A coffee with Jacques Rancière beneath the Acropolis (pdf)

A Coffee with Jacques Rancière beneath the Acropolis, Political journal Babylonia, Athens, August 2017.

The brochure of Babylonia “A Coffee with Jacques Rancière beneath the Acropolis” is now available for download in English. It contains the dialogue between Babylonia’s editorial team and Rancière, during B-Fest 6, 2017, on democracy, social movements, social change, the rise of the far-right and much more. Originally published in Greek in August 2017.

We met Jacques Rancière on Saturday, May 27, 2017, at the School of Fine Arts shortly before his speech at the B-Fest 6 International Anti-Authoritarian Festival, organized by Babylonia Journal, with a central slogan “We are ungovernable”. Rancière is among the most important European philosophers alive and his work does not need further introductions.

In the cloudy morning of Sunday 28 May, we sat beneath the Acropolis to have a coffee with the big philosopher. The transcript of our conversation reflects the vigor of thought and the passion of a truly democratic thinker.

Download (PDF, 314KB)

Political Parties: Obstacle to Democracy

Yavor Tarinski

If understood to the letter, a Democracy must be a stateless society. Power belongs to the people insofar as the people exercise it themselves
Giovanni Sartori [1]

The contemporary political model, vulgarly named democracy, is undergoing deep crisis, which can be attributed to many of its systemic features and the political parties are among the main reasons for it. The Party, once encompassing massive social support and powerful movements, has become today synonymous with dishonesty, greed for power and corruption. Many have embarked on journey to recreate it in different ways that strive at mimicking the grassroots, decentralized character of contemporary social movements and the internet.

Some party formations emerged, as they claim, from the movement of the squares that swept Europe in the beginning of 2010’s decade, like the Spanish Podemos. Others were influenced by contemporary hacker culture like the numerous Pirate parties. Some former occupy activists initiated the “Occupy the Democrats” campaign, attempting at using the logic of the Occupy movement for overtaking the Democratic Party of the US. All of these and other similar initiatives however remain with questionable results at best.

Totalitarian birth

The negative outlook that political parties have is not due to some distortion but logical continuation of the essence on which electoral politics rest. The introduction of political parties into European public life in the late 17th century should be considered not as step towards democratization of society but as continuation of the oligarchic tradition.

In England, as political theorist Hanna Pitkin explains[2], representation was introduced from above, by the King, as a matter of administrative control and royal convenience over non-royal localities. Situated between the monarchical elite and subordinated communities, representatives, with their role being institutionalized, began viewing themselves as single, continuing body, pursuing its own interests. Political representation, as foundational basis of the political party, slowly became a matter of privilege, to be fought for, rather than a burden or a mere task.

Their oppressive character is also being demonstrated by the philosopher Simone Weil for whom the Party is to a certain extent heritage of political terror[3]. Its role in the popular uprisings of Europe in the last centuries has been expression of its oligarchical nature, sabotaging democratic efforts “from below” in the name of top-to-bottom solutions offered by the State. Weil’s conclusion that totalitarianism is the original sin of all political parties echoes Mikhail Tomsky’s famous saying: “One party in power and all the others in jail”[4].

In popular uprisings and revolutions societies express certain tendency towards spontaneous grassroots social organizing based on councils and local assemblies. This is what Hannah Arendt calls lost treasure of revolution – the creation of truly public space in which every citizen can freely and equally participate in the management of society[5]. This “treasure”, as a break in the bureaucratic oligarchical tradition, becomes target of centralized state power and political parties, whose existance this new social direction radically challenges.

The current system, at whose core is the party politics, has nothing to do with democracy in its authentic sense. Instead of providing the means for people to directly express their views, concerns and solutions on public affairs, political parties tend to exploit popular passions, polarizing societies into majorities and minorities, using the former as a tool to serve their narrow interests.

A common and essential characteristic of all political parties, both on the Left and the Right, as noted recently by author Raul Zibechi[6], is their obsession with power. For if they are to succsesfuly fulfill their electoral task that justifies their existence, they must secure for themselves vast amounts of authority. Yet, as electoral politics place political parties in constant competition on national level, while foreign states and private companies are also constantly trying to interfere with the dominant discourse, power is never enough and soon becomes an end in itself. And since there is never limit for the power that each party strives at possessing, it comes as no surprise why so many thinkers has come to view the institution of the party as essentially totalitarian.

One more way in which representative politics hinders democratic deliberation is the former’s tendency towards encouragement of antisocial, disordered-like, behaviors. Clinical psychologist Oliver James claims that psychopathy thrives in hierarchical organizations. According to him “triadic [personality disordered] behavior flourishes where ruthless, devious selfishness is advantageous and where an individual is very concerned to gain power, resources or status”[7]. Jacques Ranciere, in an interview for the Greek National Television ERT3[8], also suggests that political representation and electoralism attracts the worst of people, i.e. those that seek power for power’s sake. Thus the competitive and hierarchical nature of political parties attracts ambitious, narcissistic individuals, turning them into psychopaths (or encourages them to act as such).

Political “betrayal”

By recognizing the logical connection between representative institutions (like political parties) and unlimited hunger for power we can easely debunk the widely propagated myth of “politicians’s betrayal” of pre-election promises. Its worth noting that this mythical narrative most often comes from electoral candidates or thinkers that support the status quo and through it they strive at scapegoating individual “traitors” so as to maintain the integrity of the party system.

Cornelius Castoriadis compares would-be-representatives with merchants of junk that try to push their stuff on us, even if that means saying lies[9]. As he says, what electoral competitors are doing is trying to deceive, not betray us. Professional politicians are not traitors but servants of other interests. The electoral race requires competing parties to outbid each other on promises they don’t intend to keep and images they will maintain as long as they bring them votes.

The notion of public interest, most often depicted as national, is a good example for the kind of deception that is being used by political parties. It is constantly being invoked by governments and electoral candidates to serve them as cover for their quest for authority and generate them popular support. In short, politicians attempt at gaining or strengthening their own power by deceiving the essentially powerless electorate that the immense political inequality, which is constantly being reproduced by representative democracy, is of mutual benefit. Thus, it is no wonder why the language of patriotism and nationalism is among the most preferred by governments of any kind.

It is understandable, however, that people might feel betrayed by political parties. In a representative system that strips society from any meaningful means for effective self-instituting people are left with no other options in the public space but to either place their hopes (and thus their votes) on certain electoral competitor, or resort to abstention from voting. But in reality parties were not and can never truly be on the side of grassroots communities, first and foremost because they are immensely more politically privileged than them.

Nowadays this matter is being further complicated by the dual processes of globalization and financialization. In the contemporary neoliberal era elected politicians, as Jerome Roos explains[10], are being reduced to managers whose function is increasingly that of making the state apparatus work for the profits of bankers and businessmen. It is not to say that the representative institutions are stripped from their powers, but they are being separated even further from society by additional layers of multinational corporate interests.

Party membership and individuality

Contemporary representative oligarchies are making it impossible for individuals and communities to intervene in public affairs without joining or intervening with political parties. Official tools for citizen participation like petitioning and referendums most often have non-obligatory character and are doomed to fail if not backed by any party. Citizenship today is nothing but illusory, since people are forced with the dilemma between withdrawing altogether from the public sphere or submit to party interest. Instead of citizens we have electorate whose concerns for social matters are being crushed by the party’s quest for influence and power.

Unlike the pluralism nurtured by deliberative bodies for participatory decision-making like councils and popular assemblies, political parties demand the maintenance of a party line, even though nowadays they seem to appear more flexible in this aspect. By joining a party, one is expected to agree to its entire program or at least submit to it, since in crucial moments he/she will be expected to support it or leave. Even if he has not previously been familiar with it, he is supposed to endorse it in its entirity, or to not expect much from his newly acquired membership. Often different aspects of such programs appear to be contradictory with each other, since in their race for power parties sometimes take mutually exclusive positions. As Simone Weil concludes[11], whoever joins a political party is expected to submit his thinking to the authority of the party.

Although parties claim that they offer space for political participation and education to their members and supporters, the reality appears to be much different. What they do instead  is spreading rigorous ideological propaganda through which the party elite to exercise control over the new reqruits and the electorate. Parties that attempt at not doing so find it difficult to achieve significant electoral victories.

As a result of this propaganda party members and supporters tend to adopt certain ideological and political “brands”. This “branding” replaces political thinking. One begins approaching public affairs as member of this party and supporter of that ideology, instead of critically evaluating social problems and individually or collectively developing solutions to them.

Parties tend to create positions in favor of or against certain option and call on the electorate to stand behind their position. Taking sides replaces public deliberation with reality being twisted by each party accordingly to its stance, instead of being analyzed in contextual manner. Many have suggested that this logic has spread into all spheres of human life.

Handling popular dissatisfaction

As mentioned above, political parties are bureaucratic organizations that breed oligarchy, not democracy. Their electoral hierarchical nature enforces statecraft, rather than direct public participation, while giving the illusion of being the link between the public and the institutions of authority.

The attitude political parties adopt is twofold. On the one hand, they do everything they can so as to reassert their hold on state power through making powerful allies, briberies, backstage schemes and mass propaganda. On the other hand, they have to respond to demands and matters rised “from below”, by social movements and popular resistance, either by crushing them or by introducing decorative reforms meant at reducing the pressure.

This second level of handling social dissatisfaction can be separated into two subcategories. The first one includes smear campaigns, briberies and threatenings that are being directed towards activists and community organizers so as their movements’s social credibility and integrity to be hurt. This approach is often used by governments on the Right, as recently demonstrated clearly by Donald Trump’s administration[12]. The second one is compounded by the cooptation of social movements through offering positions of power to influential activists and inactment of reforms that create the illusion of specific issues being resolved, as was the case with some Pink Tide governments of South America[13]. This is preferred strategy by the Left when in power.

Institutions beyond parties

It is important to note here, that the problem with political parties is not that they are institutions, as some of their most vigorous critics would insist, but that they are bureaucratic organizations. Real, direct democracy, where emancipated citizens directly decide on all issues of public life and are actively involved in the implementation of the taken decisions, requires institutions with participatory character, that are however embedded in and nurturing one radical imaginary, that makes the values and goals of democratic life thinkable and possible.

Unlike the above mentioned grassroots institutions, political parties participate completely in the imaginary of heteronomy. Their form, structure, organization and ideology are essentially bureaucratic and strengthens oligarchy, whether in more or less liberal outlook. Their very existence is a potential obstacle to democracy, constantly suggesting that people are not mature enough to participate in the public sphere as citizens and instead guardians must be nominated to govern them.

A society without institutions, as Castoriadis suggests[14], cannot exist. Thus the efforts at dismantling the state apparatus and other contemporary bureaucratic institutions that enforce inequality and oppression cannot be proceeded without the establishment of parallel grassroots institutions that nurture equality and emancipation. Their creation and maintenance certainly will have its difficulties as no social activity, including that of autonomous organizations and movements, can go unaffected by the dominant order. No one can completely separate himself or his group from the overall of society, but only this necessary step of exercising democracy can allow transformation towards forms of social organization and civic culture. And this necessarily includes popular grassroots organizing beyond institutional forms of oligarchy, such as the political party.


Political parties are part of the problem, not the solution. The high levels of alienation and passivity in our contemporary societies are essentially  product of capitalism and representation. The electoral spectacle offered by competing political parties seems to resemble to a big degree the one, created by the neoliberal market. The hopes of many on the Left that the former could potentially restrain the latter are naive, to say the least. What they essentially are is different forms of heteronomy, I.e. determination of people’s life by outside sources, beyond their reach or control.

Democracy, because of its popularity and potential, is being used by the ruling elites and their intellectual supporters, to mask the oligarchic nature of the contemporary party system. This has mislead many into blaming popular passions for the oppression, theft and exploitation being done by one government after another. Thus the far-right, with its call for diminishing freedoms in the name of security has grown in popularity.

It is not democracy to be blamed, but the complete lack of it. The absence of broad public participation allows to competing ruling elites to get hold on power and do as they please. For them popular deliberation is undesirable as it will end their reign over society and thats why they replace it with party electoralism. The dominant institutions, on which their authority is being based are constructed so as to embody this “hatred of democracy”, to borrow the phrase developed by Jacques Ranciere[15].

For significant social change to take place, a mere imitation of politics, a simulation of public action, like the one exercised by political parties, will simply not do. What is desperately needed is what Hanna Pitkin calls real experience of active citizenship. And this necesserily goes through the reinvention of democracy beyond political parties.


[1] Amadeo Bertolo: Democracy and Beyond in “Democracy and Nature” Vol.5, No.1, 1993
[2] https://www.athene.antenna.nl/ARCHIEF/NR08-Parlement/Pitkin-REPRESENTATION.html
[3] Simone Weil: On the Abolition of All Political Parties, New York Review of Books 2013, p.15
[4] Op. Cit. 3
[5] Hannah Arendt: On Revolution, Penguin Books 1990, pp215-282
[6] https://freedomnews.org.uk/venezuela-state-power-when-the-left-is-the-problem/
[7] https://new-compass.net/articles/will-disordered-always-rule-us
[8] Interviewed for the series Τόποι Ζωής (Topoi Zois) of the Greek National Television ERT3 (available online here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zmzJxlw2GM)
[9] Cornelius Castoriadis: The Castoriadis Reader (ed. David Ames Curtis), Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1997, p.41
[10] https://roarmag.org/essays/autonomy-revolution-movements-democracy-capitalism/
[11] Simone Weil: On the Abolition of All Political Parties, New York Review of Books 2013, p.43
[12] https://newrepublic.com/article/144592/trump-creating-propaganda-state
[13] https://isj.org.uk/latin-america-new-left-governments/
[14] Cornelius Castoriadis: Figures of the Thinkable, Stanford University Press 2007, p.124
[15] Jacques Ranciere: Hatred of Democracy, Verso 2014

Ecological Thinking and the Crisis of the Earth

John Clark*

Facing the Crisis

If a visitor from another galaxy were sent to Earth to report on the latest news here, it seems rather obvious what the alien observer would take back to the home planet. Our extraterrestrial investigator would certainly report that our planet is going through one of the six periods of mass extinction and biodiversity loss in its entire four and half billion-year history, and that other major disruptions in the biosphere are interacting to cause a major crisis for life on Earth.

