarity via unifying frameworks, and relevant through collective action for what is strategically necessary to make changes today and tomorrow towards a more utopian future.
Co-Hosts & Co-Authors: ZNetwork, DiEM25, Cooperation Jackson, Academy of Democratic Modernity, MetaCPC, RealUtopia, Kali Akuno, Michael Albert, Renata Avila, Ramzy Baroud, Medea Benjamin, Peter Bohmer, Fintan Bradshaw, Jeremy Brecher, Urška Breznik, Noam Chomsky, Savvina Chowdhury, Devriş Çimen, Mark Evans, Andrej Grubačić, Jason Hickel, Kathy Kelly, Arash Kolahi, Bridget Meehan, Sotiris Mitralexis, Jason Myles, Cynthia Peters, John Pilger, Matic Primc, Don Rojas, Stephen Shalom, Alexandria Shaner, Norman Solomon, Cooper Sperling, Yanis Varoufakis, Brett Wilkins, Greg Wilpert
We have hit an organizational dead end in the progressive social change movement, just when we are also facing terminal threats to our species. Noam Chomsky (2019) has named the two most immediate threats: (a) the ongoing climate catastrophe and (b) the worst ever threat of nuclear war. At least a dozen species threats loom just behind these two (Pamlin and Armstrong, 2015.) Like many of you, I have spent the last 40 years doing full-time social change, including both to deal with climate change and to prevent nuclear war.. What is different about my story is that it was combat in Vietnam that led me to quit college teaching and become a full-time activist—and that dealing with the aftereffects of combat led me to spend these same forty years in two innovative peer-support (PS) communities: Co-counseling and Anonymous recovery. While both these communities have been the subject of intensive and justifiable criticism, they also both follow uncommon, positive organizational practices. Those practices suggest a way out of the organizational dead end in time to avoid annihilation.
Young people of color have named this organizational dead end as the “NGO-industrial complex” (“NGOIC”) (Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, 2017.) Following the model of corporations under capitalism, NGOICs employ highly-paid, professional staff on a permanent, career basis, using funds raised from rich people and their foundations and organize their work in a hierarchy, typically headed by an “Executive Director” (or sometimes, fashionably, two “Co-Directors.) Inevitably, the interests and values of funders push NGOs to make conservative choices in policies and tactics. Indeed, by law in the USA, the organizational form most frequently followed to give the rich the benefits of tax-deductibility, the 501 (c) (3), is prohibited from engaging in elections, grassroots lobbying beyond a small amount (5% of the first $100,000 in income), much less civil disobedience. Setting aside the threat of funding cutoffs, people who aspire and train for such NGOIC careers also support conservative policy and strategic choices for personal reasons. Their family and colleagues in the media, government, religion and other sectors recommend and reward such conservative choices. Prophetically, the German sociologist Robert Michels identified almost precisely the same NGOIC over a hundred years ago in his critique of the then powerful socialist parties in Europe (Michels, 1962.) More recently, Harvard professor Theda Skocpol blamed it for the failure of our massive environmental organizations to tackle the climate crisis in 2009. We have known about this organizational dead end for over a century and yet we still turn into it, again and again.
Indeed, the “progressive” NGOIC in the US collectively spends at least a hundred billion dollars each year in this organizational dead end and employs several hundred thousand highly-educated, dedicated, energetic workers. Yet all these crises continue to worsen.
The intentional peer support (PS) communities suggest a better direction. Following it, the Anonymous world has engaged millions of members in dozens of organizations and provides the dominant mode of recovery from most addictions. Co-counseling has 100,000 members including many activists worldwide with several offshoots. This better direction supports the approach of most non-violent, direct-action campaigns (Cornell, 2011) and the suggestions of Albert and Hahnel (1999) in “participatory economics.” (1)
Here is a small-scale example from my own experience of how it might look to build and run a social change movement on a less careerist, hierarchical and more horizontal, peer-support basis. In 2005, twenty-five young U.S. veterans, just back from the horrors of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, spent a weekend in a residential, peer-support workshop, cried in each other’s arms, and figured out how to create a movement to help each other heal and change the world that caused their pain (MacEachron and Gustavsen, 2012.) After the first evening and the next day exchanging peer support, they spent the second evening in egalitarian problem solving and planning action. First, they brainstormed the major problems confronting their generation of veterans. Then, they broke up in self-generated groups to share information, on an egalitarian footing, on how to deal with those issues: PTSD, the GI Bill, the VA, the war itself. Finally, later in the evening and the next morning, those groups reconvened and followed a horizontal process to turn their ideas into action. During that weekend, in addition to their personal healing, they helped launch organizations to help lead their generation, at least two of which are still functioning almost two decades later. Using the horizontal tools of co-counseling, we ran 85 of these residential, weekend workshops from 2005-11 for 1,500 returning US veterans. We helped reshape how the VA treats PTSD (what these younger veterans call “the moral injury of war”) and how young veterans organize politically. While weekend workshops are not an organization, these peer-support workshops based on the tools of co-counseling demonstrate how people can organize more effectively on a horizontal basis.
Here are some of the important organizing practices these two PS communities have converged upon and which may be worth considering.
EMAILS WON’T DO IT. Both these communities ask participants to spend a lot of time in their quest to change human behavior, 1-3 hours a day of specific activities. How could changing anything as fundamental and all-encompassing as our social system require less effort? Our workplaces, careers, family structure, education, you name it, most realistic observers agree, everything must change. By contrast, most “social change” NGOs rely primarily on click-activism, a flurry of emails to their members asking for money or signatures on a petition, or at most attending a local meeting once a month. STOP HOLDING OUR FIRING SQUADS IN A CIRCLE. This witticism nails our tendency on the left (in fairness, in all human activity) to act out our individual bad habits on each other—put downs, oppressive remarks and actions, suspicions, gossip, cliques. Often I think we on the left are also reacting to our ineffectiveness (or hopelessness) about changing the larger social system. By contrast, the Anonymous world works systematically on personal bad habits as an alternative to imposing them on our fellow/sister activists. Co-counseling insists its members tackle all the oppressions handed down by our society: racism, sexism, classism, etc. Again, to change any one of these habits in either community usually takes hours each week in reading, reflecting, and sharing. However, the results are worth it in both communities. For example, in both, their regular activities include long, productive meetings, intentionally positive, usually free of put downs. They hold far fewer firing-squads. THERE IS NO SHORTCUT FOR INTIMACY. The two PS communities take one-on-one, relational organizing to a deeper level (cf. Gans, 2009.) The Anonymous world rests on at least one intense mentoring relationship between “sponsor” and “sponsee” or more peer-oriented “accountability buddies.” These one-on-one relationships often involve deep emotional sharing, vulnerability and advice-giving. Likewise, co-counseling is based on such sharing. Importantly, most personal interactions in both PS communities rely on timed, uninterrupted listening turns and encourage the expression of deep feelings. By comparison, the NGOIC typically prescribes one meeting each month for any organization’s members/supporters in any geographical area. Only a small fraction of members even attend these meetings which are typically dominated by a few leaders and include little emotional content. Such interactions do not provide adequate social support for our stressful social change work. They have not attracted and retained the millions of new members and allies we need. GROUP HUGS. Rarely does the NGOIC ask an activist to join a permanent small group to get emotional support, share information and act together (Engler and Engler, 2016). By comparison, the other team—take, for example, almost any right-wing, evangelical mega-church—relies heavily on a network of small, ongoing groups (Worthnow, 1994.) So do both PS communities. Co-counseling has further refined the use of groups. When focused on social support, the co-counseling groups rely on timed turns. When the group meets to share information on a topic, participants do not use timers and instead follow simple rules: “No one speaks twice before everyone speaks once.” “No one speaks four times until everyone has spoken twice.” When groups meet to take action, they take timed turns answering four questions: First, “what have you done recently on this topic?” Second, “what else should we know on this topic?” Third, “what are you going to do?” Finally, “what might get in your way of doing what you just said you would do?” Like those evangelical churches, these two PS communities emphasize small groups. In addition, they vary the design of group meetings depending on their purpose. HOW DO GROUPS RELATE? In the NGOIC model, local groups of activists don’t relate much to each other at all. Communication flows hierarchically, not horizontally between local groups. Paid staff run national programs. Activists in local groups or chapters largely choose among suggestions or directives from the national organization. By contrast, the Anonymous model connects groups through “Intergroups,” analogous to the “Spokes council ” in the direct-action model used for civil disobedience actions. Each ongoing, small, Anonymous “Meeting” selects a temporary “direct” representative to attend monthly Intergroup meetings to make decisions affecting all the groups. The Meeting’s representatives do not make personal decisions in the Intergroup, they represent their Meeting’s thinking. If a new topic comes up, they return to their group to get guidance. Intergroup decisions are made by consensus with a majority vote used as a backup. HORIZONTAL ORGANIZATIONS—Contrary to the NGOIC hierarchical, individualistic corporate model, the basic research in organizational psychology supports a horizontal, group-centered approach (Driscoll, 1980.) It suggests that leaders rotate; staff perform tasks balanced to be equally appealing; groups decide by consensus. The Anonymous community adds: pay staff (“special workers”) to support but not lead (e.g. accounting, newsletters, emails); only volunteers lead; spokes councils connect the groups. What else is needed?
