2002-09-18 

2nd European Conference of Peoples' Global Action: DISCUSSION PAPER ON STRATEGIES FOR ACTION

Leiden, 31 August - 4 September 2002

Introduction
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This document is the result of conversations at the NoBorder camp in Strasbourg, where it emerged that many people desired an emphasis on strategies during the PGA conference. This was seen as involving thought about ways to (1) continue confronting power and face the current wave of repression, (2) relate the opposition against power structures with proactive efforts to create alternatives, and (3) strengthen and widen our networks. This document is aimed at kick-starting debates on analysis and action proposals around these three key dimensions - as part of an on-going discussion, rather than an attempt to reach consensus.

This paper presents some analysis and questions for the debate - but we stress that it only reflects the ideas and opinions of the people who wrote it or criticised it (people from different countries who found time for this discussion in Strasbourg or later through email lists). It has no intention to be comprehensive, objective or representative; in fact, we hope that it is just the opposite, in order to encourage other people to develop their own analyses and suggestions and to share and debate their ideas with others. If possible, we ask people to do this in writing before the conference, in order to give local groups the opportunity to consider diverse points of view in their preparatory debates. The forum http://pga.squat.net/phorum/list.php?f=8 (part of the forum for the conference, http://pga.squat.net/phorum/) and the caravan99@lists.riseup.net mailing list can be used to share your thoughts with others before the conference. To post new texts in the strategies section of the forum, go to http://pga.squat.net/phorum/post.php?f=8

This paper was mainly prepared as input for the specific discussions on strategies and tactics. However, we also invite you to consider its content as it relates to discussions in other thematic workshops during the conference.

We invite everyone to distribute and discuss this document outside of the 'usual' networks and communication channels. We should try to reach out particularly to sectors which are negatively affected by unequal relations of power, but are not very much involved in our networks (such as women's groups and self-organised refugees and migrants, sex workers, homeless people, etc). We also invite people to translate the document into as many languages as possible, especially non-Western European ones, and post them in the forum.

1. Confronting Power and Facing Repression
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Since the Zapatista uprising, the combined efforts of different emancipatory networks rapidly challenged the established political culture, by exposing the violent and undemocratic nature of market forces and representative democracy. Through direct action, civil disobedience and global communication and coordination, the networks successfully defied capitalism and 'democratic' representation, thus eroding the source of legitimacy of Western power structures. This in turn strengthened and cross-fertilised existing processes of emancipatory social change all over the world.

After Genoa and the attacks of 0911, however, the source of legitimacy of power is changing radically. We are returning to the old days of rule by fear, scapegoat politics and muscle (especially in the USA) although with a democratic fa├žade. There is no sign of opposition from most of the Western population, and often these changes happen with their participation and support. The imagery related to the so-called 'war on terror', which links security, nationalism and 'culture', provides a perfect scapegoat for the social tensions provoked by economic restructuring. It legitimises aberrant laws to isolate and criminalise people on the basis of skin colour, nationality, religion and political activity, enabling the state to widen its immense range of tools for surveillance and social control. The racist panic is also used to strengthen military budgets and legitimise as many geostrategic wars in the South and the East as demanded by the 'enduring freedom' of Western economic interests.

The response from the global emancipation networks to these developments has been quite limited. Although there have been very good examples of the opposite, we are still a long way from appropriately responding to what might be the most important change in patterns of domination since the end of the II World War. The good news is that we have not been paralysed and different mobilisations since Genoa and 0911 have sent a strong message of continued resistance. But if we really want to have an impact we need to do a better job at attacking social fear. By this term we mean the manufacturing of collective insecurity and the continuous construction of enemies and threats, which is used by power structures to legitimise themselves and produce a popular demand for ever tighter security, militarism and control, targeted especially against those who were already oppressed and excluded.

An important advantage for us is that, in spite of the success of fear-manufacturing mechanisms in the West, capitalism is being questioned, and opposed, by growing numbers of people all over the world. The challenge is how to continue nurturing this opposition while relating it to other forms of oppression (racism, sexism, etc), fighting against social fear, and surviving the growing repression that we are facing.

Possible questions for debate
* How do you evaluate the effects of the anti-capitalist mobilisations and actions of the last few years? How do you think things changed after Genoa and 0911? Are we having an increasing or decreasing impact on public opinion, and why? What do you think struggles against power and repression will be like in the near future?
* How can we attack the self-legitimisation strategies being employed by power structures?
* How can we improve our capacity to communicate with sectors of society that perceive themselves as 'non-political' and buy into fear-engineering policies? How can we increase our 'cultural flexibility' to improve our communication with them? What forms of action and communication can we use to overcome the limits of demonstrations and direct actions?
* How can we approach the crisis of the electoral system? And the rise of the far right?
* How do we protect ourselves from the growing repression and criminalisation, and react in cases of extreme harshness, such as in Genoa?
* How can we increase the exchange of technical capabilities and organisational experiences?
* Do you want to talk about summit-hopping or are you bored to death of the subject?
* Do you want to talk about violence-non-violence or are you bored to death of the subject?