In short, the big story from Planet Earth would be that we have entered a period of massive planetary death. In fact, among the many names that have been suggested for the emerging era or epoch of life on Earth, the most precisely appropriate would be the Necrocene, the “new era of death.”[1] Strangely, this rather shocking news is met with either denial or disavowal among the members of our own species, who are living in the very midst of this crisis. The deniers among us simply reject the clear evidence of global ecological crisis. The disavowers, on the other hand, accept the truth of the evidence but fail to undertake actions that are even vaguely proportional to the gravity of our predicament.

Information on the severity of the ecological crisis has hardly been a well-kept secret. For example, researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and their colleagues have in recent years formulated a conception of “planetary boundaries” defining the limits in various areas beyond which there is likelihood of ecological disaster. They summarized their findings in three concise articles that are readily available to the public.[2] The authors concluded that “transgressing one or more planetary boundaries may be deleterious or even catastrophic due to the risk of crossing thresholds that will trigger non-linear, abrupt environmental change within continental- to planetary-scale systems.”[3]

The boundaries were identified as lying in the areas of climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, biogeochemical nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, global freshwater use, rate of biodiversity loss, land-system change, chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading. They found that at least three boundaries had already been passed and that most others are in danger of being transgressed soon. In the most recent article, the authors concluded that “two core boundaries—climate change and biosphere integrity—have been identified, each of which has the potential on its own to drive the Earth system into a new state should they be substantially and persistently transgressed.”[4]

It is not only scientists who have sounded the alarm about ecological crisis in rather clear and not uncertain terms. Recently, The Guardian, a major British newspaper, announced the gravity of the biodiversity crisis in almost alarmist language, saying that the “biological annihilation’ of wildlife in recent decades means a sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history is under way” and that “it threatens the survival of human civilization, with just a short window of time in which to act.”[5]

Yet, this seemingly inflammatory article was not at the top of the stories for the day, and if one reads the numerous readers’ replies to it, one finds very little sense of direction about how to respond to this developing global catastrophe. Furthermore, such news somehow quickly fades from the popular consciousness. One might therefore conclude that there is simply not enough good “environmental thinking” going on in today’s world. It might seem that the public is just not prepared to understand adequately the meaning of global ecological crisis, and is therefore incapable of facing it with full seriousness. Thus, there are injunctions that we need to work harder on creating good environmental education so that the public can engage in more effective environmental thinking.

Granted, this would be a very good thing. However, one of the problems with conventional ideas of “environmental thinking” or even “ecological thinking” is that it assumes that correct thinking will in itself have a significant transformative effect, or more to the point, the kind of effect that will be necessary in order to avoid disaster. For example, it is thought to be crucial that climate deniers be convinced that anthropogenic climate change really exists. This is not at all a bad idea, but it almost inevitably ignores the fact that that the vast majority of non-deniers are in a state of disavowal, and that reformed deniers are highly likely to join the ranks of these disavowers. The disavowers are willing to admit that a problem exists, and may get certain satisfactions out of being on “the right side of history,” and perhaps even from engaging in various beneficial activities that reduce greenhouse gasses. However, they are not willing to consider, and then actually work diligently for, the kind of deep, fundamental changes in society that will be necessary to change the ecocidal course of history.

A basic problem for the problematic of “better environmental thinking” is that the needed transformation cannot result from abstract thought and the understanding of concepts, but can only come from engaged thinking that is an integral part of an engaged participation in transformative social ecological processes. We need therefore to consider how such engagement might begin to take place. But first, we might consider further the implications of our modes of thinking.

Part of the problem with the appeal to “environmental thinking” is the very idea of the “environment”.

The dominant conception of “the environment” assumes a certain practical ontology. According to this ontology, there is a world that consists of individual egos surrounded by “environments,” and societies that consist of collections of separate egos, surrounded in turn by larger “environments.” This prevailing conception of the environment is an expression of the binary subject–object thinking that is built into to the dominant social ideology. Meanings are social, not merely individual. Thus, even when this ontology is not consciously intended, or when it is even abstractly rejected, such a problematic reinforces the pervasive hierarchical dualism that is the deep ideology of civilization. Given such problems, explicitly ecological thinking is a great advance over environmental thinking.

The term “ecology,” derives from the Greek terms oikos and logos. It is concerned with the logos, or underlying meaning, truth, and way of the oikos, the local, regional, or planetary household. In its emphasis on the oikos, ecological thinking replaces both the egocentric and the anthropocentric perspective with the perspective of the larger ecological whole. This is a whole that is never a completed or closed totality, but rather a whole that is always in a process of becoming whole. The ecological whole is an ever-becoming-one that is also an ever-becoming-many, a dynamic unity-in-diversity.

Ecological thinking is inspired by the quest for the social-ecological equivalent of what Hegel called the “concrete universal,” the universal that must always be expressed through the particular and the singular, the regional and the local, the communal and the personal. This implies that we need to contemplate how we fit into the planetary dialectic of developing parts and wholes. Our question here is how we might begin to develop a thought and practice that is in accord with such a truly social-ecological perspective, and that will open a clear pathway out of our planetary crisis.

Finding the Way

Though it cannot be developed in any detail in this introductory discussion, the answer that seems most promising is that we begin to create a well-grounded and multi-dimensional social and political base for the regeneration of human community and the community of life on Earth. This means reorganizing our social world into networks of awakened and caring transformational communities that are dedicated to undertaking whatever actions are necessary to put an end to the Necrocene and initiate a new era characterized by the flourishing of life on Earth. We might call such a new era the Eleutherocene – the era of a liberated humanity and a liberated nature.

In this endeavor, we can find inspiration in the ancient Buddhist concept of Appamāda. “Appamāda” is a Pali word (“Apramada” in Sanskrit) that conveys the ideas of both “mindfulness” and “care.” The practice of Appamāda implies that we must be awakened to the world and all the beings around us, and that in such an awakened state we become capable of responding to and caring for them effectively. In this, it has much in common with concepts in contemporary feminist, and especially ecofeminist, care ethics, which rejects the patriarchal model of an abstract ethics of principles in favor of an approach that non-dualistically recognizes the inseparability of moral rationality, moral sensibility, and moral imagination.[6] It affirms that what we need more than anything is neither environmental thinking, which takes us in the wrong direction, nor even ecological thinking, which takes us only part of the way, but an ethos of Appamāda that pervades and shapes both our everyday practice and our social institutions. The practice of care involves attention to the truth of all beings, acceptance of the way of all beings, and responsiveness to the needs of all beings. It also implies engagement in the personal, social, and political practice that is necessary to establish mindful care for all beings in our purview and for the Earth itself as our overriding priority.

Such an outlook of attentiveness, acceptance and responsiveness helps us discover what we might call the “Four Noble Truths about the Earth.”[7] These truths are that the Earth is suffering, there is a cause of the Earth’s suffering, there is a cure to the Earth’s suffering, and there is a way to achieve the cure to the Earth’s suffering.[8] As in the case of the ancient Noble Truths, we find that our craving is the cause of all this suffering. This craving has a transhistorical element, but develops to differing degrees and takes on different qualities in different historical contexts. So, in order to cure our own suffering and that of the Earth, we must come to an understanding of the very particular, historically conditioned, nature of the craving that causes it. We all have knowledge of its nature at some level. If we cannot express it consciously, we do so through our symptoms and our defense mechanism. However, to authentically confront our predicament we must develop a clear, fully-conscious awareness of its nature, and the ways that it causes the suffering of the Earth, the suffering of a myriad of other living beings on Earth, the suffering of billions of other human beings, and our own personal suffering. We must understand, for example, how the craving that causes of the suffering of the billion human beings who live in a world of absolute poverty also causes the suffering of another billion who live in an affluent world of nihilistic egoism.

We must, moreover, understand that the craving that causes so much suffering has, in turn, a cause of its own. This cause is the world in which most of us live, which is best described as the late capitalist society of mass consumption. It is this society, as a powerfully functioning yet self-contradictory social whole, that generates a certain form of selfhood that is inclined to obsessive desires, powerful addictions, and sick attachments. As Jason Moore has aptly stated it, the crisis we are facing is above all “capitalogenic,”[9] though this should not lead us to neglect the degree to which it is simultaneously “statogenic” and “patriarchogenic.” There is an entire system of production that depends on the generation of such craving to operate successfully (at least in the pre-catastrophic short term). There is an entire system of consumption that feeds such craving. There is an entire culture of consumption that socializes us into believing that a world of obsessive craving is the only one possible, or, if we do not believe that this is true, socializes us into resigning ourselves in practice to the inevitability of that world, and to living our lives as if it were true.

As in the case of the ancient Noble Truths, the cure to the suffering is not merely knowing the cause of the disease, or even knowing that the cause must be removed. The teaching was that the cure can only be carried out through following the Way, which was called the Noble Eightfold Path. There was no onefold, twofold or threefold path. The cure was not effected by choosing one or more forms of practice that appealed most to one personally, or that seemed to be leading generally in the right direction, or that might “hopefully” have some kind of mysterious “snowball effect.” This would be succumbing to mere whim or superstition. The path consisted of all the forms of practice that were necessary to carry out the radical transformation that was needed. The promise was that if the path is followed “another world is possible.”

How is this World Possible?

So, we are in need of another world—another world that we find in many ways by returning in a more awakened and compassionate way to this one. However, the means by which “another world” might be actualized (the Way) has not been given enough of the kind of diligent thought that is inseparable from effective social practice. “Another world is possible” becomes mere abstract escapist ideology unless it is expressed through transformative action that is not only prophetically “pre-figurative,” but also immediately “figurative.” Such action announces the arrival of another world and shows us the very “face” of that other world, here and now. It is in an important sense “world-making,” for no world ever exists, including the present one, except by unceasing, moment-to-moment efforts on the part of all its inhabitants to make that world.

But it is also in a very important sense openness to the world and to its common Logos, in opposition to the privatized or “idiotic”[10] logoi that are egoically generated artifacts. “Another world is possible” in part because that other world is a creative possibility. But another world is also possible because that other world has existed and still endures in the midst of the present one. We must therefore give much thought to the questions of how the present social world is possible, and how it can be made impossible. This means that we need to undertake a thorough inquiry into the major spheres of social determination that are the grounds of possibility of any world, either actually-existing or imagined.

There are four spheres of determination that are essential to the analysis of how social reality is generated, how it is maintained, and how it might be transformed. These spheres are the social institutional structure, the social ideology, the social imaginary, and the social ethos.[11]

Since there is a dialectical relationship between these spheres, they should not be thought of as discrete realms. For example, no social institutional structure is conceivable without reference to the social ethos, since structures embody, in part, structures of social practice. Thus, mass media as an institutional structure is inseparable from forms of concrete social practice that make use of and are in turn deeply conditioned by mass media technologies.

Similarly, no social imaginary signification is conceivable apart from its relation to social ideology, since images in many ways reflect and interact with concepts. For example, the imaginary signification “rugged individualist” reflects and interacts with moral injunctions about the virtues of “hard work” and “self-reliance” that form part of the social ideology. Very significantly, the megastructures of the society of advanced consumer capitalism, the technobureaucratic militaristic state, and the technological megamachine all immediately generate awe-inspiring images of power and wealth. In short, the spheres of determination are theoretical constructs or systemic abstractions that are useful in analyzing a social whole that consists of constellations of phenomena that interact dialectically and are internally related.

It will perhaps be helpful to summarize the nature of these four interrelated spheres of social determination. The social institutional sphere consists of the objective and external structures of social determination (when abstracted from the simultaneously internal-external and objective-subjective social whole). It includes, notably, the structure of capital and its various sectors, the structure of the state apparatus, and the structure of the technological and bureaucratic systems. It includes the external, formal structure of social practices, and the material infrastructure, since institutions consist not merely of structural principles, but of the actual structuration of material resources in accord with such principles.

The other three spheres are the internal and subjective realms of social determination (given all the qualifications just mentioned). It is important that we not look upon the relation between the “objective” institutional sphere and the three “subjective” spheres as a “base-superstructure” relationship, but rather one of mutual determination and internal relation. Thus, perhaps paradoxically, the “external” is internally related to the “internal.”

The second sphere of social determination consists of the social ethos. “Ethos” is used in the sense of the constellation of social practices that constitute a way of life. Ethos is the sphere of social psychological reality. It can only be understood through a very specific analysis of everyday life and all the habits, practices, gestures, and rituals that it entails. Ethos consists of the way that we live and enact the social and cultural world in which we live, and which lives in and through us. The common weakness of counter-ideologies to which many give lip-service, and in which some believe very deeply, results from the fact that they abstractly theorize that “another world is possible,” but the adherents proclaim and legislate through their everyday lives, through their immersion in the dominant social ethos, that “this world is inevitable.”

The third sphere of social determination is the realm of the social imaginary. This is the sphere of the society’s or community’s collective fantasy life. It is the realm of the “fundamental fantasy,” a self-image that is much more highly invested with psychic energy than any mere “self-concept,’ and which is a central determinant in the life of each person. The social imaginary includes socially-conditioned images of self, other, society, and nature. It encompasses the images of power, success, heroism, and personal gratification expressed in the prevailing myths and paradigmatic narratives of the community and culture. The study of the social imaginary explores the social dimensions of desire and demand. Because social imaginary significations are so intimately related to our quest for meaning, and, in the contemporary world, for self-justification, they are invested with intense levels of psychic energy. Much as in the case of the social ethos, this sphere has been generally neglected not only in mainstream social theory, but also in most leftist and radical social thought.