Horizontal organizations may reduce the conservative pull of the NGOIC. However, my experience with these two PS communities suggests the need for further protection. The traditional Anonymous organizations have refused to modify their policies and literature to accommodate the increasing numbers of us who identify as atheists and agnostics. The official Anonymous literature and informal culture both emphasize and enforce belief in an interventionary, personalistic force: god or a “Higher Power” (always capitalized and usually masculinized). To deal with this challenge, we secular folks have built our own informal sub-communities, such as SecularOvereaters.org (which I helped found), within and alongside the formal organizations. It includes members of the formal organization and others who choose not to join. By contrast, the formal co-counseling structure stifled attempts to correct a pattern of serious misconduct by its founder and long-time leader. In addition, both these PS communities started and have stayed overwhelmingly white and middle-class with all the racism and classism that implies. Thus, a horizontal structure is not a panacea for solving all the problems posed by the NGOIC.
Founded, as we say, by a “group of drunks” in 1934 (actually by drunks who had been recruited by the same Christian sect), the Anonymous communities have now diversified and helped millions around the world deal with a range of problems many of us previously found life- threatening. All over the world people gather every day, in person and increasingly online, in scheduled groups to support each other. Often taking timed, uninterrupted turns, they share deep feelings. They exchange information and advice. And they do it in a near-perfectly horizontal organization: completely self-supporting financially (a foundation cannot give them more than $10,000), no paid leaders; rotating leadership; consensus decision making; and governed through a set of nested spokes councils.
It can be done.
Albert, Michael and Robin Hahnel. Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century. Cambridge: South End. 1991.
Chomsky, Noam. Internationalism or Extinction (Universalizing Resistance.)
Oxfordshire, U.K.: Routledge, 2019.
Cornell, Andrew. Oppose and Propose: Lessons from Movement for a New Society. Oakland: AK, 2011.
Driscoll, James W. “Myths About People At Work: A Critique of Human Management Resources, Working Paper 1153-80.” Cambridge, MA: MIT Sloan School of Management, 1980.
Engler, Mark and Engler, Paul. This is an Uprising: How Non-Violent Resistance is Shaping the Twenty-First Century. New York: Nation Books, 2016.
Gans, Marshall. “Telling your public story: self, us, now.” Harvard University, Kennedy School, 2009.
Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Durham, NC: Duke University, 2017.
Michels, Robert. Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. NY: Free Press, 1962
Pamlin, Dennis & Armstrong, Stuart. “12 Risks that threaten human civilization: The case for a new risk category.” Global Challenges Foundation. 2015.
Skocpol, Theda. Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2003.
Worthnow, Robert. Sharing the Journey: Support Groups and America’s Quest for Community. New York: Free Press, 1994.
Footnote 1: This article focuses on the organizational practices of these peer support communities. The core activity is personal growth. Anonymous organizations emphasize a rigorous process of self-examination and personal improvement (“the steps.”) and Co-counseling focuses on personal growth through processing feelings intensely. I’ve found both personally helpful.
Author Bio: A combat veteran of the US war on Vietnam, Jim Driscoll quit teaching at MIT in 1982 to work full-time in the movement for peace and justice. Raised in West Lynn, a progressive, Irish-Catholic, working-class community, he used his Ivy-League degrees to raise $30 million over the years for progressive and radical organizations which he co-founded and helped lead. Among them, the Nuclear Weapons Freeze was the largest which helped pause the Cold War. The American Peace Test helped 13,000 get arrested in Nevada in a successful effort to finally stop US nuclear testing. Arizonians for Clean Elections won full public funding for all state elections there, helping lead that national movement. Most recently, Extinction Rebellion shut down the white, northwest quadrant of DC twice over climate change. Simultaneously, for thirty years he was a low-level leader in two large, but confidential peer-support communities. His writing connects what he has learned from both the worlds of activism and peer support. He is married with two children, eight grandchildren. Over his lifetime, he chose to follow family around the country and now lives in North Bethesda, MD, USA, outside DC, where he helped launch a local Green New Deal.
On May 1 2023, various media outlets and organizations co-published an essay titled 20 Theses for Liberation. Thirty progressive activists initially signed it. 5 international organizations initially host and advocate for it. Many other venues are displaying it. And its own page at http://www.4liberation.org displays all that and additional information and also provides a form for you to add your support as another signer. I sincerely hope you will visit 4liberation.org to consider signing on yourself.
But at this point, skeptical, you might very reasonably ask: Why now? Why theses? Why sign? And what next?
As a co-author, I know the 20 Theses don’t mean to present a program. A program would differ dramatically in different countries, regions, and even cities as well as from one year and even one month and sometimes one week to the next. The 20 Theses want to bridge all those realms. And I also know the 20 Theses don’t mean to say this way or no way. They don’t mean to be commandments. They just mean to be a collection of diverse wisdom offered to try to help unify a movement of movements across issues, focuses, and borders. They offer themselves as a starting point to propel conversations to develop better, richer, more inspiring formulations. So, with that clarified, here are answers to the above four questions that propelled me to be part of this project. I hope they will resonate for you too.
I was recently 76. That just means I have been around a long time. But being around a long time has told my eyes and ears, my beliefs and passions, that our current time is different.
I remember nightmares of nukes, the Cuban missile crisis, duck and cover, Vietnam, Indochina, maddening nationalism, and the stream of persistent barbaric international horrors since. I remember vile sentiments among elites and I remember ugly sentiments percolating through daily life each many times over. I remember ecological worries first rising to public sight a half century back and increasing ever since. And I remember much more, and yet I remember nothing so threatening to human well being and even to human survival as today’s growing fascist projects, today’s festering interpersonal and international anti social violence, today’s burning ecological nightmares, and todays growing threat of nuclear extermination. Now is to my aged eyes the most dangerous of times.
Yet I also remember the American Sixties, the French May ‘68, diverse movements churning, and varied consciousnesses rising ever since. I remember advances lost but also won. Movements born, struggling, but also slumbering. Yet, call me crazy, while I can feel in my old bones that these are the most dangerous of times, they also strike my still young soul as the most promising of times. Humanity faces possible extinction—but large sectors of humanity now know it, and many have got to already be or will soon become eager for reasoned, passionate, militant change, not solely in one realm, not solely for one moment, and not to just create a momentary pause in the ugliness, but in all realms and for all times, to create a stupendous revolution in values, views, and institutions. That is an organizer’s invitation. We can hear the invitation all over the world, from Europe to Asia, from the the Middle East to the U.S., from Africa to Latin America. In France, Germany, the UK, Iran, Israel, Sri Lanka, Peru and elsewhere, the signs of times changing are unmistakeable.
