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Cornelius Castoriadis – Democracy and Relativism

Translated from the French and edited anonymously as a public service. Electronic publication date: January 2013.

The encounte rbetween Cornelius Castoriadis and the Mouvement Anti-Utilitaris tedans les Sciences Sociales(MAUSS;Anti-Utilitarian Movement in the Social Sciences) may seem both necessary and subject to chance.It seems necessary, given the questions broached both by MAUSS researchers and by the initiator of the review Socialisme ou Barbarie. But stillmore does it seem subject to chance, like the encounte revoked by Diderot between Jacques the Fatalist and his Master, because this belated encounter, ona Saturday in December1994, does not have the proper and conventional character of an academic colloquium, and because, before find in gap lace in what Pierre Bourdieu calls the “intellectual field,” Castoriadis long remained in the world of far-left militants, a microcosm far removed from the academic circles in which the MAUSS group has anchored it self since its creation….

Bosnia/Herzegovina and the plenums documentary

A short documentary (produced by Global Uprisings) explains thoroughly the uprising in Bosnia and Herzegovina that started on the 5th of February 2014, as  protests swept across the country when workers from five factories in northern city of Tuzla: Dita, Polihem, Poliolhem, GUMARA and Konjuh, declared strike. During these days, several governmental buildings were set on fire in cities across the country (including the presidential building in Sarajevo) resulting for four regional governments to resign.

The factories had been bankrupted and then illegally privatized, leaving the stuff unpaid and with large debts, deprived of health-care and other benefits. The protests were followed with popular assemblies (the so called plenums) exorcizing direct democracy organization. The first plenum appeared in Tuzla, (the starting point of the revolt) and then quickly spread in the following cities: Sarajevo (the capital), Tuzla, Zenica, Mostar, Travnik, Brčko, Goražde, Konjic, Cazin, Donji Vakuf, Fojnica, Orašje and Bugojno.

Manifesto 2014 (English version)

Read the Greek version here

The collective of Eagainst.com started its operation in December 2010, as an initiative not only for dialogue and counter-information but also to promote philosophical, political and cultural self-education of human beings based on universal values ​​and ideals (such as freedom of speech, the right to education, gender, racial and sexual equality, the right of excluded social groups – like immigrants and unemployed – the opposition to any exploitation of man by man, the review of work and labour and its alienating consequences …). Eagainst.com brings together people from diverse political spaces, mostly ardent supporters of the project of autonomy – as expressed by Cornelius Castoriadis – thinkers of council democracy (inspired by Hannah Arendt) and anarchist supporters (with particular emphasis on Murray Bookchin and Errico Malatesta), or situationists commentators and analysts who do not wish to compromise ideologically with the dominant values ​​that underlie the modern capitalist imaginary but instead seek for political alternatives rejecting at the same time the notion of representation, or even theories acknowledged as a solid truths and doctrinal beliefs. Eagainst.com is consisted by activists, journalists and political writers/researchers who refuse to reproduce social taboos, nationalism or outdated ideological currents. Always posing as a key project the social transformation, according to political, economic and cultural justice and equality, direct deliberative democracy and rejection of any kind of bureaucracy and hierarchy, this collectivity continues to promote in the public dialogue political ideas that remain largely undiscovered, ideas that promote a different understanding not only on the ways and means of social change but also regarding the objectives of that change. Far from trivial and sterile entrenched perceptions, breaking from ideological taboos and all kinds of conservatism, Eagainst.com continues its difficult work, welcoming all who respond to this call for political dialogue.