Finally, the fourth sphere of social determination is the realm of social ideology. A social ideology can mean simply a system of ideas that is socially significant and contains a greater or lesser degree of truth and value to the society. However, in the critical sense, an ideology is a system of ideas that purports to be an objective depiction of reality, but, in fact, constitutes a systematic distortion of reality on behalf of some particularistic interest or some system of differential power. Though we might be tempted to say that we need to replace the dominant institutional structure, social imaginary, social ethos and social ideology with new liberatory ones, in the case of ideology it would be better to say that we aim to replace all social ideology with a new form of ecological and communitarian reason (thus, restoring the common Logos).

What is important for liberatory social transformation is an understanding of the ways in which the spheres of social determination interact dialectically to create a social world. Among the major goals of the project of a dialectical social ecology are the following: to theorize adequately, and in a historically and empirically-grounded manner, the spheres of social determination as spheres of dialectical mutual determination; to explore the ways in which the interaction between these spheres of social determination shapes the nature of the social whole; to explain the ways in which many elements of these spheres also contradict and subvert one another, and thus to point the way toward possibilities beyond the existing social world; and to demonstrate the relation between the modes of functioning and the dynamic movement and transformation of these spheres and the social ecological crisis of humanity and the Earth.


*John Clark is a native of the Island of New Orleans, where his family has lived for twelve generations. He is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University, where he was formerly Gregory F. Curtin Distinguished Professor of Humane Letters and the Professions, Professor of Philosophy, and a member of the Environment Program. He is Coordinator of La Terre Institute for Community and Ecology. Its programs are aimed at social and ecological regeneration and the creation of a cooperative, non-dominating earth community. He also works with the Institute for the Radical Imagination in New York. Author of many books. His interests include dialectical thought, ecological philosophy, environmental ethics, anarchist and libertarian thought, the social imaginary, cultural critique, Buddhist and Daoist philosophy, and the crisis of humanity and the Earth. An archive of about three hundred of his texts can be found at https://loyno.academia.edu/JohnClark. He has long been active in the radical ecology and communitarian anarchist movements, and is a member of the Education Workers’ Union of the Industrial Workers of the World.

**This text is a revised version of an article written for the 10th anniversary issue of the Journal of Environmental Thought and Education (Japan).



[1] This would focus quite logically on the fact that the current “new era of death” follows an era called the “Cenozoic,” meaning the “new era of life.” The current era is a radical break with the Cenozoic, but is continuous with the developments in the brief epoch called the “Holocene” (meaning the “entirely recent”).

[2] Johan Rockström et al. “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” in Nature 461 (Sept. 2009): 472 –75. Johan Rockström et al. “Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” in Ecology and Society 14, no. 2 (2009), online at https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32/; and a recent update, Will Stefens et al., “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet” in Science (13 Feb 2015): Vol. 347, No. 6223 (Feb. 13, 2015); online at https://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/1259855.full, in which there is a new focus on five planetary boundaries that have “strong regional operating scales.” The delineation of areas in which boundaries are located was also revised slightly.

[3] Rockström et al. (2009)

[4] Stefens et al. (2015)

[5] Damian Carrington, “Earth’s sixth mass extinction event under way, scientists warn,” in The Guardian (July 10, 2017); online at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/earths-sixth-mass-extinction-event-already-underway-scientists-warn.

[6] The most advanced form is materialist ecofeminism, which situates the ethical most explicitly in real-world practice and everyday life. It shows that the most significant sphere of ethical practice today, and our model in many ways for social-ecological transformation, remains the caring labor of women and indigenous people around the world. See Ariel Salleh, Ecofeminism as Politics: Nature, Marx, and the Postmodern (London: Zed Books, 1997); new edition forthcoming.

[7] “Truth” should not be taken in the sense of “object of belief,” but rather in the sense of a “truth-process” that encompasses both understanding and engagement.

[8] By “suffering” is meant damage to the good of a being and interference with the flourishing of that being. Suffering is manifested in all dimensions of a being’s existence. The ancient teaching pointed out that the subjective manifestation of suffering is a feeling of pervasive dissatisfaction with the world. Accordingly, the Earth’s objective suffering is manifested subjectively (within the Earth’s self-conscious dimensions or “organs of consciousness”) through an ethos of anxiety and depression and through a nihilistic sensibility and ideology.

[9] See, for example, Jason W. Moore, “The Myth of the ‘Human Enterprise’: The Anthropos and Capitalogenic Change” on World-Ecological Imaginations: Power and Production in the Web of Life (Oct. 30, 2016); online at https://jasonwmoore.wordpress.com/2016/10/30/the-myth-of-the-human-enterprise-the-anthropos-and-capitalogenic-change/.

[10] From the Greek idiōtēs, a private person.

[11] See John P. Clark, The Impossible Community: Realizing Communitarian Anarchism (New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013). The conceptualization of “four spheres” of social determination seems the most useful theoretically. Yet, there are, of course, valid alternative conceptualizations of a social topology of such spheres. The social imaginary as discussed here encompasses the Lacanian imaginary and symbolic orders (or “registers”). Some theoretical advantages would be gained and some lost by dividing the sphere of the social imaginary into two spheres in a Lacanian manner. Furthermore, there are, of course, other useful social topologies, such as a topology of fields, that are not discussed here, but which may further deepen and enrich the analysis.

[12] This story is summarized concisely in Clive Ponting, “Destruction and Survival” in A New Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations (New York: Penguin Books, 2007), pp. 67-86, though perhaps no one has summarized it more succinctly than the anarchist Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in his poem “Ozymandias.”

[13] As subsequent discussions will show, we find powerful evidence of progress in this direction in the Zapatista communities in Chiapas, in the Democratic Autonomy movement in Rojava, and in indigenous movements in Bolivia and elsewhere.

[14] To revise and ecologize further a famous formulation of Marx that was restated in a more visionary form by Herbert Marcuse in his concept of the “liberation of nature.” See Karl Marx, “Private Property and Labor” in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/epm/3rd.htm, and Herbert Marcuse, “Nature and Revolution” in Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972), pp. 59-78.

[15] We would thus achieve the kind of ecological sensibility expressed in Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme’s The Universe Story From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era—A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos (New York: Harper, 1994), but the rebirth would also entail creating the material and social-ecological basis for such a sensibility to prevail historically.


The Pastoral Politics Of Facebook

Alexandros Schismenos

A cloud is haunting the world, the Internet cloud.

When, on February 1848, the Communist Manifesto by K. Marx and Fr. Engels was published, the labor movement, especially in England, where the incendiary book was printed, already had an experience of decades of struggle and had already created self-organized democratic structures of self-education and collective action. The two radical writers recognized a “spectre” that haunted Europe in the activity of social movements, the rise of radical politics and the insurrectional dynamics that, in the same year, 1848, gave birth to the revolutionary surge called “The People’s Spring” that shook the foundations of European political authorities. The Communist Manifesto did not create this movement, but it was part of this movement, an attempt to incorporate the new revolutionary imaginary significations into a new normative schema, in terms of a “scientific” philosophy of history with a messianic aspiration, which claimed the ability to predict the future of social-historical dynamics, effectively obscuring the social-historical. Carl Von Clausewitz noted that strategic manuals always come after the end of the battle[2]. But is this also the case with political manuals?

If we consider the Communist Manifesto as an archetypal example, we can see it as a rather distorting mirror, where the activities of its contemporary social movements were refracted through the lens of theory on the temporal horizon of history and, beyond that, on the transcendent horizon of eternity. From this transcendent, ultimate, immovable, imaginary horizon, within which human creativity is reduced to “the laws of history”, theory derives its normative character. In this way, the Communist Manifesto became an authority in itself, a set of principles for political action, the beginning of a new causal chain of motives, intentions, and planning that cannot be understood without reference to it. Prior to Das Kapital and in anticipation of Das Kapital, the Communist Manifesto obtained, by imposing a revision of the past in terms of a prophetic confidence proclaimed in the present before the future, the paralyzing force of a sacred document.

On February 2017, another manifesto was released, which at first seems to have nothing in common with the Marxist document. It was the Facebook Manifesto, written by the creator and founder of the dominant social network, the young multi-millionaire Mark Zuckerberg.

Unlike the Communist Manifesto, the Markian Manifesto (let’s call it like the Gospel) did not have a problem of distribution nor printing costs. It was not addressed to the working class, or to some local / regional society, but to the whole of humanity directly. There was no restriction of distribution or reproduction, since it was shared with 1.9 billion people / users of the medium. It does not threaten the ruling elites or the ruling class, at least explicitly. It did not come out of the streets and the people nor does it refer to the streets and the people, but from the highest peak of the social pyramid, some Manhattan penthouse. It is not going to be banned, nor is it going to be transformed into a sacred document.

Yet, in essence, it is inspired by similar motives, namely the imposition of a normative schema on a diverse new social phenomenon, in order to reshape it into a political instrument. Like the Communist Manifesto, it uses descriptive terms in a regulative manner and refers these regulations to a necessity abstractly attributed to history. Like the Communist Manifesto, it aspires to start, through regulation and central planning, new social processes and actively influence the dynamics of social relations. And to transform, to put it schematically, the social interactions of active people into the political capital of a collective organization, in our case, Facebook.

Is it worth taking such a move seriously? Zuckerberg is neither Marx, nor Engels, and Facebook is not a movement, but digital media have proven and prove every day, at least since the global crisis of 2008 , that they are tools of unpredictable political influence. The current president of the United States, D.J. Trump, said on March 16, 2017 that if there was no Twitter, he would not have been elected and it is possible that the same medium will bring his downfall as well.

But besides the ridiculousness, the admission that the most powerful political seat in the world can be hijacked with a series of nonsense in 140 characters has its own significance. Traditional systemic political mechanisms were the last to understand, after the Trump election and amidst a cyber war in which U.S. institutions are under attack by espionage, leaks and revelations, the fact that we live in the digital era. We understood it during the December 2008 riots in Greece, when rebellious students were communicating via SMS, but it was understood worldwide in 2011, during the Occupy World Movement and the Arab Spring, social outbursts that spread through the Internet. What we called an ontological revolution[3], is the creation of a new ontological field for the projection of social imaginary significations, for the dissemination of knowledge, for the reconstruction of the individual self-image and the formation of imaginary communities. The digital world expands in every social field, through individual activity diffused on a quasi-universal level, and constitutes a virtual social sphere, a digital magma of visualized significations associated with reality in terms of information transmissibility and user interconnectivity.

As the traditional forms of political representation and identity politics collapse, new social imaginary identifications emerge on the Internet, which, under the schema of cinematic nostalgia[4], are formulated not in reference to social reality but to virtual constellations of figurative symbols, where truth values are relative, where falsification and verification are not valid, since propagation time has been shortened so much that each independent information becomes a quasi-undifferentiated element in a continuous information flow. Not only is communication time condensing, but the space of information dissemination expands indefinitely, as much as the possibility of global instantaneous dispersion is realized.

The metaphysics of Cyberspace consists in the fact that while this space seems infinite as it expands from within in proportion to the creation of web pages, it is also a space without extent, without distance. We have the dual invention of a spatial time where the past is constantly present and a chronological space where extent and distance is absent.

The global temporality that is formed in and through the Internet is at the same time synchronic and diachronic, but not in accordance to social time, which is essentially local. Direct accessibility flattens the critical significance of information within a continuous flow, where information sets can be articulated into pseudo-narratives, and where it is the quantity of information that ultimately constitutes a quality of meaning, however absurd. The fundamental properties of the Internet, speed and condensation express precisely this principle of expansion through contraction.

Without a common criterion of value or truth, which, in the non-digital world, is offered, at least partially, by the social-historical reality and the real limitations imposed by society as the “objective” (in the sense that it transcends subjectivities) world and by the “objective world” itself as nature, the only criterion of value remaining is popularity.

At the same time, every marginal idea, either radical and liberating or reactionary and obscurantist, shares now an ability of propagation, previously limited to the dominant discourse, so that every individual or group share, at least in theory, the same potential public audience, that is, the whole of digital humanity. Without proof of validity, validity is gained and lost through the flow of information itself, contrary to what happened when the dissemination of information depended on the validity of the source. New funding tools, such as crowdfunding, available on the “visible” public surface of the Internet, offer opportunities to projects that would be hopeless. This visible public surface seems unlimited in range but is limited in scope, as a small part of the whole Internet, under which the invisible areas of the Deep and Dark Web lie.

This situation offers countless possibilities for worldwide spreading of “fake news”, multiplying their influence in accordance to the disintegration of traditional institutions. As one should expect, the digital time of information flow quickly drew the political time of decision-making to its immediate and momentary pace, since information has a power of authority. But now it is not the legitimate or verified information which allow established authorities to plan for the future, nor the distorted information of the official propaganda mechanisms which allow authorities to manipulate the present, but information itself as a form of authority, information itself as a mechanism of regulation or deregulation, diffused to all points of the horizon, reconstructing the past and deregulating the future. It does not seem so important anymore to correlate information with some external reality if information can shape realities, creating alternative narratives.

As we know, social-historical temporality is always open to interpretations, since the social-historical is the field of every interpretation, and that makes the past as fragile as the future, conditioned by the present.