So 20 Theses, why now? Because now public opposition to racism, to sexism, and to all manner of sexual oppressiveness is rising and more and more people are ready to rumble for change. Because now, literally all around the world, working people are organizing not only for immediate gains but against systemic injustices and for encompassing liberation. And because now, the simple truth is, later may be too late. Less apocalyptically and more optimistically, because now just beneath the surface, revolutionary aspirations and spirit are awakening. Because now we need battles for immediate specific gains whose pursuit can lead to sustained multi focus struggle for a new world. And because now winning such gains in such ways will require movements that share vision and strategy and that, on that shared foundation, exercise incandescent, inspiring, mutual aid. So why now? Because now is our time for unity.
For me, it is because to share core insights about vision and strategy sufficient for effective unity we need to enunciate, discuss, refine, and come together around bottom up, widely conceived, openly vetted and continually updated insights that can sustain collective struggle and mutual support without so over-reaching that they curtail creative diversity born from different circumstances. Theses because we do not need some presumed universal blueprint. We do not need top down marching orders. But we do need visionary and strategic unity that both respects diverse heritages and simultaneously facilitates continually emerging unifying insights.
But how can we arrive at, share, and continually update such needed insights? We can write, read, and above all listen and talk about what we have already and what we will soon experience. So why 20 Theses? The dictionary says a thesis is “a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved.” The 20 Theses for Liberation put forward 20 statements, plus an introduction and conclusion. They intend that each statement, 1 – 20, be assessed, refined, enriched, and when settled, maintained until they are further improved to be maintained anew. “Thesis” is just a word. It applies. But if you would prefer to refer to the 20 Theses as 20 statements, ideas, precepts, themes, insights, or whatever, so be it. It’s the ensuing conversation that will matter.
Of course signatures aren’t marches. A name on a form isn’t a strike. A name on a form isn’t itself actual face to face organizing and organization building. But many names together can convey a sense of possibility. Many names can give folks a reason to relate. Many names can convey motivation to spend some time reading, thinking, assessing, and hopefully signing on. The initial signers no doubt each hope their name will inspire attention and critical sharing. We’ll see.
But you may wonder, how can I sign on to words I didn’t write?
In all likelihood each co-author would, on their own, express this or that thesis or even all 20 Theses a little differently. Each co-author would include or remove something if he or she wanted to arrive at a perfect, precise statement of their own personal current views and inclinations. But to perfectly present each co-author’s individual views wasn’t the point. To wholly encompass any one signer’s or the sum of all signers’ totality of views wasn’t the point. The 20 Theses don’t mean to cover all things for all people. But they do hope to offer a collection of core foundational insights for, well, all those who agree. They hope to offer a starting point to work off to arrive at a set of widely shared pivotal views about vision and strategy sufficient to sustain mutual aid within an increasingly effective movement of movements. What broad shared commitments can get myriad struggles which seek different specific but compatible ends by different specific but compatible means to see themselves as all together constituting a set of intersecting mutually supportive parts of a larger whole?
You say you wouldn’t yourself formulate one or more of the 20 theses precisely the way the 20 Theses formulate them? You say you have additional ideas for or concerns about possible refinements? No problem. That will be much needed material for the conversation that the 20 Theses seek. What is now reason for you to sign is only that you, like the co-authors, feel that the 20 Theses provide a good basis for seeking shared vision and strategy, and that you agree with their intent and overall direction. So, in that case, why sign? To express your support and hope. To add your name to the call in hopes your doing so will increase its credibility and prospects.
And what next?
This may seem the hardest of the four questions, yet in most respects it is the easiest. Answer: Different strokes for different folks. First step is to get the 20 Theses and particularly the 4liberation.org site widely visible to motivate more people to sign. Second step is to add your thoughts to an emerging discussion by reposts, articles, and especially conversations so as to spread, apply, refine, and share the evolving insights. From there, we will all see together where this will go. Here is how the 4liberation.org site answers “what next?”: “Engage, Adapt, Share.”
The site suggests we each consider, How does the 20 Theses for Liberation framework relate to your context, or not? How can unifying themes about vision strategy be applied in your life? Do you have a local history or practice of collective strategic organizing? How can a shared organizing framework become more accessible and actionable in your community? How might we connect and act together?
It says, “Dig in, connect, discuss, adapt, write, create, build & share! Send articles, art, ideas, and projects to [email protected] with in the subject line.
Share on social media using #4Liberation.”
Are these steps worth some of your time to interact with your family members, friends, students, schoolmates, and co-workers? We never know in advance, do we? But I am trying to “dig in, connect, discuss, adapt, write, create, build & share” because I think it is worth my time to do so. I hope you will too.
On May 1 2023, an essay called 20 Theses for Liberation was co-published by various media outlets and organizations. It is co-authored by 30 progressive activists (among whom, I am one), co-hosted by 5 international organizations, and is intended to become a widely shared and dynamic organizing strategy towards mutual aims where vision, values, policy, and prefiguring can converge in an accessible and actionable way. It aims to be a “living document” on an online portal for participants to engage with and adapt while connecting with one another in solidarity.
The essay ends with a call to action for participants to engage by adapting the framework to their diverse contexts and exploring how it relates to their communities. We are each asked to make the leap from guiding vision and strategic norms, to applications in our own areas of expertise, our own lives. In this way, the 20 Theses for Liberation is intended as merely a jumping off point for a larger project of building a much needed culture of unity in collective self-determination.
What would such a shared perspective be? “The result, of course, wouldn’t be a fixed, unchangeable stance. It would instead continually alter in accord with new experiences, contexts, and insights. The best result would be a continued, collective process of refining, adapting, and utilizing a unifying framework. We would be building and sustaining a culture of coalescing around shared vision and strategy—which is the work of building a movement of movements. We would be bringing separate agendas into powerful solidarity with one another” (20 Theses for Liberation).
To kick off what we hope will be wide and diverse engagement, and in honor of International Workers Day, I was asked by one of the co-hosting organizations, RealUtopia.org, to comment on how the 20 Theses for Liberation relates to the labor movement. The relationship has nested implications:
First, the vision and strategy proposed by the 20 Theses helps us consider how we organize and progress internally, within work teams, networks, unions, federations, etc. When we look at our own organizations for struggle, are we practicing what we seek or mirroring the oppressive relations we claim to resist?
Next, the 20 Theses are applicable to building solidarity and power within the broader labor movement, beyond any one group or campaign and across industries and countries. It provides strategic norms for achieving broad worker solidarity.
Third, the 20 Theses bears on inter-movement organizing when applied to building relationships and capacity for intersectional solidarity, program, and action. For example, in building the urgently needed power bloc that includes both the labor and climate justice movements, labor must be integral in developing and forcing a just transition to a decolonized economy and society that prioritizes people and planet over profit.
Finally, via these nested applications, the 20 Theses is also a unifying vision and strategy that can be adapted to relate to diverse people from all over the world, by diverse people from all over the world. In this way, the outermost layer of all the nested applications is like a snowball picking up size and speed as it rolls onward, growing and being shaped by everyone who joins it.
Getting more specific within these nested layers of strategic organizing, below are some proposals that arise from applying the 20 Theses for Liberation to the labor movement today. Part 1 deals with applying the 20 Theses as a lens to guide labor organizers, while Part 2 explores inter-movement organizing using the example of the labor and environmental movements.
Part 1: 20 Theses for Liberation Inside Labor Organizing
The history of strategic organizing in the labor movement has been marked by changing circumstances and challenges, and it has consistently evolved, sometimes more and sometimes less successfully, to adapt to the needs of workers and achieve their goals. Today’s organizing efforts need to be inclusive, grassroots-driven, creative, legally and politically savvy, and focused on building public support. By applying lessons from the past, leveraging relevant strategies and tactics, and most importantly, by coalescing around shared vision and strategy towards mutual aims, the labor movement can make progress in advancing workers’ rights, improving working conditions, and achieving economic justice in the present day while continuously pushing towards sustained, fundamental changes in labor relations across society.