[Since the war against Iraq is likely to start in a few months, and is also likely to provoke tremendous tensions and maybe even attacks in Western countries, it would also make sense to start preparing our responses to it.]

2. Building Alternatives
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The global days of action and counter-summits of the past years have had an immense impact. But even when the novelty and success of these mass protests gave them the guise of an unstoppable tidal-wave, it was already clear to most people involved that we cannot build new social relations through protest alone. The idea that solutions would somehow emerge by themselves from the dynamic of ever-growing protests was questioned from the beginning by many within our networks, and increasing numbers of people have been experimenting with ways to supplement protests with sustained initiatives advancing concrete social struggles.

With the clear failure and thorough discrediting of both parliamentary-reformist and vanguardist options, there is increasing awareness that in order to affect meaningful transformation we need to combine a growing confrontation with power structures with a renewed emphasis on building autonomous alternatives. This strategy is one by which people in different contexts and struggles identify opportunities to extract energy, resources and meaning out of existing social relations and put them into building new ones. The image then is one of many autonomous but connected attempts to hollow out existing structures, while at the same time creating, expanding and strengthening new diverse patterns of social relations. Perhaps, the European Social Consulta (www.europeanconsulta.org) could become a tool to help us advance strategies in this direction. There will of course always be an important role for global actions and issue-based campaigns; in fact, protests and alternatives should reinforce each other in a long-term process of emancipatory social transformation.

In fact, there is no clear-cut distinction between confrontation against and alternatives to the existing system. Democratic, non-hierarchical, non-commodified alternatives need to maintain their active confrontation with existing power structures in order not to be incorporated or marginalised - and as soon as they reach a significant dimension they will suffer at least the same degree of repression as mass protests, if not more. They will never have a real chance to become strong enough to pose a real threat to the system without engaging actively in the struggle against it, but at the same time they may offer us a more coherent, credible and self-reliant basis to struggle from.

Possible questions for debate:
* Do you see this analysis as relevant? What sort of social change do you envision, and how?
* What role(s) do you think that these alternatives can play in challenging the existing social order? What are their limits? Does it makes sense to concentrate our efforts in building them? If not, what are the implications?
* How can we move from symbolic fringe actions (even if there are 300.000 people in them) to transforming society at a more fundamental level?
* How can autonomous alternatives become relevant to wider sectors of society? How can we encourage large numbers of people to self-organise alternative social relations and link up with networks of struggle?
* How could the Social Consulta be an adequate tool for these objectives? What other tools we need?
* How do we maintain a balance between the construction of decentralised alternatives and the confrontation with global oppressive structures? How can we avoid repeating the mistakes of the huge alternative movements (cooperatives, etc.) that grew up around the workers movements of the XIX-XX centuries and ended up coopted by the market and/or the state, or bankrupt, and with them the illusion and energy of millions of people?
* How can we avoid losing the cross-fertilised, heterogeneous and ever-changing nature of globalised struggles and social relations? How do we avoid retreating into excluding and restrictive local identities, as many communes did?
* How do we encourage people involved only in 'lifestyle politics' to look at the broader picture?
* What role should high-tech play in our struggles today? And in the alternatives we build?
* What should the role of PGA be in the construction of decentralised and autonomous alternatives?

3. Cooperation within and outside existing networks
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The success of our actions so far has been based on two factors: (1) the combination of a great diversity of discourses from emancipatory struggles in all continents (social, environmental, indigenous, feminist, etc), and (2) forms of articulation, action and communication that make our networks immune to most of the problems that have plagued 'leftist' struggles for a long time:

* The collective articulation of global days of action has been based on decentralisation and autonomy; on spaces and tools for communication and coordination among people who think, act and speak for themselves. The rejection of any form of collective identity for the networks, of centralised finances, of permanent representatives towards media, of mandated mediators towards the institutions and of any other source of power, made it structurally impossible to 'divide', corrupt, domesticate, co-opt or behead the networks, and gave us an unprecedented degree of operativity and dynamism.

* The combination of diverse participatory forms of action (artistic forms of expression, direct action to destroy capitalist symbols, civil disobedience etc.) made an unambiguous statement of rejection of global power structures, seriously eroding their legitimacy and drawing public sympathy. The attempts of the state and media to criminalise our networks had, until Genoa, the opposite effect than intended: rather than isolating, dividing and weakening us, they made our struggles more visible and attracted new people to the actions and networks.

* The attempts to create diverse and decentralised means of communication have been an important step towards producing self-organised, flexible and dynamic systems that help to facilitate participation and reduce predictability.