In the social media, time, if measured by information, is never crystallized to an inaccessible past, but the past is constantly present. Facebook recently introduced a “legacy” function that allows friends and relatives to manage, to inherit, the Facebook profiles of their recently deceased. Each user can appoint a friend as his/her page manager in case he/she dies, and if this fashion expands, in the immediate future, each user may become a memory bank himself/herself, a cloud of dead avatars around the star of the living user. At the same time, however, this living user, guardian and heir of the future, of an entire digital ancestral community, may see his/her digital influence multiply accordingly, since he/she will be the guardian of the most lasting memory invented by humanity, the digital profile. Which, being composed by fragments of the user’s self-image and his/her interaction with other users, constitutes both a self-exposition and self-concealment, a self-reconstruction not limited by the body and the directness of actual human presence.

Multi-billion social media companies exploit a new kind of capital, the communication of the users themselves. Facebook now has a vast net worth capital, but it does not depend on the production of a product or the participation in an investment but on the activity of its users. Use value is exchange value in this field and the product, which is communication itself, is provided by the user. The product is the user himself, since profit is essentially generated by inter-subjective communication. This capital is inherently profitable, as its surplus value is net worth value, generated not by the exploitation of overwork, that is, the exploitation of the working part of individual time, but by the exploitation of recreation, that is, the exploitation of the “free” part of individual time. If all users decided to abstain from the medium, Facebook would collapse together with its net worth capital. The ability of the medium to generate profit equals the ability of the medium to generate communication, that is, the ability of the medium to form a community, a capacity that depends on each user individually, since Internet communities are imaginary communities of subjective identification, i.e. fragile. These imaginary communities cannot fully integrate the person. This makes every imaginary digital community fragile, but with strong penetrative dynamics, circulating from the private space to the public without the risk involved in any personal physical participation in the physical public space.

On Facebook everything is recorded, while face-to-face conversations are not. But Facebook users are much more prone to misunderstandings, pompous opinions and insults than they would be in a face-to-face confrontation. It seems that the instinct of danger is primarily physical, or ultimately, that we are more ashamed before the presence of the others than before our face mirrored on the screen.

Let’s go back to the Markian manifesto, which was duly noted in the U.S. where social media were used to “crush” politics. Let us simply point out that this would not have been possible without the devaluation of traditional political institutions and norms. As it would not have been possible without the globalization of the economy, the expansion of the doctrine of growth, and the sense of a social and moral degradation that irreparably weakened the “tradition of authority” of modernity.

The founder of Facebook seeks to fill the power vacuum that opens up beneath the broken bridges between authority institutions and social reality, in a more modern manner than the strategy used by Trump and the alt (ernative) far right. He sees the medium as an instrument for substituting the institution and proposes to complete the colonization of institutions by digital media, replacing the institution with the instrument, re-defining politics in terms of digital communication.

His manifesto[5] begins as follows: “To our community. On our journey to connect the world, we often discuss products we’re building and updates on our business. Today I want to focus on the most important question of all: are we building the world we all want?”

He goes to present his own, simplistic, philosophy of History, which is a story of communication. “History is the story of how we’ve learned to come together in ever greater numbers — from tribes to cities to nations. At each step, we built social infrastructure like communities, media and governments to empower us to achieve things we couldn’t on our own.”

Let’s briefly examine this point. First of all, the historical hierarchy that Zuckerberg proposes, placing the community first, the medium of communication after, the government at the end, is the schema of a simplistic metaphysics of history as progress. But this reveals his ambition. He addresses an existing community as the owner of the dominant medium clearly aspiring to governance: Facebook’s upgrade to an institution of social association and co-ordination of social action alongside and beyond traditional institutions.

Hence the correlation of community, media, and government under the class of things that help us achieve things that we could not achieve “alone”.

To which community is the manifesto addressed? What does “our community” mean? Obviously it means Facebook users in total. But is this community similar to the community, let’s say, of newspaper readers?  Obviously not .  Because newspapers offer content not produced by the public itself but by journalists who are (supposedly) judged by public opinion in the public domain and must provide evidence to support the facts, so that newspapers (supposedly) constitute an essential part of modern public space and public time without taking up or replacing public space and public time.

However, social media have no content, but just a function. The content is created by the user of the function without the need of evidence, the content is given by the users, the public audience themselves are the authors and the readers. So every imaginary digital community is both private and public at the same time, and every user is both an individual and a member of the community in an indeterminate manner, while the only criterion is not deliberation, but popularity. Thus, the essential part of public consultation that (supposedly) newspapers serve, that is, keeping the public informed and authorities checked, is further degraded.

Therefore, the Facebook user community, defined as the set of social media users, is a community of functional, tautological identification, without any specific moral or political or cultural content. It is therefore a community that is potentially universal in the most trivial sense. Potentially, but not actively.

Zuckerberg understands that and tries to take advantage of the situation by equating Facebook’s community to the global community. “In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”, he declares. That is, through Facebook, Zuckerberg aspires to reshape the existing global digital community into a political global digital community, a community that works in common for common purposes. But we have already noticed that the absence of common goals, beyond the common purpose of promoting individual purposes through a universal communication tool, is what makes the Facebook community a global, if trivial, one.

Let us also notice that this community, defined as a global community, seems to exceed and overlap every society by reversing the classical distinction between community (Gemeinschaft), defined by common ethics and customs, and society (Gesellschaft), defined by impersonal institutions.

Does Zuckerberg’s proposal provide any place for a digital democracy? It should be clear from the above that no. How does he visualize the social infrastructure he will offer? He introduces new features in Facebook software that will allow the creation of “meaningful groups” around social and political demands in particular regions. The application will connect people who are interested in related issues and live in a particular area, around a common goal, aspiring to link these imaginary communities to their local territorial terrain. So, of course, it localizes activity inversely, as this function also works as a classification and identification of regions. The members of such a community are certified as residents of a region, ex post.

And of course, these local digital meaningful communities are organized not around some collectivity, but around a personality, since the individual is the only inalienable element and the vector of the essential dynamic of the medium. This person is called the “leader” and acts as a user / node around whom the regional community is formed within the expanded global user community. As we can see, the dominant oligarchical schema of political representation is kept intact, and Facebook paves the way for the campaigns of the political “leaders” of the future.

Facebook, a private digital communications company, a privately-owned company that does not generate nor create anything, explicitly aspires to become the model of the political institution of the future. Zuckerberg aspires to regulate the uncontrolled activity of trolls, false news, information and chatting for the explicit purpose of controlling the uncontrolled actual political and social movements by integrating them into a regulatory model of digital communication. In a peculiar manner, he combines Alexander Hamilton’s centralist governance programme with Jurgen Habermas’ communicative democracy project.

Let us not fall into the trap of Zuckerberg, who wants to further exploit social media communication in order to create a form of governance under a single company, which, like the Catholic clergy and the Communist party before, displays the abusive claim that it represents mankind.

So let’s not laugh at the initial parallelism of the Communist Manifesto with the Facebook Manifesto. It is better to see how the latter intersects with central political issues that emerge in the struggle for free public space and space on a global horizon. That is,

(a) the issue of political representation and democratic deliberation, which Zuckerberg degrades to a technical and functional procedure.

  1. b) the issue of the commons that Zuckerberg obscures, by defending the means of communication itself but not the right to free communication.
  2. c) The issue of the institution of the political community that Zuckerberg identifies with the community of Facebook users, that is, the community that he himself, like another baron, exploits for his own personal profit.

In other words, the result of the Zuckerberg Habermasian-Hamiltonian hybrid would not create a global digital democracy, (a global “digital democracy” is an obscure idea in itself, since democracy requires the actual presence of the individual and roots in locality) as he declares, but some global digital neo-feudalism with himself on the throne, corresponding to the global economic neo-feudalism. Perhaps Zuckerberg’s Manifesto will become a historical joke, as opposed the Communist Manifesto. However, they share the same ambition, the ambition to regulate the future, and both texts can be classified in the tradition of pastoral politics.


[1] This article was originally published in Greek, in the Kaboom journal (issue 2, May 2017). See also: https://kaboomzine.gr/kaboom-2-contents/

[2] C. Von Clausewitz, Vom Krieg, III, Strategie, 72

[3] https://www.socratesjournal.com/index.php/socrates/article/view/146

[4] https://www.socratesjournal.com/index.php/socrates/article/view/109


Direct Democracy, Social Ecology and Public Time

Alexandros Schismenos

One could argue that since the dawn of modernity, humanity is in a situation of constant crisis. Today, however, we find ourselves amidst a nexus of crises, economic crisis, political crisis, ecological and anthropological crisis, while the human environments’ very existence is threatened. The privatization of public space, under the false identification of public and state, transforms social geography and the public architecture of life. We also witness the end of national politics under the grid of transnational networks of power, combined with a revival of nationalistic rhetoric as a means of manipulating populations.

­­­­ In our attempt to clarify this broader and more diverse crisis, this crisis of significations which we experience at the beginning of the 21st century, it may be useful to delimit, schematically, some areas of its manifestation, while the globalization of power and market mechanisms spreads the net of bureaucratic capitalism across the globe and stretches it to its limits, internally and externally.

Internally, because the system waives the requirement to provide a coherent meaning for the populations it dominates, deregulating the processes necessary for social cohesion, which also ensured the psychical internalization of the norms and the purposes of the system by the majority.

Externally, because the system itself, which was never actually controlled or regulated, is unable to fulfill both its general purpose (which is inherently irrational and incomplete), namely the unlimited dominance of rationalistic control and capital growth, and the specific interests of the semi-clustered groups, elites and coalitions that make up the power network of globalized bureaucratic capitalism, a fraction of which was revealed via the Panama papers.

Above all, the system meets the natural limit, the exhaustion of the available resources, both environmental and human. Besides its unlimited ambition, there is a destruction limit on the brink of which we walk blindfolded, the brink of natural disaster, environmental disaster, social disaster, and even nuclear disaster. The whole range of nightmares and dystopias stand like potential realities before us.

The most recent and visible aspect of the multifaceted crisis of significations is the economic crisis that apparently began in 2008 with the bust of the mortgage bubble in the United States, a bubble whose creation, however, must be placed at least in the 1970s, the era of the oil crisis of OPEC (1973), of the total surrender of the once strong North American trade unions, and the beginning of Reagan-Thatcher’s ‘conservative counter-revolution’

The main feature of this ‘conservative revolution’ was the triumph of closed interest groups that promoted the most predatory and aggressive doctrine of capitalism, the extreme neoliberalism of the Chicago School and Milton Friedman. This meant that State authorities swiftly and voluntarily abolished the financial regulation tools that formally kept multinational private capital into check. It also meant the adoption of the “Shock Doctrine”, as described by Naomi Klein, for the subjugation of societies and the dismantlement of organized labor.

At the same time, it meant the privatization of public space, which, strengthened by the consummation of personal time, led to a rapid psychical internalization of the significations of consumerism and market individualism, starting an age, as Castoriadis labeled it, of insignificance. The emergence of huge megacities smothered the urban public space under a network of commercial zones and the basis of societal cohesion, the spirit of community, withered away. When community between people vanishes, the communal bond between nature and society is shattered.

The dawn of the 21st century was marked by the rupture of the bubble and the violent overcoming of insignificance, by the implementation of neoliberal policies on a supranational level, by the ascending of international financial organizations to a central decision-making level, the violent dissolution of local communities and the expansion of the privatization of public space and personal time. But this attack was also met with successive revolts, the awakening of a universality of solidarity and resistance, the creation of imaginary communities and the spreading of the concept of the commons via and beyond the Internet, the breaking of borders and the dynamic struggle for real political democracy. Nothing ensures the outcome of social conflicts, but certainly these are now carried out on multiple levels and globally, while what is at stake is the future itself, in the most comprehensive sense, the existence of a future.

Another crisis that began with the dawn of industrial capitalism and the creation of the mass-production machine is the environmental crisis, the ecological crisis, the effects of which are already evident in an emphatic way, although strong interests are trying to disguise them. It is now explicit and clear that the planet has natural limits, and that the degree of exploitation has already exceeded the renewal capacities of various ecosystems. There is no need to argue here for what everyone now knows and witnesses in the perturbation of natural processes, extreme meteorological phenomena and the mass extinction of species.

Scientists have now attributed the name “Anthropochene” to a period beginning with the Industrial Revolution and extending to the undefined future, elevating modern human activity to the level of geological forces.

These two types of crisis, economic and ecological, constitute a broader crisis of growth. In the sense that the imaginary signification of unlimited growth tends to make a desert of the human environment itself, and in the sense that it seeks to dominate the totality of society, accelerating desertification in both the natural and the cultural dimension. However, the full implementation of the growth doctrine seems to be hindered by three main factors:

– The exhaustion of natural resources.

– The collective resistance of communities and the psychic resistance of individuals who create new, global networks of sociality at a time when traditional institutions are being dismantled.

– The fundamental contradiction within capitalism itself, which objectifies people whilst its function is based precisely on the exploitation of human ingenuity.

To the extent that the economic motivation of unlimited growth and profitability remains the dominant imaginary signification, the tension between the system’s pursuits and the rapid self-destruction brought about by their achievement is at the same time a field of constant reproduction of the crisis.

The privatization of urban public space, which began under the false identification of the public and the state, changed the social geography and the public architecture of the city. Capital cities were transformed into vast population-rich hubs, with energy demands greater than their own countries, while the inner space and time of the city is divided into three distinct and isolated zones, which hold amongst them external exploitative relations. The mansions of the dominant elite, the small and medium-sized blocks of flats and offices of the majority, and the ghetto jungles of marginalized minorities. A vast network of markets and malls divide and at the same time connect those isolated zones under the circulation of products.

While the cities expand, public space and time, the foundations of community and the conditions for democracy are narrowing, leaving the cities hollow as hives of private cells where circulation replaces community.

