In some cases, the new social movements functioned as infrastructures of collective care, that against the backdrop of deteriorating everyday living conditions provided a feeling of solidarity: ‘What gives us strength is the solidarity we’re receiving. We’ve received help and money from other workers, from ordinary people... We need to support one another.’[xxvi] As a PAH activist adds,
[W]hen I arrived to the PAH, I felt welcomed immediately. Everyone asked how I felt, how I was doing. And you see that people help one another, people are generous, and supportive, and caring. You realize that people trust you, and therefore you have to be worthy of this trust. Thanks to this reciprocity, you become stronger. […] And when you share your own experience with others and see that it can be useful to someone else, you realize that you’re valuable. Even if you don’t have money, you’re unemployed, you have nothing, but you’re helpful to someone. And for me this is the most empowering thing, this is how you grow as a person.[xxvii]
Hence, the PAH has been struggling to use collective organizing as a means to overcome isolation and form a collective identity. In this sense, it has acted to transform a problem that is widely perceived as being a private one, into a collective, political one. In this way, individuals who had previously been overwhelmed by strong feelings of failure, guilt, loneliness and uncertainty have been able to become agents of political transformation.
The new social movements that emerged during the European crisis thus developed new forms of democratic inclusion: ‘we are generating spaces of experience where people learn by themselves, because we believe that living something in first person is what really transforms people. In this kind of horizontal and empowering spaces, people who are normally excluded from political participation find more favourable conditions to participate’.[xxviii] This includes a new ‘presentist’ democracy that is opposed to established forms of representative democracy, which are increasingly perceived as dysfunctional.
This ‘presentist democracy’, Lorey argues, ‘is the opposite of representative democracy’. Instead, it is a ‘new form of democracy that is practised in the moment of the assembly’, and as such, ‘becoming presentist is not a non-political form of living’.[xxix] The state and representative democracy, in contrast, have been routinely likened to a largely impermeable ‘wall’,[xxx] since their hardened institutions, under the disciplinary pressure of investors and creditors, were unable to consider or even acknowledge the movements’ demands.
The new social movements’ engagement with everyday social problems and inclusive democratic structures has occurred alongside a feminization of politics that contrasts with the (re-)masculinization of formal politics witnessed with the rise of both authoritarian populism, and a more general authoritarian neoliberalism. As Ada Colau, former PAH spokesperson and now mayor of Barcelona with the platform Barcelona en Comú argues, this feminization not only involved a stronger participation of women in political processes, but also a process of prioritizing care, life and dignity in policy-making.[xxxi]
Even where movements ceased to be publicly visible, in many cases a process of what Candeias and Völpel have tellingly labelled ‘successful failure’[xxxii] could be observed, as movements outlived their visible existence. As Arditi is at pains to point out, although those in authority have a habit of re-acquiring the machinery of government following episodes of dissent, those whom they seek to govern nevertheless themselves acquire a new taste for demanding accountability. This, meanwhile, shapes the terrain of what is possible, and what those who seek to govern perceive as necessary in calculating how to execute that governance in such a way that pre-empts the reoccurrence of dissent. In this sense, insurgency and rebellion, in manifold forms, has a ‘spectral afterlife’ that,
… manifests itself in the cognitive shifts insurgencies generate, the learning experience of life in the streets and of discussions in general assemblies, the memories they create, the leaders that are made in the process of occupation, the subsequent campaigns and partnerships they foster and the policy changes they bring about.[xxxiii]
The dynamics described in this essay boil down to what we would like to term ‘disrupted democracies’: democracies that are torn between the increasingly incompatible requirements of global capital and the contradictory demands of their populations, whose institutions become increasingly unresponsive to everyday grievances. This leads to political instability both in the form of new populism and in structures of self-organization that subvert discourses that routinely declare ‘There is no alternative’. In so doing, moreover, they make different potential futures visible.