In response to the current challenges of neoliberalism, neocolonialism, systemic racism, rapid technological innovation, and ecological collapse, the labor movement has adopted new strategies and tactics like grassroots organizing, community-based campaigns, and alliances with other social movements, such as civil rights, environmental, and immigrant rights organizations. Labor unions have also used legal and political strategies to advocate for pro-worker policies, such as raising the minimum wage, expanding access to healthcare, and protecting workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. The vision and strategy laid out in the 20 Theses for Liberation aligns with these developments, and can be used to further demands and guide strategic organizing on an increasingly radical systemic trajectory while building collective power to achieve more, faster.
Labor organizing, through the participatory lens laid out in the 20 Theses, would prioritize principles of economic democracy, equity, solidarity, and worker empowerment, as well as the sought gains of anti racist, environmental, and feminist movements. The economic vision proposed in the 20 Theses advocates for decentralized decision-making, collective ownership of productive assets, equitable distribution of resources and wealth, the protection of diversity, and ending class-based divisions of labor.
What would this mean specifically? It would look different across diverse contexts, as it should, however some concrete possibilities could develop in the following areas:
Worker Self-Management: The 20 Theses for Liberation emphasizes worker self-management, which means that decisions about workplace conditions, production processes, and distribution of goods and services are made collectively by workers themselves. Labor organizing efforts would focus on empowering workers to have a meaningful voice and decision-making power in their workplaces, through mechanisms such as worker cooperatives, workplace councils, and democratic decision-making processes. This would involve organizing efforts to promote democratic governance structures in the workplace, where workers gain steadily increasing control over their working conditions and the direction of their work.
Economic Democracy: The 20 Theses for Liberation seeks to create economic systems that are democratic and participatory, rather than hierarchically controlled by a few individuals or corporations. Labor organizing through this lens would prioritize creating democratic economic structures, where workers have a say in the allocation of resources, investment decisions, and distribution of wealth. In today’s context, this could involve advocating for policies that promote cooperative and collective ownership, profit-sharing arrangements, and participatory budgeting, where workers have a direct role in shaping economic decisions that affect their lives.
Equity and Social Justice: The 20 Theses for Liberation places a strong emphasis on equity and social justice, with the goal of eliminating disparities in income, wealth, and access to resources. Labor organizing efforts would prioritize addressing issues of inequality in the workplace, such as wage disparities, discriminatory practices, and unfair labor practices. This could involve advocating for fair labor laws, promoting pay equity, and challenging discriminatory practices that disproportionately affect marginalized workers, such as workers of color, women, LGBTQ+ workers, and workers with disabilities.
Solidarity and Cooperation: The 20 Theses for Liberation promotes cooperation and solidarity among workers and communities, rather than competition and individualism. Labor organizing through this lens would prioritize building alliances and collaborative efforts among workers, unions, communities, and other social movements. This could involve forming coalitions with other labor unions, community organizations, and social justice groups to advocate for shared issues, such as worker rights, affordable housing, healthcare, education, and sustainability practices. It could also involve promoting cooperative networks, where workers and communities collaborate and support each other in economic activities.
Education and Empowerment: The 20 Theses for Liberation emphasizes the need for education and empowerment of workers to actively participate in economic decision-making. Labor organizing efforts would prioritize educating workers about their rights, labor laws, and economic principles, as well as building their capacity to engage in collective bargaining, negotiation, and decision-making processes. This could involve providing training, resources, and support for workers to understand and navigate the economic system, and empowering them to actively participate in shaping their own economic realities. It could also involve demands for redistributing workplace tasks in a non-hierarchical and fair way, so that empowering, rote, and care-work tasks are increasingly balanced across a workplace. In the context of the need to adapt entire industries to an ecological economy, it could also involve training and re-skilling workers preemptively to transition to green jobs, and to organize policy demands for achieving a just transition for all workers that gives voice to all workers.
Sustainability and Environmental Justice: The 20 Theses for Liberation recognizes the importance of ecological responsibility and reciprocity in economic systems. Labor organizing efforts through this lens would prioritize advocating for environmentally sustainable workplace practices, addressing issues such as climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, and resource depletion as well as simultaneously advocating for policies that guarantee the livelihoods of all people. This could involve campaigns, in diverse contexts, for policies such as green job guarantees, universal basic income, broadening sustainable public provisioning systems for housing, transportation, communication, healthcare, education and food, advocating for environmental regulations, and ensuring that workers have a voice in shaping workplace practices that impact the environment. It would also mean workers participating in expanding the commons to meet the basic needs of communities sustainably.
Through these potential applications, and through a diversity of other possibilities relevant to various contexts, labor organizing using the 20 Theses for Liberation as a broad guiding framework would prioritize worker self-management, economic democracy, equity, solidarity, empowerment, and sustainability. It would seek to create workplaces and economic systems that are democratic, equitable, and socially and ecologically responsible, with the goal of empowering workers to have a meaningful voice in economic decision-making and promoting economic justice for all workers.
Part 2: Labor & Climate Action #4Liberation
Inter-movement solidarity is a key aim of the 20 Theses for Liberation and it plays a critical role in today’s labor context by fostering collaboration, amplifying voices, and building collective power. By working together with other social movements, labor unions and worker organizations can address the complex challenges faced by workers today, such as inequality, discrimination, systemic racism and sexism, and precarious work, and advocate for policies and practices that promote economic justice, sustainability, and social equity. Inter-movement solidarity is an important strategy for labor organizing efforts to build a more inclusive, resilient, and impactful movement that advances the rights and well-being of all workers.
The example that must come to the forefront of labor intersectionality today is climate justice. All workers live on Earth, and the more our economic and social systems are stressed by ecological collapse, the more workers will bear the brunt of the suffering. This is not a prediction — it is happening now, especially in the Global South, but does not exclude many workers in the Global North. The people affected disproportionately by climate change are the very people who are affected disproportionately by unjust labor relations. However, there is a positive side to this situation. Workers are also uniquely positioned at a crucial leverage point for forcing comprehensive change — production. This is an opportunity for what could be the greatest grassroots power-bloc in history, and just might be our salvation as a species.
If we are to move beyond a fossil-fuel economy and capitalism’s overall need for endless extractive growth without leaving workers behind, workers must be engaged in the struggle. The labor and climate justice movements can come together to advance their shared goals of addressing climate change by transforming our economy and society to promote wellbeing and fulfillment within planetary bounds, and advocating for workers’ rights in all countries. The 20 Theses for Liberation is relevant as a shared visionary and strategic framework to help bring these movements together, each taking leadership in their own areas of expertise, while supporting and adding their perspectives and experience to collectively pursue mutual aims.
Getting more specific will require that participants continually examine their context to assess the relevance and potential impacts of organizing strategy. However, we can begin to consider some potential strategies for collaboration and increased interdependence:
Green Jobs and Just Transition: As previously touched upon, the labor and climate justice movements can collaborate to promote the creation of green jobs and a just transition for workers in industries that are transitioning away from fossil fuels. This includes advocating for policies that support job training and job placement for workers in industries such as coal, oil, and gas that will be impacted by climate action measures. It can also mean campaigning for green jobs guarantees, shorter work weeks with a living wage, UBI, and expanding public access to basic needs. By working together, the labor and climate justice movements can ensure that the transition to a more sustainable economy is equitable and inclusive, and that workers are not left behind. If any transition is to occur, workers must have a say in what this transition should look like, in which case they will become the powerful advocates needed to force meaningful action now.
Joint Campaigns and Actions: The labor and climate justice movements can collaborate on joint campaigns and actions to advocate for policies and practices that prioritize workers’ rights and environmental protections. This could include joint rallies, protests and other actions that raise awareness about the intersectionality of climate and labor issues, and demand action from policymakers and corporations. More importantly in today’s context, moving beyond raising awareness to disruption, the mighty power of the strike must be included in the quiver of nonviolent civil-disobedience. By joining forces, the labor and climate justice movements can amplify their voices and increase their collective impact. By taking the struggle to production itself, something only workers can do, these actions will have the greatest impact.