Looking more carefully, we can distinguish, both at a microsocial and at a macro-social level, the deep erosion and irreversible decline of four dominant metaphysical positions that constitute the ideological foundations of modernity and the imaginary axioms of the modern worldview.

By ‘metaphysical position’ we mean the philosophical, ideological and psychological stance of treating general descriptive terms as actual, self-contained beings. The use of general descriptive terms, such as “humanity”, for example, is a necessity of linguistic consistency, but their hypostatization is the metaphysical leap of traditional ontology. All four modern metaphysical positions are generalizations of generic terms, configurations of imaginary persons or beings with a single will and conscience, to which the origin of the established authorities is attributed.

We will call them Metaphysics of the Nation, Metaphysics of History, Metaphysics of the Subject and Metaphysics of Reason. They are a nexus of nuclear imaginary meanings and ideological props of the instituted social imaginary that have risen as granite certainties but now deflate like balloons.

As we know, the nation-state has relied on the metaphysical idea of a common will, a national will, a substitute for the living people by the imaginary entity of a ‘nation’ with, supposedly, a single will, single interests and a single “destiny”.

The metaphysics of the Nation has been the dominant paradigm of established political authority in the modern world. Ethnocratic bureaucracies, founded on a single, official language and education according to the standards of industrial production, have proved to be excellent matrices for the reproduction of capitalist imaginary significations through the emotional investment of individuals to the ideal of a national homogeneous organization of social life. The state fortified this Nation-metaphysics with a series of unifying institutional structures. Integrative education structures, unifying military structures, unified social benefits structures, the implementation of which followed the practices of ethnic cleansing and regional genocide.

Today, the abandonment by the state, not only of financial regulations, but also of social functions and services, deprives it of any social rooting. As a result, while there is still a dominant national propaganda in every social field, from entertainment to politics, the real strength of the nation-state is declining. But as the metaphysics of Nation collapses, the metaphysics of History follows, because the whole dominant national narrative was based on the metaphysics of a “historical mission” on a trajectory of unlimited growth.

This affects a further fluidization of borders, as the distinction between what is considered interior and what is considered exterior liquidates, while war fronts multiply. The very form of modern warfare and “anti-terrorist” campaigns raises new borders within societies, within cities, among neighborhoods, across countries.

At the same time, the shaking of the metaphysics of the Nation also shakes the politics of representative republics, revealing again the existing divide of interests and sentiments between society and the state. The recent Trumpian degradation of U.S. politics signifies something, by signifying the nothing, the representative void.

We live in the first period in history when the urban population has exceeded the rural, but the city, as a political and social entity and unity, is being dismantled. It is being rebuilt into a set of segregated functions, as regards both public space and public time. Likewise, personal time is sliced ​​into distinct occupations defined by production or consumption, and the individual is transformed into a cluster of functions.

The emergence of the Internet and the expansion of social media have brought a new field of projection and reconstruction of the public and personal identity with infinite possibilities. The digital person, at the same time fragmentary but also a multiplicity of representations of the natural person, brings forth a new problematic of the individual’s relation to himself and to society. It offers a world-wide surface for the reflection, projection and recreation of personal preferences and views, in a completely de-corporalized and virtual manner. On one hand, it seems to provide the ground for a deeper personal fragmentation and isolation.

On the other hand, the Internet, as a means of direct and simultaneous global communication, has displayed liberating capabilities, by disseminating knowledge, socializing research, communicating societies, overcoming censorship, overcoming ethnic and cultural exclusions. It has become a tool for widespread solidarity and the emergency of new social movements, as well as an instrument of widespread control.

On the Internet, the user is at the same time invulnerable and vulnerable, indifferent as a digital self that is materially detached from his physical existence, vulnerable as a physical/psychical subjectivity with a social identity embedded in the broader social environment.

Let us not forget that the digital self is a patchwork of images, preferences, comments, trends and contacts, a conscious reconstruction of the individual projected on a virtual global public horizon. The social cohesion of the subject’s image, formerly dependent on the natural presence of the individual, dissolves within the digital multiplicity of pseudo-personas. Thus, traditional metaphysics loses its original foundation, the social significance of the individual’s consistency as a singular actual personality.

We will observe that of these four metaphysical positions, the metaphysics of the Nation and the metaphysics of history refer to the public and the collective. They attempt to answer the question of who we are. They have to do with the community’s position within time and the relationship of the community with time. Where we are, when we are.

The metaphysics of the Subject and the metaphysics of Reason refer to the individual and the private. They attempt to answer the question of who I am. They have to do with the person’s position towards the world and the relationship of the individual with the world. What is human and what is worldly.

The metaphysics of the Nation and the metaphysics of Reason refer to identity placed out of time, do not include time, they display imaginary eternal identities.

The metaphysics of the Subject and the metaphysics of History refer to temporal identity, include time and have to do with causality and succession, constituting imaginary causation chains.

What is happening is that a series of certainties that informed the dominant modern worldview have collapsed. Together, a series of false separations and identifications crumbles. It is the false distinction between a lonely person and an impersonal society. It is the false identification of the State with Power, the principle that someone else will always decide for society, which is actually challenged by the efforts for local direct democracy, by autonomous networks and societies that now seek self-government, facing the most violent repression, with the most powerful means, in the most fierce world conflict in history.

As we experience the decline of the national, locality is linked with globality. We are both local and global. Everything that happens locally is projected globally, and what is displayed globally is diffused locally. There is no detached place.

On the opposite side, against every manifestation of the crisis, new possibilities open, new significations emerge, the values of solidarity and community are revived on a broader scale and in a radical political context, the project of direct democracy.

What we have seen in the years following the dawn of the 21st century is a multifaceted resistance of societies. A resistance not formulated in terms of electoral representation, but in terms of autonomy, positive search for a new meaning in invented communal forms of life. The refutation of sovereign institutions becomes even more obvious, by the positive activity of social movements, by the emergence of primary institutions of direct democracy, social solidarity and local self-government, to some extent.

So, we find the crisis of the metaphysics of the Nation manifested as a crisis of representation and identity, with a revival of nationalistic rhetoric. Against this, social movements are organized in terms of direct democracy and global communication. Global networks of solidarity challenge the validity of official borders, forming nodes of free social spaces and free collectives that challenge the jurisdiction of the state.

We have seen the crisis of the metaphysics of history, which manifests itself as the doctrine of the “end of history”, as a crisis of the association of social time with subjective temporality, a crisis of the relation to the past and the future, a loss of the future and a leveling of the past. Against this, social struggles and social movements create new forms of free public time and an opening to a common future. A new sense of relation to the environment, social and natural, through the experience of local struggles for the environment, from  Dakota, USA to Halkidiki, Greece, provides the seed for a new sensus communis and a new sense of common good and humanity.

So, we see the emergence of social movements unrelated to the traditional trade unions or parties, which do not seek the implementation of a ready-made plan of another society but create a new open field of free public space and time and, as Jacques Ranciere might say, constitute another world and another history, a world and a history of emancipation. Such is the Zapatista movement, and parts of the liberation movement in Rojava but also urban grassroots movements in Western cities.

These are movements without leaders, movements that seem fragmented, but which allow the free networking and complementarity on many fields and places within the broader socio-historical, precisely because they have a common project and create a common meaning. And this is self-government.

It is self-government without authoritative power, without representation, without rulers, without delegations. Direct democracy.

And that indicates a different answer both to the crisis of the Ethnocratic state and political representation, and to the identity crisis of the individual, who finds it difficult to identify with national state mechanisms, as was the case, not because propaganda is not sufficient, nor because there is access to the experience of a wider world, but because these mechanisms themselves have been exposed to signify nothing. What they are is empty automations deprived of their original meaning and their old vision.

The social movements that emerge redefine private and public relations, in the sense that they create a free public space, which does not belong to private capital neither to the state. And a free public time of social interaction and political decision, like the Nuit Debut movement symbolically expressed by the creation of a prolonged March.

But the social background of modern human existence, the urban landscape of megacities is a problem in itself. The modern city is not an ancient democratic polis, but, as Aristotle would claim, Babylon. Modern collectivities create, within the urban network, new free social spaces, like Nosotros in Athens or Micropolis in Thessaloniki, that can become seeds of new forms of life, but their existence, being against the dominant paradigm, faces tremendous pressure and is dependent on their opening to the broader society.

Democratic ecological collectivities must create institutions of education and communication, institutions with cohesive political activity on a wider socio-historical field. Free social spaces are forms that already go beyond collegiality by the action of which they are created.

We may perhaps schematically designate four moments to the political time of autonomous collectivities. They all involve and presuppose a public conflict with established authorities.

The first moment, when the collectivity opens up to society involves the initial creation of a broader social environment. The creation of free social spaces seems to be the limit of this moment. If this limit is not exceeded through the connection with the broader society, beyond collegiality, free social spaces become self-referential and sooner or later collapse internally.

If the limit is exceeded, then we proceed to the next moment, which can only occur within society, that is, beyond the collective, since the activity of the collectivity exceeds the collectivity itself. It involves the co-creation of networks of solidarity, communication and action, local, regional and global and the creation of free open public spaces. It means the creation of a limited public space and time of communication and a limited public space and time of political decision.

The opening of free public space presupposes a break with state and capitalist mechanisms.

It is a first step. The second step is explicit self-determination, institution-building through direct democracy and public deliberation, in order to realize autonomy in terms of social functions and a complete rupture with the state.

We can imagine explicit self-determination if we consider a self-sufficient local network that is not subjected to state or capitalist jurisdiction and taxation. It constitutes a fundamental division between free communities and the state, but is not an autonomous society still. It means the establishment of a complete public space and time of free communication but a limited public space and time of political decision.

In order for social autonomy to be realized, society must have the power to explicitly re-create its central institutions, namely politics, justice, education in a democratic and equalitarian manner. The people, as free individuals, must be able to establish laws by means of open, equalitarian public deliberation, with the establishment of direct democracy. This presupposes the abolishment of the state and the subordination of economy to democratic politics. But it also presupposes the psychical transformation of the individual, to an autonomous, reflective and deliberative subjectivity. It presupposes a democratic education which cannot be separated by the experience of direct democracy in practice, through the praxis of autonomy. It also means establishing a complete public space and time of free communication and a complete public space and time of political decision and action.

This is the challenge that communities and societies face today, under the threat of disaster, for the future remains as always, an open future for societies to create.


*Paper presented at the TRISE (Trasnational Institute for Social Ecology) Conference, held in Thessaloniki, on September 1st-3rd 2017.

Planet S.O.S.: Climate Change and Global Poverty

Jason Hickel

I want to use my time this evening to talk about hegemony -the hegemony of economic growth. This single idea governs our world and guides the decisions of our leaders more forcefully than almost any other. It is accepted by the right and left alike -or at least by the traditional left- to the point where it is so taken for granted that we tend not to even recognize it. It is a background assumption of our social imaginary, outside the field of political contestation, beyond the boundaries of our debates. Our politicians rise and fall on their ability to generate growth. We are told that growth is necessary for progress, necessary to improve human well-being and eradicate poverty -and we accept these claims without questioning them. If you challenge the growth narrative, people look at you like you’re crazy, like you’ve literally lost the plot -that’s how powerful its hegemony is.

The idea is so powerful that reasonable people rally around it even when it is clear that it makes no sense at all -even when simple math shows it to be contradictory and even absurd.

Here is an example. Two years ago, in 2015, the world’s governments gathered together in New York to ratify the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs set out to accomplish an incredible feat -the eradication of global poverty by 2030, as measured at $1.25 per day. This sounds like a wonderful goal, and indeed it’s about time that we got around to doing it. But if you look at the text of the SDGS, you’ll see that the plan is to accomplish this specifically through high rates of GDP growth.

Now, there are a number of reasons to be skeptical about this approach. The first is that there is no direct correlation between GDP growth and poverty reduction.

It all depends on how the growth is distributed. And right now it is incredibly skewed in favor of the rich. Here is a potent fact to keep in mind. Even during the most equitable period over the past few decades, the poorest 60% of humanity received only 5% of all new income generated by global growth, while the richest 1% received more than 90% of the gains. Suddenly it becomes clear why we’ve been sold this story about how growth is the only option.

Now, here’s some math for you. Because of this horribly skewed distribution, the pace of trickle-down is so slow that it will take approximately 100 years to eliminate global poverty through economic growth, according to recent research published in the World Economic Review. And note that this at the standard poverty line of $1.25/day. Most scholars say that this line is far too low for even basic human subsistence, and that a more accurate poverty line is about $5/day. At this level, it will take 207 years to eradicate poverty through growth. And to get there, we will have to grow the global economy to 175 times its present size. Think about it. That’s 175 times more extraction, more production, and more consumption than we’re already doing. And of course this is absurd, because even if such immense growth were possible, it would drive climate change and resource depletion to catastrophic levels and, in the process, rapidly reverse any gains against poverty.

So it’s not just that growth is an inadequate solution to the problem of poverty. It also makes little sense given what we know about our planet’s ecological limits. Indeed, even at existing levels of economic activity, scientists tell us that we’re already overshooting our planet’s biocapacity by about 60% per year, due to excess greenhouse gas emissions and resource overuse. And, crucially, it’s important to recognize that the vast majority of this is caused by overconsumption by people in a small handful of rich countries. For example, people in Europe consume on average 2.6 times more than their share of the earth’s biocapacity, while people in the US and Britain consume as much as 4 times more. Their excess growth is driving us all to catastrophe.

Rapid climate change is the most obvious symptom of this overshoot, of course; but we can also see it in a number of other registers. Half of our tropical forests have been destroyed in the last 60 years. 90% of fish stocks have collapsed. Agricultural soil is depleting to the point where food yields will begin to decline within our lifetime. And species are dying off so fast that scientists have classed this as the sixth mass extinction in the planet’s history, with the last one having occurred 66 million years ago. And all of this has crushing consequences for human beings -particularly in poorer countries.