While the election of the likes of Trump, Duterte and Modi, as well as the emergence of the nationalist, racist and xenophobic forces that have grown in popularity in recent years have understandably fuelled fears and a sense of hopelessness, we nevertheless still see signs of the disruptive forms of agency that continue to exist. We can dissent – even if sometimes only ‘imperceptibly’. In Linebaugh and Rediker’s terms, the ‘many-headed hydra’ of resistance, rebellion, refusal, and the rejection of authority, has a tendency, once defeated, to reappear in new forms and new manifestations, creating unfamiliar problems for those who seek to assert that authority.[xxxiv]
In terms of considering the strategic options available in the context that we have sought to describe above, therefore, we consider four routes to be both necessary and viable:
- to pursue different forms of decommodification, both in the form of the welfare provision and concessions granted by firms – this could include a progressively designed universal basic income and radical working time reduction;
- to challenge state institutions, in pursuit of greater participation as well as the opening of opportunities for self-governing spaces – participatory budgeting initiatives might be an example here as is the collectivisation of crucial sectors in order to be directed by worker-consumer coops;
- to produce new arenas of public deliberation and conflict resolution, enabling a transformation of individualised problems into collective demands – this concerns local spaces and assemblies, and practices of collective care, but also has implications for media landscapes in terms of ownership concentration, or the challenge of inner-organisational hierarchies in parties and other organisations;
- and to enable an extension of public security, at the national level, subnational and supranational levels – that is, increasing social rights and provisioning beyond centralised nation-state decision-making.
As representative democracy tends towards closure and rigidity, the driving forces of these developments must be sought beyond it. That is, we look to social movements and everyday struggles that seek to prefigure new forms of democracy, co-existence and cooperation, and which either implicitly or explicitly challenge different forms of authoritarianism, whether embedded in representative democracies or not.
[i] The article is based on previous research on crises of democracy in Spain and the UK and on European integration, during which we conducted over 70 qualitative interviews with activists from social movements. Our work as scholars has in that sense been a form of bricolage that draws on activist experience to broaden our understanding of what is currently wrong with democracy in the EU.
[ii] Poulantzas, N. (2000 ) State, Power, Socialism. p. 247.
[iii] AFEM activist cited in Huke, N. (2016) ‘Krisenproteste in Spanien’, p. 95-96, authors’ translation.
[iv] Bruff, I. (2014) ‘The Rise of Authoritarian Neoliberalism’, Rethinking Marxism 26 (1): 113-129
[v] Bruff, I. 2014, p. 115.
[vi] Bruff, I. 2014, p. 115-116.
[vii] Constitutionalism as coined by Gill , S. (1998) ‘European governance and New Constitutionalism: Economic and Monetary Union and Alternatives to Disciplinary Neoliberalism in Europe’, New Political Economy 3 (1): 5-26) describes a politico-legal governance framework that seeks to separate economic policy from broad political or democratic accountability (p. 5).
[viii] Gill, S. (2002) ‘Constitutionalizing Inequality and the Clash of Globalizations’, International Studies Review 4(2): 47–65, p. 48.
[ix] Merkel, A. (2011) ‚Pressestatements von Bundeskanzlerin und dem Ministerpräsidenten P. Passos Coelho der Republik Portugal‘. Berlin, 1 September. Available at: https://www.bundeskanzlerin.de/ContentArchiv/DE/Archiv17/Mitschrift/Pressekonferenzen/2011/09/2011-09-01-merkel-coelho.html, [Accessed 22 Jun 2016].
[x] Leys, C. (2013) ‘The British ruling class’, in L. Panitch, G. Albo and V. Chibber (eds) Socialist Register 2014. Registering Class. Pontypool: Merlin Press, pp. 108-137, p. 108.
[xi] Bieling, H.-J. (2015) ‘Uneven development and ‘European crisis constitutionalism’, or the reasons for and conditions of a “passive revolution in trouble”’, in: J. Jäger and E. Springler (eds) Asymmetric Crisis in Europe and Possible Futures: Critical political economy and post-Keynesian perspectives. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 98-113, p. 106.