We expect that all participants at the PGA conference agree on the need to maintain and improve these forms of articulation, action and communication - not just because they define the way in which the network operates and relates to other networks, but also because their great results they have had in the last years. However, there are some important questions to discuss. Here are some examples:

* PGA and similar networks in Europe and North America have connected mainly people who come from so-called autonomous groups (squats and social centres, self-organised environmental or solidarity groups, anarchist collectives, post-ideological action groups, etc). The active participation of people who are most directly affected by the structures of power which we confront (self-organised refugees and migrants, women's groups, homeless, sex workers, etc) has been quite limited. This contrasts sharply with the situation in Asia, Latin America and the Pacific (and to a much lesser degree, also in Southern Africa), where the participation has so far mainly come from large movements of the most oppressed people (peasants, indigenous peoples, women's organisations, etc) - although in Latin America and the Pacific there is also an increasing participation from local autonomous groups. It is true that there are not many movements of oppressed people in Europe, and even fewer that work according to principles of decentralisation and autonomy, but we seem to be doing a bad job at working together even with the ones that we are already in contact with.

* Beyond the 'organised' groups and movements, there are huge numbers of people who challenge the existing order on a daily basis - for instance, applying low-intensity invisible techniques in their jobs to constantly defend and reinvent more humane ways of producing, crossing borders without permission, using graffiti or drums to bring life into grey suburbs, shoplifting in large malls, etc. Sometimes some of them come in contact with our networks (through social centres mainly) but most of them seem not to be very interested in or aware of what we do. At least part of the reason for this must lie in our ways of doing things and relating to each other: how we perceive and present ourselves, how we communicate, what sort of things we do (and fail to do), how we do them, etc.

* In most actions and events in which PGA has played a role, it has so far deliberately maintained a low profile. This has been done in order to avoid creating too much of a 'collective identity', for such a thing could have transformed the nature of the network from a tool for communication and cooperation into a political subject of its own (the opposite of working on the basis of decentralisation and autonomy). The idea was to concentrate the visibility and protagonism in the local groups doing the actions, and those that used PGA in their name have been asked by the convenors to find another one, since nobody can speak on behalf of PGA. While this is all very good and coherent with PGA principles, our intentional low-profile has provided a great springing board for power-hungry representatives of centralised organisations to present themselves in mainstream media as 'speakers' of the 'anti-globalisation movement' (whatever that means), while PGA remained only visible to insiders. If we want, it should be possible to combine a deliberate lack of collective identity with a collective effort to achieve more visibility for PGA. But do we want that? Would it be a dangerous step? Do we need it?

* In the last years, several media-oriented organisations have been created in order to capitalise on what the media inaccurately calls 'antiglobalisation movement'. Since their purpose is to attract as much good (corporate) press and institutional attention as possible, they generally don't oppose capitalism and centralised power; instead, they propose to manage them differently. Some of them don't hesitate to participate in the criminalisation of our networks to get better media coverage. However, they have been able to appeal to and attract many sound and genuine people who knew no other way to get involved in 'the movement'. Many of these people have more radical positions than their respective organisations, but have also developed a strong sense of collective identity and 'belonging' to them. So even if the relationship with the leadership of these organisations is bound to be conflict-ridden, maybe our networks should try to relate in more positive terms with their members - or maybe not?

* A particular case is the World Social Forum, a diverse and heterogeneous media-powered event/coalition (where there are some good organisations and movements) that was created by some sectors of the old left, of social democracy and of mainstream NGOs in order to present themselves as the moral guides of the 'anti-globalisation movement'. The WSF has broadened the so-called 'anti-globalisation movement' and given it a 'respectable' public image, accelerating the delegitimation of neoliberal ideology, and thus of power. On the other hand, mainstream media and social democratic parties are positive about the WSF due to its legitimising role, since the 'alternatives' that it proposes to neoliberalism are still based on capitalism and bureaucracies (global, national or local). In any case, the WSF and its offspring (like the ESF) are a major meeting point for people and organisations that might not have found other ways to link up with 'the movement'. There will be a special workshop in the Leiden conference to organise a parallel space during the upcoming meeting of the ESF in Florence, and there should also be a separate paper to prepare for it.

These are some issues for discussion on this topic, you might think of different ones. You might totally disagree with our analyses, we'd be glad if this was the case, since this text is aimed precisely at encouraging debate. We of course do not expect any consensus to come out of the discussions, the only intention is to foster the exchange of ideas around these topics, which will hopefully give raise to internationally coordinated initiatives on specific aspects of our work.

Appendix: on a more fundamental note
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All the topics for discussion presented in this paper are based on the assumption that we all agree on the need to reach out to ever growing sectors of society and to construct a process of broad social change in Europe. But for this to happen, we need to become a 'mass movement', not in the sense of integrating 'the masses' in 'our' struggle, but in the sense that increasing numbers of people take control over their own lives through diverse means and according to their own ideas. But can we become a mass movement in Europe in the foreseeable future? What are the consequences if we think that we can? And if not? [We think that we can, otherwise we would not waste our time writing this paper, but some people might not agree, and that is also a legitimate and coherent position.] Do we want to give it a try, or shall we concentrate on more tangible, immediate things?

[Peoples' Global Action]