And remember, all of this is only at our existing levels of economic activity. When we start to factor in growth, things start to look very bleak indeed.

Right now, the world is united around the goal of maintaining global growth at around 3% per year. Anything less, and the economy crashes into crisis.

3% may sound like a small increment, but keep in mind that this is an exponential curve, so growing at that rate means doubling the size of the global economy in 20 years, and then over the next 20 years doubling it again from its already doubled state, and so on until infinity. It is almost too absurd to imagine.

Now, when faced with projections about the dangers of continued growth, most economists brush them aside. They insist that technological innovations and efficiency improvements will help us “decouple” growth from material throughput, enabling us to grow GDP indefinitely. But unfortunately there is exactly zero evidence for this view. Annual global material throughput has more than doubled since 1980, and over the past decade the rate of throughput has accelerated, not slowed down. Right now we’re consuming around 70 billion tonnes of stuff per year, and by 2030 that figure is expected to breach 100 billion.

Similar false promises are wheeled out in the face of global warming projections. Some insist that we can continue to grow the economy indefinitely without causing catastrophic climate change. All we need is to shift as fast as we can to renewable energy, and rely on negative-emissions technology. This bit about negative emissions technology is important to understand. The dominant proposal out there is called BECCS: “bio-energy carbon capture and storage”. According to this proposal, all we have to do is plant enormous tree plantations to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Then we harvest them, turn them into wood pellets and ship them around the world to power stations where we will burn them for energy. Then we capture the carbon emissions that they produce and store the gases deep under the ground. Voila -an energy system that sucks carbon out of the air. What’s not to love?

In fact, this plan is at the very center of the Paris Agreement on climate change. When the world’s government signed the Paris Agreement, promising to keep global warming under 2 degrees, everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief. But if you look closely at the agreement, you’ll see that the emissions reductions it promises don’t actually get us there. Even if all the world’s countries meet their targets -which is very unlikely, since the targets are non-binding- we’ll still be hurtling toward about 3.7 to 4 degrees of global warming -way over the threshold.

What might our planet look like if it warms by 4°C?

Projections show that it is likely to bring about heatwaves not seen on Earth for 5 million years. Southern Europe will turn into a desert. Sea levels will rise by 1.2 metres, drowning cities like Amsterdam and New York. 40% of species will be at risk of extinction. Our rainforests will wither away. Crop yields will collapse by 35%, triggering famine in the global South. So why is nobody sounding the alarm about this? Why is nobody freaking out? Because the Paris Agreement assumes that BECCS will work to pull carbon down out of the atmosphere. Instead of committing to the emissions reductions we need, it presupposes that technology will save us.

There’s only one small problem. Engineers and ecologists are very clear that BECCS won’t work. The technology has never been proven at scale. And even if it did work, it would require that we create plantations equivalent to three times the size of India, without taking away from the agricultural land that we need to feed the world’s population -and that’s just not physically possible. In other words, BECCS is a myth, the Paris Agreement has sold us a lie, and yet we’re hanging our future on it.

If we can’t rely on BECCS to save us, that means we have to commit to much more demanding emissions reductions. Kevin Anderson, one of Britain’s leading climate scientists, argues that to have a decent shot at keeping below 2 degrees, industrialized countries will have to cut emissions by 10% per year until net zero in 2050. And here’s the problem: even if we throw everything we have into efficiency improvements and renewable technologies, they will help us reduce emissions by at most 4% per year. That means that in order to bridge the rest of the gap, rich countries will have no choice but to downscale their economic activity by 6% per year.

In other words, climate science itself recognizes a clear de-growth imperative. It’s time for us to face up to this reality -yet our leaders are doing everything they can to avoid this uncomfortable fact.

Now, I want to say a few things about de-growth. First of all, degrowth is not the same as austerity.  Austerity means cutting social spending in order to -supposedly- keep the economy growing. De-growth is exactly the opposite. It is a process of investing in social goods in order to render growth unnecessary. Let me explain. Right now, our politicians see growth as a substitute for equality. They don’t want to redistribute resources, so instead their plan is to grow the size of the economy, while hoping that a little bit trickles down to keep the masses acquiescent. But we can turn this equation around. If growth is a substitute for equality, then equality can be a substitute for growth. In other words, instead of growing the economy and intensifying our exploitation of the earth, we can share what we already have more fairly.

The good news is that there is plenty of data showing that it’s possible to downscale production and consumption at the same time as increasing human development indicators like happiness, well-being, education, health, and longevity.

All it takes is investing in things like universal education, healthcare, and public housing. In other words, the commons are an antidote to growth. Consider the fact that Costa Rica has better human development indicators than the United States, but with only one-fifth of its GDP per capita and one third of its ecological footprint per capita. That’s real ecological efficiency. How do they do it? With universal social policy and strong protections for the commons that have been in place for nearly 70 years.

There are other important steps that would enable de-growth. We could stop measuring progress with GDP, and focus on human well-being instead, and indeed this is the first step we should take. We could ban advertising in public spaces, which would reduce pressures for needless consumption. A universal basic income, by allowing us to walk away from bullshit jobs, would reduce pressures for unnecessary production.

But there are a few deep challenges we need to confront. One of the reasons that the economy has to grow is because our system is completely shot through with debt. And debt comes with interest. If we don’t grow the economy fast enough to meet interest payments, then we have a financial crisis.  Because of debt, we are slaves to growth -we are all forced to churn our planet and our bodies into money and feed it to our creditors. Greece knows this fact better than anyone else. One solution, of course, is to cancel the debt -or to refuse to pay it. Yes, creditors will lose out, and some of them will collapse, but this is a small price to pay to liberate our system from the growth imperative.

As Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso put it, “If we don’t pay the debts, no one will die. If we do pay the debts, people will surely die.” And we could add that the ecosystem on which we depend will surely die as well.

But the problem goes even deeper than this, since our money system itself is based on debt. This is often surprising for people to hear. Most of us think that it is central banks that create money. But in fact more than 90% of money is created by private commercial banks. When commercial banks make loans, they are not lending money out of their reserves in the vault. Rather, they simply invent the money out of thin air. In other words, nearly every dollar or Euro that is circulating in our economy represents debt. And because debt necessitates growth, we might say that every new dollar that is created is effectively heating up the planet.

If we want to embark on a de-growth trajectory, then, we need more than debt resistance -we need to abolish debt-based currency and invent a new money system altogether. There are lots of ways we can do this. We could have the state retake control over the creation of money, so it would be free of debt, and restrict commercial banks so they can only lend out of their own reserves. This is known as a positive money system, or a full-reserve banking system. Or instead of relying on the state we could invent our own complementary currencies. The rise of blockchain technology and the Bancor protocol make this more feasible than ever, and thousands of new currencies are springing up, allowing people to partially opt out of the dominant money system.

But confronting the de-growth imperative is more than just evolving our way toward a different economic system. It is also about radically changing the way that we think about ourselves as humans and our relationship to the rest of the world. We have to get past the mad notion that came from so-called Enlightenment thinkers like Descartes and Bacon, who convinced us that humans are separate from and superior to nature. Real enlightenment resides instead in the realization -preserved today by mystics and many indigenous peoples- that we are a part of nature… that the fish and the soils and the forests are our sisters and our brothers, that we share the same substance, or the same spirit. We must realize that the imperative of de-growth is not about bending to obey the laws of some abstract, externally-imposed ecological limits… it is about cultivating a new ontology, one that shifts us from an ethic of domination and extraction to an ethic of interdependence, unity and care.

We’re all familiar with the phrase “socialism or barbarism”. But I think Janet Biehl is correct when she says that the left’s slogan for the 21st century needs to be “ecology or catastrophe.”


*The present text is the speech of Jason Hickel at B-FEST (International Antiauthoritarian Festival of Babylonia Journal) that was held on 26/05/17 in Athens with the title “Planet S.O.S.: Climate Change and Global Poverty”.

Jason Hickel is an anthropologist at the London School of Economics and author of The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions.

Overcoming the State by Reinventing the Polis

Yavor Tarinski

The rhetoric of Thatcher and of Reagan has changed nothing of importance (the change in formal ownership of a few large enterprises does not essentially alter their relation to the State), … the bureaucratic structure of the large firm remains intact [and] half of the national product transits the public sector in one way or another (State, local governmental organizations, Social Security); … between half and two-thirds of the price of goods and services entering into the final national expenditure are in one way or another fixed, regulated, controlled, or influenced by State policy, and … the situation is irreversible (ten years of Thatcher and Reagan made no essential changes therein).[1]
Cornelius Castoriadis

Authoritarian Globalization and the State

For some time now, but especially with the eruption of the global financial crisis in 2008, the globalized neoliberal system have managed, in some aspects, to stabilize and entrench itself more firmly by taking explicitly anti-democratic and essentially authoritarian forms. In contrast to the narrative offered by its supporters on the Right and chimed by most of its opponents on the Left, neoliberalism’s synthesis with representative democracy hasn’t led us towards dismantlement of the state bureaucracies, but instead towards their replication on global, international level (transgressing however the national political discourse). The widely propagated nowadays idea of raging individual freedom is being accompanied by the reality of aggressive erosion of personal rights and supplementation of individuality with uniformed consumerist atomization.

This state of things was clearly exemplified by the brutal power which the international financial institutions and the European technocrats exercised in the case of Greece. The naked force with which the global elites responded to the anti-austerity resistance waged by the Greeks was simultaneously a demonstration and warning that national-sovereignty is a thing of the past. It was made clear that no country will be allowed to step out of line. This new reality leads large segments of the Left even today to disorientation since the sphere of national politics, viewed by them as main front for anti-capitalist struggle, has been completely dismantled, giving birth to contradictory left-wing projects like Varoufakis’s Diem25[2].

Despite all the talks of state “amputation”, neoliberalism instead proceeds in its reconceptualization. In fact, the state apparatus is reduced to central enforcer of capitalist dogmas and producer of anthropological types that are necessary to keep the current system going. Narratives of “raging freedom” are invoked to mask the authoritarian nature of the contemporary oligarchy. But the state’s role as guardian of the neoliberal doctrine and its main pillars, like unlimited economic growth, deepens even further its conflict with society, often resorting to brute force, and thus becoming increasingly delegitimized entity.

In the face of this global authoritarian system, in which states seek to submit local populations to the will of international technocratic elites and transnational agreements (like TTIP), the far-Right and large part of the far-Left seem to agree on the need to revive the independent nation-state. But their essentially bureaucratic and predisposed to racism proposal seems to not find significant popular support, except for some sporadic electoral successes, provoked mainly by fear and insecurity, rather than political agreement. And the examples of the age of national-politics bear enough reasons for us to reject the retreat to the all powerful and equally authoritarian nation-state sovereignty.

On the other hand, the proposal of the so-called political Center, both Right and Left, to stick to the current discourse seems to be completely bankrupted. The dominant institutions of governance seems to be completely delegitimized, with record levels of electoral abstention and rising social cynicism, thus forced to constantly resort to sheer violence when facing popular disagreement and resistance. This reality has made many social movements and segments of society to engage in exploring new modes of organizing everyday life beyond the bureaucratic fragmentation enforced by the state.

The City as Locus for Politics beyond Statecraft

During last years the city has emerged as potential contender to the nation-state. The radical geographer David Harvey has even argued that ‘rebel cities’ will become a preferred site for revolutionary movements[3]. Great theoretical influence in this field is the work of libertarian thinker Murray Bookchin who, like the philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis[4], returned to the forgotten ancient Athenian concept of the Polis[5]. He attempted with great success at revealing the revolutionary essence of this notion and its potentialities for our times. To parliamentary oligarchy, tribal nationalism and capitalist relations Bookchin proposed direct-democratic confederations of libertarian municipalities where citizens participate directly in local assemblies and elect revocable delegates to regional councils[6]. In the city and its historic rivalry with the State, he saw a possible public space where civic culture can break domination in all its forms.

While large cities worldwide are increasingly following their own agendas that often go against State policies, like the city of London and its resistance to Britain’s leave of the EU (the so-called ‘Brexit’)[7], a new generation of municipal platforms is emerging, boosted by the deepening of the crisis of representation. Most of them are partially influenced by the above-mentioned theoretical framework, and have sprung in different parts of the world, but mainly in Europe. In Spain such projects govern most major cities like Barcelona and Madrid[8]. These platforms are trying to reverse the austerity measures that are being enforced by the State, international technocratic institutions and transnational agreements, remunicipalize basic services, introduce participatory decision-making bodies on local level, challenge governmental anti-migrant policies etc. Some of these ‘rebel cities’ have began connecting with each other, thus multiplying and strengthening their voices.

In the US also local municipalities have reached to conflict with the central government’s policies. Close to 250 cities across the country have pledged to adopt, honor and uphold the commitments to the goals set by the Paris Agreements after the announcement of president Trump’s plans to break up with the latter[9]. But while the motivations of some of these local administrations remain questionable due to their possible connections with the main electoral opponents to the contemporary government, municipal platforms are emerging in the US as well, like the initiative Olympia for All[10] that tries to give more participatory and ecological characteristics to the municipality of Olympia, Washington (USA).

Of course there are problems with these practices. Most of these municipal projects attempt at trying to radicalize cities through the mechanisms of local bureaucracies that resemble to a large degree the state apparatus. This fact rises the question of how far this “radicalization” can go. It also underlines the difficulty of balancing between city bureaucracy and social movements. These problematics should not make us abandon the city as potential locus for making politics outside statecraft, but provoke us to rethink it as truly public space that is constantly being recreated by its citizens and that goes beyond narrow electoralism.