[xii] Wahl, A. (2014) European Labor: Political and Ideological Crisis in an Increasingly More Authoritarian European Union. Available at: http://monthlyreview.org/2014/01/01/european-labor/
[xiii] Becker, J., Jäger, J. and Weissenbacher, R. (2015) ‘Uneven and dependent development in Europe. The crisis and its implications’, in: J. Jäger and E. Springler (eds) Asymmetric Crisis in Europe and Possible Futures: Critical political economy and post-Keynesian perspectives. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 81-97, pp. 92-93.
[xiv] Interview with a PAH activist (Barcelona, 31 July 2013), authors’ translation.
[xv] Pablo Iglesias cited in Huke (2016), p. 123, authors’ translation.
[xvi] Interview with a Panrico worker on strike (Santa Perpètua de la Mogoda, Barcelona, 27 May 2014), authors’ translation.
[xvii] LOR strike committee member cited in Bailey, D. J., Clua-Losada, M., Huke, N., Ribera Almandoz, O. (2017) Beyond Defeat and Austerity: Disrupting (the Critical Political Economy of) Neoliberal Europe. Abingdon: Routledge.
[xviii] Dokos, T., Poli, E., Rosselli, C., et al. (2013) Eurocriticism: The Eurozone Crisis and Anti-Establishment Groups in Southern Europe. Available at: http://www.eliamep.gr/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/iai.pdf
[xix] Keskinen, S., Norocel, O. C. and Jorgensen, M. B. (2016) ‘The politics and policies of welfare chauvinism under the economic crisis’, Critical Social Policy 36 (3): 1-9, p. 2.
[xx] Iai@flautas activist cited in Bailey et al. (2017).
[xxi] Bailey, D. J., Clua-Losada, M., Huke, N., et al. (2016) ‘Challenging the age of austerity: Disruptive agency after the global economic crisis’, Comparative European Politics: 1-23 (online first).
[xxii] Interview with PAH activist (Barcelona, 31 July 2013), authors’ translation.
[xxiii] ‘Boss-napping’ at worksites was used by French workers during the crisis to protest closures or job losses. The workers abducted the managers of the site in question in order to press management to not close it or agree to better severance packages (see also: Hayes, G. (2012) ‘Bossnapping: Situating Repertoires of Industrial Action in National and Global Contexts’, Modern & Contemporary France 20(2): 185–201).
[xxiv] Bailey et al. (2017), pp. 64-107.
[xxv] Dinerstein, A.C. (2014) ‘Too bad for the facts: Confronting value with hope (Notes on the Argentine uprising of 2001)’, South Atlantic Quarterly 113 (2): 367-378.
[xxvi] Interview with a Panrico worker on strike (Santa Perpètua de la Mogoda, Barcelona, 27 May 2014), authors’ translation.
[xxvii] Interview with a PAH activist (Girona, 1 October 2013), authors’ translation.
[xxviii] Interview with a PAH activist (Barcelona, 19 June 2014), authors’ translation.
[xxix] Lorey, I. (2011) Non-representationist, Presentist Democracy. Available at: http://eipcp.net/transversal/1011/lorey/en
[xxx] Marea verde activist cited Huke (2016) p. 76, authors’ translation.
[xxxi] Colau, Ada (2015) ‘Tenemos que feminizar la politica’, https://www.youtube.com
[xxxii] Candeias, M. and Völpel, E. (2014) Plätze sichern!: ReOrganisation der Linken in der Krise: Zur Lernfähigkeit des Mosaiks in den USA, Spanien und Griechenland. Hamburg: VSA, p. 11.
[xxxiii] Arditi, B. (2012) Insurgencies don’t have a plan – they are the plan. The politics of vanishing mediators of the indignados in 2011. Available at: http://bjsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Arditi_Insurgencies_2011_JOMEC.pdf
[xxxiv] Linebaugh, P. and Rediker, M. B. (2013) The Many-headed Hydra: Sailors, slaves, commoners, and the hidden history of the revolutionary Atlantic, Boston, MA: Beacon Press.