We Need Hybrid Spaces to Build Alternatives

The role of transnational collective action from Blockupy 2014 to Paris 2015

Screen shot 2014-11-20 at 11.58.57Beppe Caccia in conversation with Segolene Pruvot and Igor Stiks at #FixEurope Conference in Berlin, October 25th 2014.

See the full conversation on film here.

We have learned from Saskia Sassen’s works from the past ten years what the specific characteristics of contemporary forms of sovereignty are and why they are so different when compared with the classic form of sovereignty of the modern nation-state. The term “assemblages” (which resembles Middle-age multi-level forms of sovereignty), is very interesting when trying to understand the processes which are taking place on a European scale. For example, we should be skeptical about the idea of “re-occupying the state”, especially if the state is now very different from the form of national sovereign state which our fathers, our grandfathers, and our ancestors knew.

In this sense, it’s interesting to use the European social and political space precisely because it’s an undefined space, an unfinished work. I am uncertain wether it’s desirable “to fix Europe”: certainly however, it is necessary to put it in motion, “to move Europe”, to shake and stir it.

On the one hand, this means that a constitutional process from above is taking place, and surely it is un-democratic, post-democratic and so on. We know a lot about the lack of democracy and the way in which this is a process of re-centralisation of governmental functions. This is, for example, the experience of the past five years in the area of crisis management by city authorities. Everyone is familiar with the policies of cuts, everyone is familiar with the effects of the implementation of the European and internal Stability Pact on local public finances, but what is sometimes missed is that it is not just a problem of budget, it is not just a of lack of funds, it is not just a problem in the cuts to the municipal welfare services because of European and national shortages in the transferring of resources. It is mainly a problem of reducing the effective spaces of self-government, of self-determination at local levels by local communities, reducing the spaces of real local autonomy.

On the other hand, the fact that the European process of constitutionalisation is not yet complete, nor perfectly defined, opens many spaces for initiatives from below, making this space a truly interesting one of possible “constituent processes from below”. It is a space that is a permanent, open, battlefield, one that we must be on – we must fight our own battle.

Screen shot 2014-11-20 at 12.20.37If we look at the picture as painted today by Sassen, we see a rather bleak picture: there seem to be no possibilities to change the situation; there is this new global environment which is made of not only political institutions but also this incredible power of financial flows, and no political device seems capable of intervening in this terrifying level of inequality, in this terrifying imbalance in power relationships on a global scale.

Therefore, the main question we have to pose is about the effectiveness of the different ways in which we act, socially or politically, as movements or as institutions. The main objective should be to create the conditions to reverse this unequal balance in social powers.

How to go about doing that? It is impossible to do that in only “one” appropriate way. We need to start from a plurality of impulses. I’m using the word “impulses”, because Sassen’s latest book is dedicated to “Expulsions” as a dominant form of exclusions, of implementing inequalities etc. Instead, we need more impulsions: this means to give and to push a plurality of impulses to change this horrible situation. We need the ability to act on different levels. Looking toward the future, we need to overcome this idea of having separate spaces of social movements, of NGOs, of trade unions, of political parties and institutions, and ultimately we need to connect these different levels, building alliances between these separate spaces. However, I do think that in this particularly dire situation, this is not enough.

We need to take a step forward, we need to think and to act on the plurality of impulses as a necessary approach, we need to build hybrid spaces. This is the reason why the Podemos experience in Spain is interesting: because it is an experience coming from social movements such as Plazas and Acampadas, and it now acts as a new institutional subject in the crisis of representative politics. The further developments of the Podemos experience regarding the next municipal elections in Spain will be particularly interesting. In Barcelona, for example, there is a broader coalition involving Podemos with many other different actors, which could likely elect Ada Colau as the new mayor, a woman leading Plataforma de los Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), the social movement struggling for housing rights precisely with regards to mortgages and the financial bubble issues linked with the housing market. Another extremely interesting example can be found in the Greek experience of Syriza, which is sometimes described by the mainstream as an old fashion “radical-left-rethoric”. Syriza’s likely victory in the next general political election would come not only from the growing consensus for Syriza’s anti-austerity and anti-Troika positions, but mainly from a lively fabric of self-organised solidarity activities, of self-managed health services, cooperatives, occupied factories etc. This plural configuration of hybrid spaces for radical social transformation is exactly what we need in this moment.

2015 presents us with two opportunities to experiment these kind of hybrid spaces, these practices of plurality that we are talking about.