One contemporary case that goes in this direction is the democratic autonomy being built in Rojava. The base of the confederal system that nowadays functions in this part of the war-torn Middle East was set through strategy that resembles to a large degree the principles of libertarian municipalism. Activists began organizing grassroots decision-making bodies – communes and councils – in neighborhoods and villages, mostly situated in North Kurdistan and Rojava, that functioned in parallel to the official state institutions, trying to gain legitimacy through providing space that allows people to directly self-organize their everyday lives. Their work proved successful when during the Arab spring a power vacuum was created and most of the involved communities were able to self-manage themselves sustainably without the involvement of statist apparatuses.

Beyond Bureaucracy and Domination

The authoritarian nature of the contemporary system requires anti-authoritarian alternative paradigm if it is to be successfully challenged. While many have argued that the current rise in authoritarianism and technocracy is nothing but a temporary phase in the liberal oligarchic rule, others, like Walter Benjamin, have argued that the “state of exception” in which we live is in fact not the exception but the rule[11]. Electoral victories by far-right candidates and fascist parties are not some sort of systemic breakdown but continuation of traditional hierarchical rule by other means. Thus it is up to all of us, of those “below”, to bring about a real exception in the tradition of heteronomy and radically break up with domination of human over human and of humanity over nature.

The way through which this could be achieved, logically cannot pass through the ballot box, either on national or local level, but through the self-organization and self-institution of society itself. This would imply communities organizing independently from established bureaucracies and determining themselves their agendas. Something similar to the demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline where indigenous people and social movements managed to achieve significant victory, against both big capital and an alliance of state governments, in the preservation of their commons, building “from below” a movement that spread to more than 300 cities across the US and received solidarity from all over the world, including Thailand, Japan and Europe[12].

We saw that in the last decade the popular resistances in urban areas have adopted an anti-authoritarian approach with democratic characteristics. Vanguardist structures like parties and syndicates, once dominant among social movements, have nowadays been abandoned and replaced by open participatory institutions. Demonstrations are increasingly turning into reclamation of public spaces and buildings. Thus we can speak of general social attempts at redefining what democracy is.

The role of social movements in these processes would be not to lead but to nurture these direct-democratic traits that stem from our very societies. Among the main questions for them should be how to manage to successfully locate and maintain the grassroots institutions that are emerging in public squares and city neighborhoods in the short eruptions of civil disagreement with enforced “from above” policies. And how their character could be transformed from purely symbolic to effective and decision-making. This also puts forward the need of regional and even transnational connectednes between such dispersed local grassroots institutions for them to be able to function sustainably in the face of state and capitalist hostility. For such germs of genuine direct democracy we could also look beyond the contemporary Western world, in places like Chiapas, Rojava and other indigenous communities and cultures but also in historical political traditions that go as far as the ancient Athenian Polis.


As Castoriadis have suggested, we are at a crossroad in the roads of history[13]. Some of the more visible paths will keep us within heteronomy, in worlds dominated by the barbarism of international agreements and technocratic institutions, State apparatuses and nationalist cannibalism. Although the characteristics of each one of them may differ, their base remains essentially the same: elites and predetermined truths dominating society and nature. Humanity have been living within this framework during most of its recent history and the symptoms are painfully familiar to us all: loss of meaning, conformism, apathy, irresponsibility, the tightening grip of unlimited economic growth, pseudorational pseudomastery, consumption for the sake of consumption, technoscience that strengthens the domination of capitalist imaginary etc.

There is however another road that is not that visible, but always existent. Unlike the above mentioned directions that are being determined by extra-social sources, this one has to be opened and laid through the political practice of all citizens and their will for freedom. It requires the abolition of bureaucratic fragmentation of everyday life, which is the essence of the State, reclamation of the public space and the Polis, reawakening of the creative imaginary and re-articulation of the project of Autonomy. But it is a matter of social and individual political choice which road our societies will take.

[1] Cornelius Castoriadis: The Castoriadis Reader, Blackwell Publishers 1997, pp 406-410
[3] David Harvey: Rebel Cities, Verso Books 2012, p.117
[4] Cornelius Castoriadis: The Castoriadis Reader, Blackwell Publishers 1997, pp 267-289
[5] Murray Bookchin: From Urbanization to Cities, Cassel 1995, p. 62-81
[6] https://new-compass.net/articles/communalist-project
[7] https://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/items/hss/178917.html
[8] https://www.redpepper.org.uk/rebel-cities-the-citizen-platforms-in-power/
[10] https://new-compass.net/articles/olympia-all
[11] Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 4 1938-40, The Belknap Press of Harvard University 2003, p.392
[12] https://www.colorlines.com/articles/people-300-cities-are-taking-part-nodapl-day-action
[13] Cornelius Castoriadis, Figures of the Thinkable, unauthorized translation 2005, p.146

*The present text was delivered as a speech in a panel, entitled “Overcoming the State”, part of the 3rd Antiauthoritarian Festival in Ioannina, Greece (June, 2017).

Jacques Rancière: Democracy, Equality, Emancipation in a Changing World

Jacques Rancière

I will start from the knot between two of the concepts that are proposed to the reflection of our panel: equality and emancipation. I will briefly recall the two main points that are implied for me in the idea of emancipation.

The first one is that equality is not a goal to be reached. It is not a common level, an equivalent amount of riches or an identity of living conditions that must be reached as the consequence of historic evolution and strategic action. Instead it is a point of departure. This first principle immediately ties up with a second one: equality is not a common measure between individuals, it is a capacity through which individuals act as the holders of a common power, a power belonging to anyone. This capacity itself is not a given whose possession can be checked. It must be presupposed as a principle of action but it is only verified by action itself. The verification does not consist in the fact that my action produces equality as a result. It enacts equality as a process. I act, we act as if all human beings had an equal intellectual capacity. Emancipation first means the endorsement of the presupposition: I am able, we are able to think and act without masters. But we are able to the extent that we think that all other human beings are endowed with the same capacity. Second, emancipation means the process through which we verify this presupposition. Equality is not given, it is processual. And it is not quantitative, it is qualitative.

The idea of emancipation dismisses the opposition made by the so-called “liberal” tradition between freedom thought of as the inner autonomous power and dignity of the individual and equality thought of as the constraint of the collective over individuals. “Free” is just like “equal”: it does not designate a property of individuals. It designates the form of their action and of their relation to other individuals. The presupposition of equal capacity is a principle of shared freedom opposed to the presupposition that the human beings can only act rationally as individuals and cooperate rationally in a community according to a principle of subordination. “Autonomy” has been a key concept in modern emancipatory politics. But it must be understood correctly. It does not mean the autonomous power of a subject as opposed to external forces: it means a form of thinking, practice and organization free from the presupposition of inequality, free from the hierarchical constraint and the hierarchical belief. It means the opposition of two kinds of commonsense and two common worlds, one based on the process of verification of inequality and the other based on the process of verification of equality. This is what is entailed in the concept of disagreement that I proposed to conceptualize the political conflict. Disagreement is not a conflict of forces, nor even a conflicts of ideas and values. It is a conflict between two common worlds or two common senses. This is what is meant by the scenario of secession of the Roman plebeians on the Aventine that I put at the center of my analysis of what “disagreement” means. In the commonsense which grounds the domination of the patricians, there can be no discussion between the patricians and the plebeians because the plebeians do not speak. They just make noise. The presupposition of inequality is not a simple idea, it is embodied in the concrete reality of a sensory world so that the plebeians must not simply argue that they are speaking beings too but also invent a whole dramaturgy to create the sensory world where the heretofore unthinkable- and even imperceptible- fact that they speak is made perceptible.

This idea of emancipation makes us think of politics in terms of conflict of worlds in contrast to the dominant idea that assimilates it to a conflict of forces. It is a conflict of common worlds. Social emancipation is not the choice of community against individualism. The very opposition of community to individualism is pointless. A form of community is always a form of individuality at the same time. The point is not about the presence or absence of social links, it is about their nature. Capitalism is not the reign of individuality: it organizes a common world of its own, a common world based on inequality and constantly reproducing it, so that it appears as the world – the real existing world in which we live, move, feel, think and act. It is the already existing world with its mechanisms and its institutions. In front of its sensible evidence the world of equality appears as an always tentative world that must be perpetually re-drawn, reconfigured by a multiplicity of singular inventions of acts, relations and networks which have their proper forms of temporality and their proper modes of efficiency. That’s why the secession of the plebeians on the Aventine is paradigmatic: the world of equality is a “world in the making”, a world born of specific breaches in the dominant commonsense, of interruptions of the “normal” way of the world. It implies the occupation of specific spaces, the invention of specific moments when the very landscape of the perceptible, the thinkable and the doable is radically reframed. The conflict of worlds is dissymmetrical in its principle.

But the fact is that this dissymmetry has long been obscured by the evidence of a middle term that seemed to be common to the world of equality and the world of inequality and also to designate at the same time a world and a force. That term was work- with its twin, named labour. On the one hand, work was the name of the force that capitalism gathered and organized for its own benefit and the reality of the condition of those who were exploited by capitalism. But, on the other hand, it was the force that could be re-assembled against that capitalist power, reassembled both as a force of struggle in the present and the form of life of the future. In such a way the world of labour appeared to be both the product of inequality and the producer of equality. The two processes were made one single process. The Marxist tradition set up this conjunction within the “progressive” scenario according to which inequality is a means, a historical stage to go through, in order to produce equality. Capitalism was said to produce not only the material conditions of a world of equal sharing of the common riches but also the class that would   overthrow it and organize the common world to come. To play this role, the workers’ organisation had to take up and internalize, first in the present of struggle, next in the future of collective production the virtue that had been instilled into them by capitalism, the virtue of factory discipline.

The anarchist tradition opposed to that view of inequality producing equality another view emphasizing the constitution of free collectives of workers anticipating the community to come through both egalitarian forms of organization and the constitution in the present of forms of cooperative work and other forms of life. But this counter-position still rested on the idea of the “middle term”: the idea of work as being at once a form of life, a collective force of struggle and the matrix of a world to come. It is clear that work can no more be posited to-day as the identity of a force and a world, the identity of a form of struggle in the present and a form of life of the future. Much has been said about either the end of work or its becoming immaterial. But capitalism did not become immaterial even if part of its production is knowledge, communication, information and so on. Material production did not disappear from the common world that it organizes. Instead it was relocated, far from its ancient locations in Old Europe, in new places where the work force was cheaper and more used to obeying. And immaterial production also implies both classic forms of extraction of plus-value from underpaid workers and forms of unpaid labour provided by the consumers themselves. Work did not disappear. Instead it was fragmented, torn out and dispersed in several places and several forms of existence separated from one another so as to constitute no more a common world.

Along with this economic disruption came the legislative reforms adopted all over the world to make work again a private affair. Those reforms  did not simply remove  the rights and the social benefits acquired by the workers’ struggles of the past, they tended to turn work, wages, job contracts and pensions into a mere individual affair, concerning workers taken one by one and no more a collective. Work has not disappeared but it has been stripped of the power that made it the materially existing principle of a new world, embodied in a given community. This means that we are now obliged to think of the process of emancipation, the process of equality creating its own world as a specific process, disconnected from the transformations of the global economic process. We are also facing the difficulty of dealing with this situation. I think that this new situation and the difficulty to deal with it are perfectly expressed by the slogans that have resonated in several languages during the recent movements: “democracia real ya”, “Nuit debout”, “occupy everything” or “Na min zisoume san douli”. All of them take their efficiency in an ambiguous interface between the logic of the conflict of forces and a logic of opposition of worlds.

“Occupy” and “occupation” are the most telling examples of this ambiguity.  They come from the historical tradition of working class struggle. The “sit-in strikes” of the past strikes when workers occupied the workplace, made a conflict of forces identical with a demonstration of equality. Not only did the strikers block the mechanism of exploitation but also  they affirmed a collective possession of the workplace and the instruments of work and they turned the place dedicated to work and obedience into a place for free social life. The new “occupation” takes up the principle of transforming the function of a space. But this space is no more an inside space, a space defined within the distribution of economic and social activities. It is no more a space of concrete fight between Capital and Labour. As Capital has increasingly become a force of dislocation which destroys the places where the conflict could be staged, occupation now takes place in the spaces that are available: those buildings that the contingencies of the real estate market has left empty or the streets which are normally destined to the circulation of the individuals and the commodities – and sometimes to the demonstrations of the protesters. The occupying process transforms those spaces destined to the circulation of persons, goods and value into places where people stay and affirm by the very fact of staying their opposition to the capitalist powers of circulation and dislocation.

The name “occupation” is still the same and it still about perverting the normal use of a space but the occupying process is no more a conflict of forces to take over a strategic place in the process of economic and social reproduction. It has become a conflict of worlds, a form of symbolic secession that is both materialized and symbolised in a place aside. Occupy Wall Street took place in a park situated besides the center of this financial power that has destroyed the factories that previously were the site of occupation movements. The Spanish movement of the Indignados created, during an electoral campaign, assemblies presenting themselves as the seat of “real democracy now”. Real democracy was pitted against the self-reproduction of the representative caste. But “real democracy” also was, in the Marxist tradition, the future of material equality opposed to bourgeois “formal democracy”. It was a future promised as a consequence of the takeover of the State power and the organisation of collective production. Now it designates a form of relation between human beings that must be practiced in the present both against and besides the hierarchical system of representation. Real democracy in a sense became more formal than the “formal democracy” stigmatized by the Marxist tradition. Not only did it equate the enactment of equality with the form of the assembly where all individuals have an equal right but it imposed a number of rules such as the equality of time allowed to all speakers and the power for individuals to block the decision of the majority.