Solidarity on Ecological and Workers’ Health: The labor and climate justice movements can work together to address both ecological health and workers’ health concerns. This includes advocating for safe and healthy working conditions, protection from hazardous substances and pollutants, and access to clean air and water for workers and communities. By collaborating on environmental and health-related issues, the labor and climate justice movements can promote policies and practices that prioritize the well-being of workers and the planet.
Advocacy for Just Climate Policies: The labor and climate justice movements can collaborate in advocating for just climate policies that prioritize the needs and rights of workers and communities, particularly those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The labor movement needs to join the environmental movement in advocating for policies that remove the economy’s dependence on growth so that we can transition to production only of what is needed for the wellbeing of people and planet. This means an end to planned obsolescence and fossil fuel subsidies, the selective downscaling of certain industries and the growth of other industries, debt forgiveness, funding public services, eliminating unnecessary waste, and ensuring that basic livelihoods are not tied to employment. It includes advocating for policies such as renewable energy and efficiency incentives, climate mitigation and adaptation measures that create green jobs, and policies that promote energy democracy and community ownership of renewable energy resources. Here again, labor and environmental concerns are aligned in the need for increasing access to the things we all need to live a good life – sustainable and good quality food, housing, transportation, and education, clean water, community, and self-determination. By anchoring organizing in shared vision and strategy, we avoid the trap of the false narrative that labor and climate concerns must be at odds. By working together, the labor and climate justice movements can advocate for policies that address the environmental, economic, and social aspects of the climate crisis.
Intersectional Approaches: The labor and climate justice movements can adopt intersectional approaches that recognize the ways in which climate change disproportionately affects the Global South and marginalized communities, including low-income workers, people of color, indigenous communities, and other vulnerable populations. By acknowledging and addressing the intersectionality of climate and labor issues, the labor and climate justice movements can collaborate on solutions that are inclusive, equitable, and just, while attracting and engaging an ever increasing number of people from all walks of life.
Consciousness Raising & Empowerment: The labor and climate justice movements can collaborate on education and awareness-building efforts to highlight the connections between climate change and workers’ rights. This includes raising awareness among workers and the broader public about the impacts of climate change on workers, the need for just transition policies, and the benefits of a sustainable and equitable economy. It means an outreach strategy that immediately engages workers and the public in democratic forums so that their voices are at the forefront of developing policy demands for a just transition. By empowering and mobilizing workers and the public, the labor and climate justice movements can build a broader base of support and increased participation towards their shared goals.
Participatory Decision-Making: The labor and climate justice movements can promote participatory decision-making processes that involve workers and communities in shaping the priorities, strategies, and tactics of their movements. This includes creating spaces for workers and community members to actively participate in decision-making processes, such as town halls, forums, people’s assemblies, and participatory planning sessions. By promoting participatory decision-making, the labor and climate justice movements can ensure that the voices and perspectives of workers and communities are leading their efforts.
The 20 Theses for Liberation draws on a broad range of thinking and movements from all over the world. It is intended to be continuously adapted by diverse people and movements to suit their own diverse contexts. It is a practice of commoning.
The above proposals are only one example of potential, immediate applications for this project, and like the 20 Theses essay itself, is not intended to be a fixed end, but rather the beginning of increased dialogue, deliberation, and collective action across all the interlinked spheres of life. The point of the 20 Theses for Liberation project is to place a permanent value on uniting around positive vision and strategic norms towards mutual aims. We must build a culture of strategic organizing that returns again and again, over ever changing terrain and increasing urgencies, to clear sighted vision and to solidarity.
Getting organized will be the spark that ignites the changes that people are already not just longing for, but working for, though too often in relative isolation. When we have been focused so long on resisting what we don’t want, that we lose sight of what we do want, we must return to positive vision. When we become oppressed by one another while struggling to change the very systems that promote these oppressions, we must return to practicing what we seek. When we get stuck in the specifics of policy and tactical decisions, or between contending or even conflicting interests, we must return to a shared framework to remain rooted in deep solidarity as we look for ways forward, together. When the truth is constantly obfuscated by the powerful, and by our hegemonic narratives, so that we think we are surrounded by enemies on all sides, we must return to the ideas of interdependence and community. Here, we re-discover that what we need to do to live better lives now, is exactly what we need to do for our fellow workers, for our neighbors, for our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, and for the planet itself.
ZNetwork, DiEM25, Academy of Democratic Modernity, MetaCPC, RealUtopia, Michael Albert, Renata Avila, Ramzy Baroud, Medea Benjamin, Peter Bohmer, Fintan Bradshaw, Jeremy Brecher, Urška Breznik, Noam Chomsky, Savvina Chowdhury, Devriş Çimen, Mark Evans, Andrej Grubačić, Jason Hickel, Kathy Kelly, Arash Kolahi, Bridget Meehan, Sotiris Mitralexis, Jason Myles, Cynthia Peters, John Pilger, Matic Primc, Don Rojas, Stephen Shalom, Alexandria Shaner, Norman Solomon, Cooper Sperling, Yanis Varoufakis, Brett Wilkins, Greg Wilpert
The idea of a movement of movements is not new. The concept remains popular, logical, and inspiring yet remains just that—a concept. Near universal woes such as inequality, climate change, and fascist stirrings could pressure diverse movements into a holistic progressive bloc, and in some cases, there has already been progress towards such convergence. There is a rising desire and will for coming together, but in practice, cohesion and even solidarity remain largely elusive.
What is missing is often identified as strategic organizing, while at the same time our anti-authoritarian and pluralist values rightly cause us to shy away from rigid blueprints and vertical chains of command. However, this dilemma presents a false choice. We must get organized, but we don’t need to abandon diversity and self-determination in order to come together around vision and strategy if we build our values into shared vision. Perhaps further effort towards conceiving, sharing, and utilizing a broad but unifying vision and strategy could provide much needed structure for a movement of movements to grow and thrive. And why now? Because there currently seems to be more hunger than in a long time for unity even as there is also considerable doubt about attaining it.
Below, we propose some basic insights, claims, and commitments that all seekers of new societal relations might choose to further develop and refine. The 20 theses are not ours per se, but come from many movements over years, decades, and even centuries.
Of course, none of the organizational or individual signers agree with every word of what follows. Rather, we all feel that in sum the 20 theses provide an excellent basis for debate and elaboration that can, over time, inform not just agreed opposition to existing injustices, but collective pursuit of a better world.
Here are the twenty proposed theses we together submit for consideration, debate, and refinement.
Thesis One: Foundations
To be comprehensive and liberatory, long-term aims must centrally address polity, economy, kinship, culture, ecology, and international relations because each of these aspects of life not only profoundly influences peoples’ options and well being, but also because due to extensive entanglement, each contributes to and even reinforces and reproduces the defining features of the rest, so that all have priority strategic importance.
Thesis Two: Polity
To eliminate political elitism and domination, to be liberatory, political institutions will need to establish transparent mechanisms to carry out and evaluate political decisions and to convey to all citizens self managing political say proportionate to effects on them. To accomplish that will in turn require that liberatory political institutions include grassroots assemblies, councils, or communes (and federations of those) by which people can manifest their views. It will likewise require that liberatory political institutions provide advanced public education so people’s views are well formed and clearly expressed. And to ensure that deliberations and decisions are made consistent with people’s interests, it will require frequent direct policy participation or, when needed, re-callable representation and delegation that utilizes appropriate voting algorithms.
Additionally, to ensure freedom to each person consistent with freedom to all people, and to benefit all people while also protecting and even advancing diversity, liberatory political institutions will need to guarantee maximum civil liberties. This will of course include freedom to speak, write, worship, assemble, and organize political parties.
To ensure diversity and continuous development, liberating political institutions will need to welcome, facilitate, and protect dissent, and to guarantee to individuals and groups means to pursue their own goals consistent with not interfering with the same rights for others.
Regarding violations, to attain justice while promoting rehabilitation, liberatory political institutions will need to foster solidarity and to provide inclusive means to fairly, peacefully, and constructively adjudicate disputes and violations of agreed norms.
Finally, in light of the entanglement of all key facets of society, liberatory political institutions will have to be compatible with new features in other dimensions of life and vice versa.
