Networked politics: Rethinking political organisation in an age of movements
The world just now is a disturbing place for anyone who believes in peace, social justice, common goods, and ecological sanity. On the one hand, the traditional institutions of democratic control are exhausted; weakened, if not destroyed, by an unconstrained global market and superpower military ambition. On the other hand, the movements of mass protest, so visible on the eve of the invasion of Iraq that they were dubbed the “second superpower”, no longer provide the clear public focus that they once did.
We believe, however, that diverse forms of resistance hold enormous potential for creating new forms of democracy and new institutions for social change. This social and cultural creativity often takes place beneath the media radar but it can sometimes surface unpredictably to disturb the complacent consensus. Our shared belief in the existence of this only partially understood, including self-understood, potential for social transformation has led us to explore the innovations in political organisation that are underway and the tools and insights that could take them further. We also share a curiosity in the transformative behaviour of people who frequently express common values – for example, as “ethical consumers”, vegetarians, file sharers, or participants in the social economy – but are not involved in movement or political networks.
Our inquiry is based on four interrelated lines of research:
* The innovations and problems arising from movements: their development in practice of a new approach to knowledge, new form of action and organisation;
* The process of renewal taking place in political parties of the left and, more generally, attempts at transformative forms of political representation;
* Public institutions in the network society: the ambivalences, dangers and opportunities of the emergence of multi-level political systems and the idea of the governance;
* The new techno-political tools made possible by the revolution in information technology and their potentialities for transformative thought, action and communication. Much work is in progress on these issues, often by people who hardly know each other or whose paths cross only briefly. Those you’ll meet in this pamphlet have come together mainly out of the social forum process, locally, across Europe and, through the World Social Forum (WSF), on a wider international scale, to create a loosely connected community of activist researchers to share resources, compare experiences and debate ideas. The purpose of this pamphlet is to provide a report back on work so far and to promote resources and ideas that we have found useful.
We are a motley bunch: some of us are from the movements of the late 1960s and 70s, aware that our ideas at that time became in part – against our intentions – resources for the renewal of capitalism, but insistent nonetheless that our movements, feminism especially, generated an unrealised potential towards rethinking politics. Some of us are shaped by intense involvement in the movements unleashed in Seattle and continuing into the 21st century, aware that our activism is merely the surface expression of a far deeper popular disaffection for which we have not yet found the cultural tools to reach or the sufficiently innovative ways to organise. Some of us are from political parties, believing in the need to engage with institutional politics but fully aware, against the traditional assumptions of left politics, that parties can only be one actor amongst many and indeed the very nature of a party needs to be radically rethought. And most of us try to make transformative values part of the way we live, the way we work, the way we organise – not that we always succeed! We try to pre-figure our vision of a different world in present-day experiments in new systems of collaboration and creativity. We aim to make this project exactly such an experiment.
Each line of inquiry has organised its own forms of preliminary research, producing draft documents suggesting some starting blocks and “hot issues” (summaries of these follow later in this pamphlet); organising small brainstorming workshops and setting up a wiki and an e-mail list to enable us to work collaboratively. Several of the partner organisations organised seminars associated with the inquiry at the WSF in Caracas and the European Social Forum in Athens in 2006. A web-bibliography e-library is also a central resource in our collaboration, containing articles, papers, seminar transcripts, and dossiers of interviews from the frontline of political innovation and its difficulties. We are promoting the collaborative production of a glossary of new words (or old words with new meanings) emerging out of the search for new kinds of political organisation. The www.networked-politics.info website provides you with details of, and links to, all of these aspects of the inquiry.
This pamphlet is a presentation of work in progess. We have produced it as a modest nourishment to many others who, from their own starting points, are engaged in a similar search. We have also produced it because so often a radical politics which recognises uncertainty and values curiosity is sidelined by political methodologies of both a more dogmatic and a more managieral kind. But there is no reason why an exploratory politics should be shy. We think it is helpful to think aloud as along as the process is open, grounded in experience and self-reflexive, not selfreferential. Much of our work has benefitted from public funds or the membership subscriptions supporting the work of both our respective organisations and our hosts in Bologna, Manchester and finally Barcelona, where our main seminar took place. This is our first report back. We would very much like your feedback. Check out the website and let us know what you think.
Joan Subirats (IGOP) Marco Berlinguer (Transform! Italia), Hilary Wainwright (Transnational Institute) and Mayo Fuster I Morell (Euromovements).