Coming from different backgrounds (workers, students, unemployed, artists, academics, writers) we are people with similar problems and concerns, people from different parts of the world who unite our voices under a common purpose: to contribute in the radical change of things. We know that this requires a clear rupture with any kind of transcendental or metaphysical rigid determinism (such as religious beliefs, laws of ancestors, laws of markets, laws of history) – that is called heteronomy – aiming to a world fairer and freer, to a world of political, economic and cultural equality, where processes through direct participation in decision-making will take place, enhancing the feasibility for us to redefine our needs and prioritize the values ​​that govern human communities. We know, of course, that the achievement of these objectives is not an easy task given that a) under the current situation with the rise of extreme right-wing populist, fascist movements and the hardening of state repression (which threatens and violates basic civil, democratic, social and economic rights earned with hard struggles), our efforts may face several risks (although that does not intimidate us), and b) in the era of mass apathy, of de-politicization and generalized poverism/conformity, where public communication is swamped by silence and isolation, the responses may not be broadly accepted in comparison with the initiatives that had significant resonance in the period of great social struggles during the past two centuries. We believe, however, that it is up to us to offer a political impetus for the further expansion of the antagonistic network that aims to the beginning of new struggles, while stressing that human beings are not solely destined for labour and consumption, obeying blindly and unquestioningly commands as slaves. The human (political) being can also create and excel using positive imagination and providing meaning to his/her existence.

In principle, we reject the contemporary global political infrastructure, the concentration of power in the hands of the few which reproduces and perpetuates poverty, inequality and injustice in all areas, leading inevitably to violence and dissolving any bond of social solidarity. The existing political system of liberal oligarchies deprives humanity as it measures every human value in profit (the only dominant value) destroying every spirit of friendship. Values ​​such as political participation, concepts such as consultation and communication are gradually fading away in a world that manufactures human machines, isolated individuals who attempt to disguise the lack of any meaning regarding their existence through consumerism (which is regarded as personal «success» and fulfilment), with lonely individuals who are accept pauperization as a natural condition in this jungle of social Darwinism that characterizes the capitalist imaginary, a dreadful machinery that generates and reproduces indifference, hatred and derision for the less powerful. Thus, we demand equality, ie actual (direct and deliberative) democracy, which according to us is inseparable from justice, equality and isonomy, that is equal participation in political power for all citizens. This requires explicit rupture with parliamentary institutions and any mechanism that perpetuates hierarchy and thus exploitation, heteronomy and alienation into the abyss of insignificance. Having acknowledged that the eutopic (and not utopic) political system we want isn’t going to be achieved through press releases, or ballot boxes, we call into question of the current state of power relations, we challenge all social institutions (such as the state – which gradually throws away its mask revealing its true face, that of a punisher -, or party offices), surpassing the demand for improving, rationalizing, or replacing them with others that will move into the same direction. Thus, we propose to replace all of these institutions that constitute and reproduce the modern capitalist (and ostensibly free) social reality, by political bodies that will allow all citizens to participate in the making (and taking) of decisions concerning public life, popular assemblies in squares, municipalities, workplaces (schools, factories, universities). Equality, friendship, solidarity and human creation for us should be a key objective of these new institutions.

At the same time we reject the imaginary of unlimited economic growth based on the hierarchical structure of the productive capitalist model which serves the interests of a small oligarchy in the arena of global competition that has transformed the entire planet into financial casino, damaging at the same time our natural environment and turning populations into profit machines that blindly execute orders in exchange for survival. Always under the scope of democratic transformation we promote the project of self-organization of production, moving away from the capitalist standards, away from the accumulation of profit in the hands of few, objecting to equal sharing of the wealth (and of course to income equality) while at the same time we incorporate environmental initiatives within the framework of our political program. But as aforementioned, human beings are not born and die having as an intended goal labour/production and consumption. Humans action can also result to worldliness – and this is the raison d’être of genuine politics (of direct democracy and autonomy), which undeniably cannot take place within our, utterly alienated by the imaginary of poverism, societies, deeply eroded by the insignificance of pseudo-individualism. Given that lack of freedom is not something that only concerns the work relationships (the oppression and exploitation of the worker from the employer and the boss) but has also to do with the nature of the production process, we aim not only to provide a more substantial meaning to work and workmanship (by asking ourselves why and for whom we labour?), but also to reduce the work-time, which is undoubtedly necessary for public happiness (namely for the re-emergence of a public realm). Such a system can not exist within the capitalist economic model that leaves no space for real communication between people and instead imprisons everyone to the impotence of private sphere. Extreme adherence to the work ethic, to productivism and profit-making signifies lack of time for reading, for analysis and discussion. Political representation serves exactly this pathology; to let others – some skilled technocrats – undertake the task of political implementation, a task that in fact should be exclusively our concern instead of acknowledging as our ultimate goal only private happiness.