Thesis Three: Kinship, Gender, and Sexuality
To achieve an end to denials based on sex, gender, identity, or age, new kinship institutions will need to ensure that no individuals or groups—by gender, identity, sexual orientation, or age—are privileged above or dominate others in income, influence, access to education, job quality, or any other dimension of life that bears on quality of life. To attain that end, liberatory gender and kin institutions will need to respect marriage and other lasting relations among adults as religious, cultural, or social practices, but will need to reject such ties as ways for sectors of the population to gain financial benefits or social status that others lack.
Both for equity and also for the enrichment of personality and affirmation that care-giving conveys, liberatory gender and kin institutions will need to respect care-giving as a central function of society including, perhaps even making, care-giving a part of every citizen’s social responsibilities, and in any event otherwise ensuring equitable burdens and benefits among people of all genders for all household and child raising practices.
Liberatory gender and kin institutions will need to not privilege certain types of family formation or role over others, but instead to actively support all types of families consistent with society’s other norms and practices. And to promote children’s well-being and affirm society’s responsibility for all children, liberatory gender and kin institutions will need to affirm the right of diverse types of families to have children and to provide them with love and a sense of rootedness and belonging, and will need to minimize or eliminate age- and or gender-based permissions and or restrictions, instead utilizing non-arbitrary means for determining when an individual is too old (or too young) or otherwise able or not able to receive benefits or shoulder responsibilities.
To ensure that each person honors the autonomy, humanity, and rights of others, liberatory gender and kin institutions will also need to centrally affirm diverse expressions of sexual pleasure, personal identity, sexual identity, gender identity, and mutual intimacy while they provide diverse, empowering sex education as well as legal prohibition against non-consensual sex.
And finally, in light of the entanglement of all key facets of society, liberatory kinship institutions will have to be compatible with new features in other dimensions of life and vice versa.
Thesis Four: Race, Ethnicity, Culture and Community
Liberating cultural/community relations, including race, ethnic, national and religious, requires that we rectify the negative historical and contemporary impacts of racist, colonial, and otherwise bigoted structures and neo-liberal policies and practices on countries and communities, especially in the global South.
Liberating culture and community will require implementing new participatory cultural/community institutions that ensure that no individuals or groups—by race, ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, or any other cultural community identification—are privileged above or dominate others. To that end, liberatory cultural and community institutions will need to ensure that people can have multiple cultural and social identities, and will need to provide space and resources for people to positively express their cultural/community identities however they choose while recognizing that which identity is most important to any particular person at any particular time depends on that person’s situation and assessments.
Liberatory cultural and community relations will also need to explicitly recognize that many rights and values exist regardless of cultural identity, so that all people deserve self management, equity, solidarity, and liberty, even while society also protects all people’s right to affiliate freely to enjoy diversity.
To end the reality and even the fear of colonization and race, caste, religious, or national suppression, liberatory cultural and community relations must also provide all cultural communities guaranteed access to means to preserve their cultural integrity and practices.
Liberatory cultural and community relations will also need to eliminate barriers to free exit from all cultural communities, including nations, and must impose no arbitrary non cultural barriers to free entry, including affirming that communities that guarantee free entry and exit can be under the complete self determination of their members so long as their policies and actions don’t conflict with society’s overall agreed norms.
And finally, in light of the entanglement of all key facets of society, liberatory cultural/community institutions will have to be compatible with new features in other dimensions of life and vice versa.
Thesis Five: Economy
Liberating economics will require implementing new economic institutions that ensure that no individuals or classes are privileged above or dominate others and that all economic actors are able to participate fully in determining their own economic lives. To attain such classlessness, liberatory economic institutions will need to preclude owning productive assets such as natural resources and factories so that ownership plays no role in determining people’s’ decision-making influence or share of income.
To attain classlessness, new economic institutions will also need to ensure that all workers have a say in decisions, to the extent possible, proportionate to effects on them, sometimes best attained by majority rule, sometimes by consensus or other arrangements. This will, in turn, entail that new economic institutions have venues for deliberation including worker and consumer councils or assemblies, including that new economic institutions eliminate corporate divisions of labor that typically give about one-fifth of workers empowering tasks while they consign to four-fifths mainly rote, repetitive, and obedient tasks.
Thus, instead of producing a class division based on differential empowerment, liberatory economic institutions will need to ensure that each worker enjoys a share of empowering tasks via suitable new designs of work that convey to all workers sufficient confidence, skills, information, and access to participate effectively in self-managed decision making.
Additionally, to attain equity, liberatory economic institutions will need to ensure that workers who work longer or harder or at more onerous conditions, doing socially valued labor (including socially valued training), earn a proportionately greater share of the social product but do not earn payment according to property, bargaining power, or the value of personal output—while all who are unable to work nonetheless receive full income.
Likewise, liberatory economic relations will need to avoid both market competition and top-down planning, since each produces class rule, alienation, and ecological degradation among other violations. In their place, liberatory economic relations will need to find ways to conduct decentralized cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs via workers and consumers councils and federations of councils, with additional participatory facilitating structures as needed.
And finally, in light of the entanglement of all key facets of society, liberatory economic institutions will have to be compatible with new features in other dimensions of life and vice versa.
Thesis Six: Internationalism
Internationalism means valuing people in other countries and being in solidarity with their just struggles for decent lives. Liberating international relations will require implementing new participatory international institutions that ensure that no nations or geographic regions are privileged above others, and that, until that is achieved, move toward that result. As a means to that end, liberatory international relations will need to end the subordination of nations in all its forms including colonialism, neo-colonialism, and neoliberalism, but also residual differences in collective wealth.
Liberatory international policy and structures will need to foster equitable internationalist globalization in place of exploitative corporate globalization, including diminishing economic disparities in countries’ relative wealth, protecting cultural and social patterns internal to each country, and facilitating international entwinement as people desire, including implementing reparations and international exchange and aid as well as border redefinitions with these ends in mind.
Thesis Seven: Ecology
Not only for liberation, but literally for human survival, to liberate ecological relations will require implementing new participatory ecological practices that first and foremost cease and reverse unsustainable resource depletion, environmental degradation, climate change, and other ecosystem disrupting trends.
To such ends, liberatory ecological relations will need to facilitate not only an end to fossil fuels, but an ecologically sound reconstruction of society that accounts for the full ecological as well as social/personal costs and benefits of both short- and long-term economic and social choices, so that future populations can sensibly decide levels of production and consumption, preferred duration of work, degrees of self and collective reliance, energy use and harvesting, stewardship, pollution norms, climate policies, conservation practices, consumption choices, and other future policy choices.
Liberatory ecological norms and practices will also need to foster a consciousness of ecological connection, responsibility, and reciprocity so that future citizens understand and respect the ecological precautionary principle and are well prepared to decide policies regarding such matters as animal rights or vegetarianism that transcend sustainability.
Where theses 1 – 7 above address attaining a degree of visionary unity regarding what we seek, theses 8-20 below seek to attain a degree of strategic unity regarding how to win what we seek.
Thesis Eight: Organize
Liberatory organizations are needed for groups to work effectively together with shared intentions while discovering new insights, retaining and sharing lessons, and collectively applying lessons from their own experiences. Such liberatory organizations will need to facilitate learning, preserve lessons to provide continuity, combine and apply energies and insights to win changes, and sustain support for members.
Thesis Nine: Be Strategic
To win liberation requires organizing that counters cynicism with hope, that incorporates seeds of the future in the present, that grows membership and commitment among the class, nationality, cultural, age, ability, and sexual/gender constituencies to be liberated, and that wins reforms without becoming reformist. Liberatory organizing requires relevant, flexible strategy, guided by shared vision, to consistently progress along a trajectory towards lasting, fundamental change.
Thesis Ten: Center Vision
Liberatory organizing will need to realize that doubt about the possibility of a better society is a primary impediment to people seeking change. To combat cynicism rooted in doubt and to engender informed hope will therefore need to be a permanent organizing priority. To that end, liberatory organizing will need to always offer and clarify the possibility and merit of vision and the efficacy of activism, even beyond indicating, detailing, and explaining the pains people currently endure and the tenacious obstacles to change people currently confront.