In the first quarter there will be a mobilisation in Frankfurt for the opening ceremony of the Euro-Tower, the new skyscraper headquarters of the European Central Bank, which will involve all the chiefs of State and governments of European countries. The space of the Blockupy alliance is fit to discuss the issues of global financial powers, the Stability Pact and Fiscal Compact on a European scale, in order to grasp the question of inequality in the social and political dimension of our European space. This means putting the issue of democracy on the table.

The second opportunity arises in the last quarter of 2015, with the Paris summit on climate, the UN Conference COP21. And this is the opportunity to put the issue of climate change back on the agenda of European social movements, which, since 2009 (after the Copenhagen summit) and with the beginning of the social effects of the financial crisis, was no longer there. It seems that climate change in Europe is only a problem for Green politics, not a social problem. This is a big contradiction for the anti-austerity movements as well as they are often too focused on economic issues and do not connect the ecological crisis with the financial one and its social consequences. The mobilisation on the climate summit in Paris is a crucial opportunity to rebuild a strong link between the ecological and financial global crises: they are two faces of the same systemic crisis, two faces of the same problem with inequality and democracy. Often we should learn from what is happening outside of Europe: we cannot imagine how many widespread struggles on climate change are taking place in North and South America, in Africa and in Asia. It is incomparable with the limits of the European situation. Again, we have to pick up a radical critique of the system – confronting climate change is not a question of small changes in energy policies, it is matter of completely changing the logic of the system – with a new idea of “ecological commons”, to be collectively built, to be self-managed, to be the subject of a radical democratic practice of self-government.

Screen shot 2014-11-19 at 16.43.43Of course Europe is our social and political space of action, a space for a possible radical transformation, a place for a possible constituent process from below. However, we do not need to be “euro-centric” in the process of building alternatives. There is something currently happening at our boundaries, at the formally defined borders of Europe, which is stimulating from this point of view. In the current situation of the Kurdish region of Rojava, a group of people based in the mountains who have a strong orthodox tradition of guerilla marxism-leninism (the people from the P.K.K. lead by Abdullah Oçalan), have developed something extraordinarily new, a real experiment in the most difficult situation, that of a cruel civil war with several regional powers acting both openly and secretly. They have created a project and a concrete experience of self-government on a radical, democratic and communitarian basis which includes an advanced discourse on the role of women and the capacity to manage a plurality of different populations with various ethnicities, cultures and religions. This experience has the capacity to govern this plurality – the multitudes of Mesopotamia – while at the same time opening a space of hope that hasn’t existed for a long time in the Middle East, the only space that in this moment is able to challenge the brutal dimension of war.

This is the reason why we need a new narrative.

Our counterparts have a strong narrative. Better yet, they have different strong narratives. Populist streams, acting against the European space and in favour of nationalist backlash, have their own narrative. Merkel’s government and the oligarchs of the Troika, implementing and imposing the austerity regime, have their own narrative. It has been too many years since our side has had its own narrative. The discourse of the Alter-globalisation movement “another world is possible” was the last narrative we had. After that, there has been nothing. And we need a new narrative to try to reconstruct – and here I’m using an old Gramscian concept – a new “social bloc”, starting from the current social fragmentation and individualisation, in order to begin the difficult task of building alternatives.

The story of relationships between social movements and political parties cannot be told through a “conspirancy theory” or a “theory of betrayal”. Sometimes simple self-justifications could be cited instead. There was an old German slogan from the 20’s and 30’s – and everybody knows how that turned out – “Wer hat uns verraten? Who betrayed us?”. History, with its victories and defeats, is not quite so simple to explain. There is much more that has to do with concrete social forces, power relationships, and with the role of subjectivity, all of which are increasingly important. Yet, I believe that, around the subjectivity of multitudes of people involved in building alternatives process, there is more creativity than despair. And we have to apply this creativity to invent all possible forms of struggles, to practice all the possible forms of social and political organisation, transforming our claims into successes.

There is no possible distinction between the level of independent cultural intervention and production, and that of the contemporary forms of bottom-up political action. This is evident from the experiences of alternative cultural festivals in the Balkans and their connections with the wave of social upheavals during which young people were protagonists in all these uprisings of the past few years, such as in Maribor, Lubljana, Sofia and Bucharest.

Regarding transnationality: to imagine all the forms of social struggles and movements that we have discussed up to this point, as based on national spaces is simply suicidal and leads nowhere. Even when these movements are deeply rooted in national contradictions, in local problems, in specific situations, they must immediately take a transnational perspective, otherwise they will have no possibility of finding effective solutions.