Therefore, we reject any notion of bureaucratisation and we do not believe in change through the means that the system itself has created, means that keep us trapped in the world of impotence, conformity, entertainment and spectacle. Hence, we are not only looking for a public space as a key component of the participatory democracy we aim, but also for public time as an important tool to achieve our goals. Of course, for us the meaning of bureaucracy is not only confined to the hierarchical structures of the state apparatus, it does not solely refer to dialectic between rulers and the ruled (or in the workplace between masters and labourers, as mentioned above). The entire bureaucratization for our lives is characterized by the sheer totality of capitalist (and every heteronomous) imaginary that embraces every aspect of human activity and condition. It is located in the education system which produces «technocrats» who perpetuate the existing structures by prioritizing specific needs, it is incarnated in the psychological and anthropological approaches of the contemporary world, in short, it is an objective of (self)manipulation. We can see it on the Media (TV, magazines, radio, books), in all the institutions of mass culture. It is also located even in science which no longer serves the people but the large economic interests. We intent thus to challenge all the sociological narratives which proclaim that human beings are incapable of freedom and that the need for guidance by a skilled artisan, a polar economist is always required. The phrase of Sophocles «there is no more fearful or admirable being than a human» denotes explicitly the capabilities of human beings for self-creation and freedom.

To counter the current political challenges, we declare that the time to rise up and act collectively through a joint new network of revolutionary agenda is here. Through open assemblies, councils and open political bodies in every square, where communication and interaction will become possible, we aim to liberate ourselves. Not as lenders and borrowers, not as rich and poor, not as prosecutors and defendants, but as equal and free citizens, if we do not wish concepts such as democracy and freedom to become forgotten entries in encyclopedic dictionaries and history books.

Ernesto Laclau – On Populist Reason

In this new and highly original work Ernesto Laclau continues the philosophical and political exploration initiated in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Times and Emancipation(s). His topic here is the construction of popular identities, conceived in a wide sense covering the ensemble of strategies making possible the emergence of the ‘people’ as a collective actor. The book skillfully combines theoretical analysis with a myriad of empirical references from numerous historical and geographical contexts.

The first part presents a critical reading of the existing literature on populism, demonstrating its dependency on the basic categories elaborated by the theorists of ‘mass psychology’, from Taine and Le Bon to Tarde, McDougall and Freud. The second part forms the main theoretical core of the work, where the question of the emergence of the ‘people’ as a political and social force is treated. Several categories already present in Laclau’s work – such as empty and floating signifiers, hegemony and heterogeneity – are developed here in new and innovative directions. In particular, the relation of populism to democracy and to the logic of representation is given special emphasis. The third part is devoted to particular case studies of both the conditions leading to the emergence of the ‘people’ and the obstacles preventing its formation. Finally, in a concluding chapter, Laclau locates the question of popular identities within the context of a globalized world and differentiates his approach from those of other theoreticians such as _i_ek, Hardt and Negri and Ranciere. This book is essential reading for all those interested in the question of political identities in present-day societies.

«Anarchists Want To Force You Into Anarchism!»

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A common misconception I often hear is that anarchists are contradictory in their anti-authoritarianism since they want to force everyone under a particular system, and are thus authoritarian in their own right. From my own experience, this is said not just by «anarcho»-capitalists who claim social anarchists want to force everyone under libertarian socialism but also from those who call themselves «anarchist without adjectives» and «panarchists» who insist that individuals who promote one particular school of anarchism (be it mutualism, collectivism, anarcho-communism, and so on) want to force the entire world under their system. Though it should be mentioned that «anarchism without adjectives» traditionally meant anarchists who were agnostic about which economic system to implement rather than today’s «anarchism without adjectives» which seems to be more of a call for pluralism among all anarchist economic systems, a point I will touch on shortly.