Thesis Eleven: Promote Participatory Decision Making
To arrive at well-considered decisions, collectively implement decisions, and monitor that such decisions have been carried out correctly, a liberatory organization will need to provide extensive opportunities for members to participate in organizational decision making, including engaging in deliberations with others. To those ends, a liberatory organization will need to establish internal structures that facilitate everyone’s participation including, when possible, offering childcare at meetings and events, finding ways to reach out to those who might be immersed in kinship duties, striving to meet diverse accessibility needs, and aiding those with busy work schedules.
A liberatory organization will need to also provide transparency regarding all actions by elected or delegated leaders, including placing a high burden of proof on keeping secret any agenda, whether to avoid repression or for any other reason, and to provide a mechanism to recall leaders or representatives who members believe are not adequately representing them, as well as to provide means to fairly, peacefully, and constructively resolve internal disputes.
Thesis Twelve: Build Empowerment, Not Hierarchy
To be liberatory, an organization’s structure and policies will need to approximate, as well as circumstances and priorities allow, the self-management norm that “each member has decision making influence proportional to the degree they are affected.”
To that end, a liberatory organization will need to be internally classless including being structured so that a minority who are initially disproportionately equipped with needed skills, information, and confidence do not form a formal or informal decision-making hierarchy that leaves initially less-prepared members to perpetually follow orders or perform only rote tasks.
Likewise, over time, a liberatory organization needs to apportion empowering and disempowering tasks to ensure that no individuals or sectors of members have a relative monopoly on information or position, and no subset of members has disproportionate say whether due to race, gender, class, or other attributes.
Thesis Thirteen: Celebrate & Protect Diversity
A liberatory organization must monitor and work to correct instances of sexism, racism, classism, ableism, transphobia, and homophobia, including having diverse roles suitable to people with different backgrounds, personal priorities, and personal situations.
To those ends, a liberatory organization will need to celebrate internal debate and dissent and to allow dissenting views to exist and be tested alongside preferred views. It will need to guarantee members’ rights to organize “currents” or “caucuses” with full rights of democratic debate.
Likewise, a liberatory organization will need to ensure that national, regional, city, and local chapters, as well as different sectors of the organization, can respond to their own circumstances and implement their own programs as they choose, so long as their choices do not block other groups equally addressing their own situations, or deny the shared goals and principles of the whole organization.
Liberatory organizing will need to plant the seeds of the future in the present to enhance hope, to test and refine ideas, and to learn experiential lessons able to inform strategy and vision. To plant seeds of the future under present class, race, gender, sexual, age, ability, and power relations, liberatory organizing will need to not only constructively address the ways it’s members interrelate but to also establish internal norms that support building exemplary workplace, campus, and community institutions that represent and refine the values of the movement, which the organization then in turn offers as liberating alternatives to the status quo it combats.
Thesis Fifteen: Engage in Outreach & Build Structures of Outreach
To constantly grow membership among the class, community, nationality, and gender constituencies it aims to liberate, liberatory organizing will need to learn from and seek unity with audiences far wider than its own membership. It will need to attract and affirmatively empower young people and to organize people currently critical and even hostile to its aims, not least by participating in, supporting, building, and aiding diverse social movements and struggles beyond its own immediate agendas, and also by explicitly directly and respectfully addressing critical and even hostile constituencies in communities, on campuses, and at work.
Liberatory organizing will also need to seek, develop, debate, disseminate, and advocate truthful news, analysis, vision, and strategy among its members and especially in the wider society, including developing and sustaining needed media institutions and means of face-to-face communication as well as using diverse methods of agitation and struggle—from educational efforts to rallies, marches, demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, occupations, and diverse direct action campaigns—to win gains and build movements.
Thesis Sixteen: Build Power Blocs
To sustain deep unity, liberatory organizing will need to go beyond seeking coalitions of diverse organizations and movements who agree on a minimum focus, to develop new forms of cross-constituency and cross-issue mutuality. New blocs of activist movements, campaigns, and organizations will often need to take as their shared program not a least common component of what they all individually favor, but the totality of their individual priorities, even including their differences, so that each movement, campaign, and organization in the bloc aids the rest and all thereby become dramatically more powerful.
Thesis Seventeen: Build Trajectories of Commitment & Momentum
Liberatory organizing will need to seek changes in society for citizens to enjoy immediately, while it also establishes by the words and methods of its struggles, the means it uses in its organizing, and the ideas it broaches and broadcasts, a likelihood that all those involved will pursue and win more change in the future. Liberatory organizing will need to seek short-term changes of its own conception by its own actions, but also need to seek short term changes that others conceive by supporting other movements and projects, both internationally, by country, and also locally, including addressing such matters as climate change, arms control, war and peace, the level and composition of economic output, income, agricultural relations, education, health care, housing, income distribution, duration of work, gender roles, racial relations, immigration, policing, media, law, and legislation.
Liberatory organizing will need to seek and win gains by means that reduce oppression in the present and that prepare means, methods, and allegiances able to win more gains in the future, always leading toward liberation.
Thesis Eighteen: Choose Tactics to Serve Strategy
Liberatory organizing must embrace a diversity of tactics suited to diverse contexts that best serve flexible, resilient strategies guided by shared vision.
Liberatory organizing will need to connect efforts, resources, and lessons across continents and from country to country, region to region, community to community, workplace to workplace, and campus to campus, even as it also recognizes that strategies and tactics suitable to different places and different times will differ.
Liberatory organizing will need to take a long and encompassing view, so as to focus not solely on immediate tactical success or failure—such as stopping a meeting, completing a march, or winning a vote—but also and even mainly on broader matters such as how many new people are reached, what commitments are enlarged or enriched, and what infrastructure is created. It will need to combine respect for the urgency of immediate injustices that need to be righted with the patience that major long-term change requires.
Liberatory organizing will, to that end, need to understand that vision orients aims, strategy informs program, and tactics implement plans. For each, it will need to pay close attention to implications of choices for advancing immediate campaigns, organization, and consciousness, but also for advancing longer run prospects, all for those immediately involved and for those viewing from a distance. For example, it will need to judge calls for participation in electoral politics case by case, including cultivating a cautious electoral attitude because of the captivating and corrupting dynamics of electoral campaigns, even while also recognizing their outreach potential and reform relevance.
Thesis Nineteen: Practice Regenerative Organizing
Liberatory organizing will need to develop mechanisms that provide financial, legal, employment, and emotional support to its members so that its members can be in better positions to participate in campaigns as fully as they wish and to navigate the various challenges and sometimes negative effects of taking part in radical actions.
Liberatory organizing will need to substantially improve the life situations of its members, including aiding their feelings of self-worth, their knowledge, skills, and confidence, their mental, physical, sexual, and spiritual health, and even their social ties and engagements and leisure enjoyments. It will need to take a positive approach in all interpersonal and organizational matters, always seeking ways forward. It will need to address disagreements not to win against others, or to elevate self, but to find ways all can progress collectively successfully. Thus minority positions will need to be protected and preserved, as possible, in case in time they prove essential.
Thesis Twenty: Foster Leadership From Below
Liberatory organizing will need to understand that we are all different and that successful insights and paths forward are found, communicated, and advocated by some people earlier than by others in acts of “leadership”. Liberatory organizing will need to celebrate such acts but also to prioritize methods that ensure acts of leadership do not yield lasting differential empowerment. The key personal contribution of any leading person or group is elevating other persons or groups into leading, while organizational relations must propel and abet that priority.
Conclusion: Three Goals
Our primary goal is to make the case that organizers and diverse movements would benefit immensely from a widely shared positive perspective. We would benefit from a framework for coalescing around shared vision and strategy, for helping to identify shared aims, and for leveraging collective power to win immediate reforms on a trajectory of societal transformation.
Would it matter if activists were to arrive at such a shared outlook that could span a country, many countries, or even the world? Would it matter if people who mainly address and seek anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-ecocide, or anti-war gains were to all share a unifying positive vision? Would it matter if behind calls to enrich and align struggles in different places for different gains, there arose a shared perspective?
If not, there’s no need to think further on sharing these or any other theses on liberation. But if such a shared stance could assist each progressive, radical, revolutionary endeavor and could especially align them into much more effective mutual support, then seriously considering the idea of arriving at a shared positive perspective and a strategy for achieving it is essential.
Our second goal is to move forward from identifying the need for a widely shared visionary and strategic framework, to proposing this particular draft framework for engagement. Are these ‘20 Theses for Liberation’ sensible, flexible, and general, but also rich enough to sustain a productive discussion and even generate shared, effective advocacy? They come from movements, experiences, organizations and diverse individuals, but we do not propose them as the only possible formulation.
Across the broad spectrum of progressive and radical movements, there are sure to be reactions that these 20 theses are too long, too specific, lack something favorable, include something unfavorable, go beyond our means, utilize imprecise or un-preferred terminology, or are just something that no matter how worthy, will likely be ignored. Our hope is that these concerns are not a stopping point, but a starting point for undertaking further examination, discussion, debate, improvements, and refinements towards a shared basis, however different it might look from this draft, for future activism and organization building.
How might such a final shared viewpoint emerge? By people talking, writing, reading, debating in person, in periodicals, in organizations. The result, of course, wouldn’t be a fixed, unchangeable stance. It would instead continually alter in accord with new experiences, contexts, and insights. The best result would be a continued, collective process of refining, adapting, and utilizing a unifying framework. We would be building and sustaining a culture of coalescing around shared vision and strategy—which is the work of building a movement of movements. We would be bringing separate agendas into powerful solidarity with one another.
Our third and final goal is to invite engagement and responses to these 20 Theses, for which we must stop writing and start listening.
The story of DiEM25, as seen from the movement’s members and their work in Greece.
Tuesday, 2 May 2023, 20:00, Mikrokosmos Cinema, Andreas Syngrou 106 Ave. 117 41, Athens, Greece
Released to commemorate the first half-decade of DiEM25, it is a celebration of the tenacity of hope and the incredible achievements that are possible when people dare to believe in alternatives. Greece is the first country where DiEM25’s seeds were planted and the film poses the questions: what will they grow into, and where will they be planted next?
Credits: Directed by Davide Castro and Erik Edman Produced by Davide Castro and Erik Edman Assistant Producers: Jochen Schult and Ivana Nenadovic Written by Erik Edman
What kind of world will we live in? What era is dawning before us?
We are living through the sunset of a world order and the dawn of a new macro-historical cycle.
Taking the war in Ukraine and the crisis of the pandemic as its starting point, the book outlines the shaping of a new global order and discusses the completion of three different and partly overlapping historical cycles: the post-Cold War order (1991-), the post-war world (1945-) and a great era of human history (19th century-), the ‘Age of the Great Deviation’. By the middle of the 21st century, and with 2037 as a landmark year, the three historical cycles that have defined the metamorphoses of order during the last two centuries will have been completed: the Great Deviation will expire.
From history to political geography, from the completion of the American hegemonic period to the return of Asia, from technology to demography, and from modernity to postsecularism, this book attempts a long-range dissection of developments, with the aim of providing a tool for understanding the world-historical changes taking place on the cusp of the end of an era and the beginning of a new macro-historical cycle.
18 October 2021 marked exactly forty years since PASOK’s first electoral victory. The “Change” of 1981 was the event that marked the Third Greek Republic like few others.
The limits, contradictions, integration and subsequent degeneration of PASOK (a journey that was less short than that of SYRIZA) and ultimately its actual death in the era of the memoranda do not negate the need to reflect on the post-metapolitefsi period as a whole, to reflect on the timeliness of the claims for national independence, popular sovereignty and social justice and, of course, to confront, in today’s very different circumstances, the question of claiming the socialist transformation that was posed at the beginning of the post-independence period by an ever-expanding section of Greek society.
In this book, Vassilis Asimakopoulos, Sissy Velissariou, Yannis Mavris and Chrysanthos Tassis – together with the testimony of Dimitris Livieratos and the intervention of Yannis Varoufakis – attempt an anatomy of the past with an eye to today and tomorrow.
Can system engineering principles and methodologies be applied to politics?
To begin with, it is typically the other way round, as systems are/ought to be engineered considering i.a. the political implications and ramifications of the context in which they were first conceived. A good example is the steam engine that was first invented around 100BC. It took 1800 years for the relations of production to advance enough and transform the same concept from an “aeolipile” toy into a means of production.
According to , the four main system architecture methodologies are:
normative, the system architecture is prescribed in handbooks and standards authored by acknowledged masters,
rationale, employs scientific and mathematical principles
cooperative, depends on consensus between all involved stakeholders,
heuristic, is based on common sense that stems from collective past experience.
It is rather the latter that is being often considered as the driving vehicle for the conceptualization of complex systems and ideas, especially in fields where the former three have not yet been applied, let alone solidified.
In the context of the upcoming Greek elections, I was intrigued by the campaign message of DiEM25 “Everything can be different” (contra Maggie’s TINA). Being accustomed to such political statements and propositions, I was skeptical about the applicability and direction of the ideas that were brought forward by DiEM25 and I quickly ended up having in my hands Prof. Yanis Varoufakis’s book, Another Now.
It was quite a challenge absorbing 468 pages of an alternative reality, deeply subversive in its conception and potential implementation at a societal, economic and political context. But I seldomly come across with such a detailed narrative, so I was more than intrigued to challenge it by employing political heuristics and fundamental system engineering principles.
The complexity of the proposed socioeconomic model and the meticulous and exhaustive narration left no room for second thought. I had to start decomposing the proposed model, firstly in the form of the block diagram, otherwise I would have gotten lost in a maze of novel notions. Later, it become even more apparent that the block diagram had to be enhanced to capture the level of interrelationships and inter-dependencies between its various subsystems and components. A system map (according to friendly feedback) or architectural flow diagram was thus created, for which I had the honor to get it published (in Greek , attached the English .pdf version) by MetaCPC.
Pivoting back to our opening question, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, principles such as abstraction, encapsulation, modularity, separation of concerns and synthesis, i.a. , that are essential for any conceptual model decomposition, are seldomly taught or cultivated in academia or industry (quite a gloomy situation considering the irrevocable advent of AI). It then falls down to heuristically applying the “art of achitecting“, which according to  enable us to “move from a vague concept and limited resources to a satisfactory and feasible system concept and an executable program“. The only difference is that in this use case we are dealing with a political program.
 Maier & Rechtin, “The Art of Systems Engineering“, CRC Press, 2009
Founded on the principle of “think global – act local”, IT’S TIME TO OPEN THE BLACK BOXES! is an ongoing participatory art project initiated by the Greek artist Danae Stratou, which invites people across the world to send a Single Word online.
Submit the One Word that best expresses that which currently:
–Threatens you the most
–You are most eager to preserve
THIS OPEN CALL
DEADLINE: 22/02/2023 EXHIBITION EVENT: more TBA soon!
As if the pandemic crisis, climate emergency, peripheral wars and forced migrations were not enough, big power antagonisms take a most acute form, distracting humanity from facing its most pressing challenges and putting it at risk even of a nuclear escalation. Rabid nationalism gets normalised, entire populations and cultures get “cancelled”, free speech and the right to information get all the more restricted, economic life becomes painfully uncertain for the many, new barriers are being erected, millions of refugees are again on the run.
Supported by: mέta (The Centre for Postcapitalist Civilisation), DiEM25, and Progressive International
The words gathered through this call will be used by visual artist Danae Stratou in the creation of an art video which will be presented at the event titled “From Crisis to War: One Year Later”, organized by mέta | Centre for Postcapitalist Culture, on Wednesday 22 February 2023 at 19:00, at the Serafeio Athletic & Community Complex of the Municipality of Athens, Ehelidon &, 144 Piraeus Street, Athens 118 54.