Anarchism as a philosophy stresses a holistic set of values, hence why anarchists promote anti-authoritarianism, direct democracy, and so on. The reason for this is because these values promote a plurality of values, as individuals are able to fully maximize their individual autonomy. However, all these values are derived from the preconditions of specific values, so unles you agree to be anti-authoritarian and maintain a system that’s based on anti-authorianism you will not have that plurality. The real issue is how we come to agree upon those values and enforce them without a hierarchical power structure. So if one holds an «anything goes» attitude towards new institutions and planning they will (ironically) not get a plurality of values, since some of the systems which may come out of this «anything goes» means of doing things will not meet the prerequisite for the plurality that the more «laissez faire» types claim to strive for. As an example, you could see a reemergence of capitalism or the governing state with specific systems. In a market anarchist society, individuals would have to concern themselves with the potential for capitalist property relations to re-emerge through the divorce of possession from occupancy and use to the point where the right-of-increase becomes prevalent and class society forms, whereas an anarcho-communist society would face the potential for governmental statism to re-emerge also through the divorce of possession from occupancy and use to the point where individuals and all property become entirely subordinated to «the commune». Either way, individuals and the institutions they create within each system will have to subscribe to a certain amount of values and principles if they want to maintain a society where autonomy and equality are maximized. Some anarchist systems could smoothly coexist with each other as well. In a mutualist society, communes could easily become parts of the federation; in a communist society, gifting could be done on a reciprocal basis.

Most of all, every anarchist school initially promotes a plurality of institutions and systems. Where did Proudhon say he was going to get the federation to uproot communes? Where did Kropotkin say he was going to force societies to not be mutualist or collectivist? What anarchists who promote a particular school of anarchism claim is that a society ought to be run in this system if anarchist values of autonomy and equality are to be produced and remain as such. That was Proudhon’s argument against what he called «communism» and Kropotkin’s argument against what he saw as mutualism. These attributes are hardly unique to «anarchists without adjectives». Anarchists of all schools never, ever say they want to force everyone under a particular system, they just claim that the specific system they advocate would result in something more desirable. For example, an anarchist society where you have elements of capitalism and governmental statism will probably be far less free and egalitarian than a system where these elements don’t exist. No one is going to force that society out of its quasi-capitalism, however, if people chose to implement those particular property norms or institutions the end result will not be anarchy or anything close to anarchy (assuming that «absolute anarchy» is improbable). Likewise, preserving or instituting authoritarian cultural norms will not result in anarchy. If groups want to keep practicing them, fine, but they shouldn’t expect a freer society to be the end result.

Of course, when deciding how we’re going to accomplish our goals we can simply point to general tendencies of certain systems and see what does or doesn’t ultimately result in more freedom and equality. No one follows a textbook like it’s some infallible work that needs to be followed word-for-word. We just look at what institutions and systems are better at carrying out our values and specifically go with that. As a mutualist, I believe the best way we can achieve these goals is if our institutions and property relations incorporate reciprocity in principle and action. (I’ve explained this idea in this post as well.) As far as the issue of compulsion goes, any society will require some kind of compulsion, since obligations will always exist, though we can take efforts to heavily reduce the need for compulsion by balancing individualist and collectivist elements.

Finally, I thought I’d bring up the allegedly «adjectives-less» approach. From what I have seen, what is called «anarchism without adjectives» is more of an appropriation than a rejection of adjectives. I have witnessed «an»-caps and individuals who hold similar ideologies label themselves «anarchist without adjectives» merely because they wouldn’t oppose mutualists creating a market socialist system or communists creating a commune down the road from them, and assume that holding this view gives them a free pass into social anarchist spaces. It’s hardly limited to market anarchists though. I know of social anarchists who use the «without adjectives» label who presuppose what a future society would look like before norms, customs, and so forth have been decided upon. Personally, I feel that it’s impractical to go into activism which takes on such a huge long-term goal of complete social revolution without a clear-cut set of values. You’re going to have to create new institutions and forms of exchange, which will ultimately lead to new social relations and new paradigms, so putting your finger in the air and going whichever way the wind blows seems very naive and unthoughtful. Agnosticism doesn’t appear to be a good idea, especially now that actions and new paradigms are needed more than ever.

Posted also on Propaganda Lalaland