Occupation has become the name of a secession. But that secession is no more the action of a specific community claiming their rights. Instead it appears to be the materialization of an aspiration to the common, as if the common were something lost, something that had to be reconstructed through the specific act of the assembling of a multitude of anonymous individuals publicly performing their being equal as the same as their being-in-common. That’s why that secession, that being-aside, was expressed in paradoxical terms, and notably by the strange slogan adopted by many assemblies as the affirmation of real democracy: ”Consensus instead of leaders”. It seems paradoxical to posit consensus as the specific virtue of the dissensual assembly gathered in occupied spaces. It can be objected that the dissensus precisely consists in the constitution of another form of community based on horizontality and participation. But the problem of democracy is not so much about the number of people that can agree on the same point as it is about the capacity to invent new forms of collective enactment of the capacity of anybody.

By underlining this paradox, I am not willing to disparage those movements. Some people have pitted against the pacifism of the consensual assemblies the necessity of violent action directly confronting the enemy. But the “confrontation with the enemy itself” can be thought of and practiced in different ways and most of the forms of direct action opposed to the pacific assemblies – for instance destructions of bank automats, shop windows or public offices – had the same character as them: they were also symbolic expressions of an opposition of worlds rather than strategic actions in a struggle for power.  Other people have precisely criticized this lack of strategy; they said that those movements could change nothing to Capitalist domination and they made new calls for the edification of avant-garde organizations aimed at taking over the power. But such an answer is unable to solve the paradoxes of emancipation. The strategic world view that sustains it is a view of inequality producing equality. That strategy has been enacted by the communist parties and the socialist states of the XXth century and we all know their results. Inequality only produces inequality and it does it ceaselessly. Moreover this strategic world view has lost the basis on which it rested, namely the reality of work/labour as a common world.

We are now facing again the dissymmetry between the process of equality and the process of inequality. Equality does not make worlds in the same way as inequality. It works, as it were, in the intervals of the dominant world, in superimposition to the “normal” – meaning the dominant – hierarchical – way of world making. And one of the main aspects of the dissymmetry is precisely the fact that the process of equality dismisses the very separation of the ends and the means on which the strategy of inequality producing equality is predicated. This is what freedom means ultimately .Freedom is not a matter of choice made by individuals. It is a way of doing.  A free action or a free relation is an action or a relation that finds its achievement in itself, in the verification of a capacity and no more in an external outcome. In the hierarchical societies of the past it was the privilege of a small category of human beings, called the “active men” in contrast to all those who were subjected to the reign of necessity.  In modern times, freedom was democratized first in the aesthetic domain with the Kantian and Schillerian category of free play as an end in itself and a potentiality belonging to everyone. Then the young Marx did more as he made it the very definition of communism that he equated with the end of the labour division: communism, he said in the Paris Manuscripts means the humanisation of the human senses; it is the state of things in which this capacity of humanisation is deployed in itself instead of being used as a simple means for earning one’s living. And he illustrated it with the case of these communist workers in Paris who gathered at a first level to discuss their common interests but did it more deeply to enjoy their new social capacity as such.

True enough Marx’s analysis relied on the identification of work as the essential human capacity. When work can no more play this role, the task of creating a world where the ends of the action are no more distinct from their means may seem to become paradoxical in itself. The free and equal community is something that can no more rely on a given empirical substratum. It must be created as an object of will. But, on the other hand, this will can no more be posited in the terms of the means and ends relation. That’s why it tends to become a global desire for another form of human relations. This turn was best illustrated in the Occupy Wall Street movement by the multiple extensions of the use of the verb “occupy” that made it the signifier of a global conversion to another way of inhabiting the world: “occupy language”, “occupy imagination”, “occupy love”, and eventually “Occupy everything” which seems to mean: change your way of dealing with everything and with all existing forms of social relationships. Perhaps this enigmatic slogan finds its best translation in the Greek slogan “Na min zisoume can douli” (“Don’t live any more like slaves”). This sentence did not only invite to rebel against the intensification of the capitalist rule. It invited to invent here and now modes of action, ways of thinking and forms of life opposed to those which are perpetually produced and reproduced by the logic of inequality, the logic of capitalist and state domination.

I think that this request found a response in the invention of this form called “free social space” – a form that took on a particular cogency in the social movements of this country. What makes this notion significant in my view is that it calls into question the traditional oppositions between the necessities of the present and the utopias of the future or between harsh economic and social reality and the “luxury” of “formal “democracy. Those who opened such spaces made it clear that they did not only wanted to respond to situations of need, dispossession and distress created by the intensification of the capitalist rule. They did not want only to give shelter, food, health care, education or art to those who were deprives of those goods but to create new ways of being, thinking and acting in common. We can draw from this a wider definition of this form: a free social space is a space where the very separation of spheres of activity – material production, economic exchange, social care, intellectual production and exchange, artistic performance, political action, etc. – is thrown into question. It is a space where assemblies can practice forms of direct democracy intended no simply to give an equal right of speech to everybody but to make collective decisions on concrete matters. In such a way a form of political action tends to be at the same time the cell of another form of life. It is no more a tool for preparing a future emancipation but a process of invention of forms of life and modes of thinking in which equality furthers equality.

What this sentence asks us to do is to change all the forms of organization of life and the modes of thinking that are determined by the logic of inequality, the logic of capitalist and state domination.

Of course we know that these cells of a new social life are constantly subjected to internal problems and external threats. This “already present future” is always at once a precarious present. But it is pointless, I think, to see there the proof that all is vain as long as a global revolution has not “taken” the power and destroyed the Capitalist fortress. This kind of judgement is a way of putting the fortress in our heads, of instituting a circle of impossibility by proclaiming that nothing can be changed before everything has been changed. Emancipation has always been a way of inventing, amidst the “normal” course of time another time, another manner of inhabiting the sensible world in common. It has always been a way of living in the present in another world instead of deferring its possibility. Emancipation only prepares a future to the extent that it hollows in the present gaps which are also grooves. It does so by intensifying the experience of other ways of being, living, doing and thinking. The free social spaces created by the recent movements inherit the world forms – cooperatives of production and forms of popular education – created by the workers’ movements of the past and notably by anarchist movements. But our present can no more share the belief that sustained the forms of self-organization of the past. It can no more rely on the presupposition that  Capitalism produces the conditions of its own destruction and that work constitutes an organic world of the future already in gestation  in the belly of the old world. More than ever the world of equality appears to be the always provisory product of specific inventions. Our present urges us to rediscover that the history of equality is an autonomous history. It is not the development of strategies predicated on the technological and economic transformations. It is a constellation of moments- some days, some weeks, some years which create specific temporal dynamics, endowed with more or less intensity and duration. The past left us no lessons, only moments that we must extend and prolong as far as we can.


*The present text is the speech of Jacques Rancière at B-FEST (International Antiauthoritarian Festival of Babylonia Journal) that was held on 27/05/17 in Athens with the title “Democracy, Equality, Emancipation in a Changing World”. The Greek translation can be found here.

Διεθνής Συνάντηση για το Νερό / Transnational Meeting for the Water 28.05

Scroll down for English!

Κυριακή 28/05/2017 B-FEST Αθήνα

Σήμερα ο πλανήτης μας βρίσκεται στο χείλος της καταστροφής. Το μέλλον φαντάζει συνεχώς όλο και πιο αβέβαιο εξαιτίας της ραγδαίας περιβαλλοντικής υποβάθμισης, αποτέλεσμα του κυρίαρχου παραδείγματος της απεριόριστης οικονομικής ανάπτυξης. Μεταξύ των πόρων που υφίστανται υπερεκμετάλλευση βρίσκεται και το νερό –η ουσία από την οποία αποτελείται και το μεγαλύτερο μέρος των ίδιων των σωμάτων μας. Δεν είναι δύσκολο να φανταστεί κανείς τις δυστοπικές διαστάσεις ενός μέλλοντος όπου το νερό είναι πλήρως περιφραγμένο από μια μικρή ελίτ.

Ωστόσο, ο αγώνας γύρω από το μέλλον του νερού δεν είναι μονόπλευρος. Το κράτος και η αγορά, που πασχίζουν για την ιδιωτικοποίησή του αμφισβητούνται από κοινότητες και συλλογικότητες οι οποίες βλέπουν αυτόν τον ζωοποιό πόρο ως κοινό αγαθό. Σε ολόκληρο τον πλανήτη μαίνεται ένας σιωπηλός πόλεμος για το νερό μεταξύ των κυρίαρχων και των από κάτω, ο οποίος θα διαμορφώσει την πορεία της κοινωνίας και της φύσης. Από τις ιθαγενικές κοινότητες της Βόρειας Ντακότα και το κίνημα NoDAPL στα οικολογικά κινήματα της Μεσοποταμίας ενάντια στο φράγμα του Ιλισού και τους σημερινούς αγώνες στην ελληνική επικράτεια ενάντια στην ιδιωτικοποίηση του νερού αλλά και στο συνεχιζόμενο κίνημα ενάντια στο φράγμα της Μεσοχώρας στον ποταμό Αχελώο, η αντίσταση των από κάτω οργανώνεται για να προστατέψει και να διατηρήσει το νερό ως κοινό αγαθό.

Καλούμε όλους αυτούς τους αγώνες, όλες αυτές τις αντιστάσεις να δικτυωθούν μεταξύ τους! Το μέλλον του νερού δεν μπορεί να καθοριστεί εντός των εθνικών συνόρων, καθώς χρειάζεται μια παγκόσμια συλλογική δικτύωση. Γι’ αυτόν τον λόγο, προσκαλούμε οριζόντιες κινήσεις πολιτών και κοινωνικά κινήματα τα οποία μάχονται για να διατηρήσουν το νερό ως κοινό αγαθό σε μια διεθνή συνάντηση κινημάτων για το νερό, η οποία θα λάβει χώρα κατά τη διάρκεια του τριήμερου πολιτικού φεστιβάλ «B-Fest» στην Αθήνα.

Η συνάντηση θα πραγματοποιηθεί την Κυριακή 28 Μάη στις 5 το απόγευμα και έχει ήδη τρεις σημαντικούς συμμετέχοντες από το κίνημα NoDAPL της Βόρειας Ντακότα (ΗΠΑ), το Οικολογικό Κίνημα Μεσοποταμίας (Τουρκία, Βόρειο Κουρδιστάν) και την ομάδα Women Water Warriors από την Ιρλανδία. Από την Ελλάδα θα συμμετέχουν μεταξύ άλλων οι εξής κινήσεις-πρωτοβουλίες: Water Warriors (Θεσσαλονίκη), Επιτροπή Αγώνα Μεγάλης Παναγίας, Μεσοχώρα-Αχελώος SOS, Water Volo – Κίνηση Κατοίκων Πηλίου και Βόλου για το Νερό, Ομάδα Πολιτών για τη Διάσωση του Υγροβιότοπου του Κολοβρέχτη-Εύβοια, Σύλλογος Προστασίας Αράχθου, Φίλοι της φύσης, Ινστιτούτο Αθανάσιος Παντελόγλου (Ασωπός), ΣΕΚΕΣ για Δημόσια ΕΥΔΑΠ.

Μέσω αυτής της συνάντησης θα θέλαμε να προκαλέσουμε έναν διάλογο και μια σειρά από κοινές δράσεις, οι οποίες από τη μία θα έχουν παγκόσμιο βεληνεκές και από την άλλη θα ενδυναμώσουν τους τοπικούς μας αγώνες.

Ας συμμετέχουμε όλοι στην απόφαση και οργάνωση των κοινών μας αγώνων για το νερό!


Open Invitation for the Transnational Meeting for the Water – 28/04/17 B-FEST Athens, Greece

Today our planet is on the brink of disaster. The future feels increasingly uncertain with the rapid environmental degradation caused by the dominant societal paradigm – unlimited economic growth. Among the resources being overexploited is also water – this very substance that consists most of our own bodies. It is not difficult to imagine the dystopian dimensions of one future where water is completely enclosed by a tiny elite.

But the struggle over the future of water is not one-sided. The state and the market that strive at privatizing it, are being challenged by communities and collectivities that view the life-giving substance as commons. All over the planet a silent war over water is taking place between those in power and the ones “from below” that will determine the course of society and nature. From the indigenous communities of North Dakota and the NoDALP movement to the ecological movements in Mesopotamia against Ilisu Dam and the current greek struggles against the water privatization as well as the continuous movement against the Mesochora dam on Acheloos River -grassroots resistance is mounting to protect and maintain it as commons.

We call on all these struggles to link with each other! The future of water cannot be determined along national borders, it requires transnational collaborative networking. For this reason we invite grassroots initiatives and social movements that fight to preserve water as commons to a transnational meeting that will take place during the 3 days festival “B-Fest” in Athens, Greece (26-27-28 of May).

The meeting itself will take place on Sunday 28 of May at 17:00 and already has 3 key participants from NoDALP Movement (USA), from Mesopotamian Ecological Movement (Turkey, North Kurdistan) and from Women Water Warriors (Ireland), as well as various initiatives from all over Greece. Through it we would like to initiate a dialogue and series of common actions that will produce global repercussions and strengthen our local struggles.

Let’s all participate-decide-organize our common struggles for water!

B-FEST: Programme of Discussions and Speeches (eng)

International Antiauthoritarian Festival of Babylonia Journal
26-27-28 May 2017, Athens School of Fine Arts, Greece


Programme of Discussions and Speeches:

Friday 26 May

18:30 Changing Lives: Experiential Approaches to the Lives of Trans Subjects
Paul B. Preciado (philosopher, writer, activist)
Paola Revenioti (activist, artist)
Eliana Kanaveli (Babylonia journal)

18:30 Kurds and Communalism in Erdogan’s Turkey
Ercan Ayboga (Rojava/ North Kurdistan/ Mesopotamian Ecology Movement)
Nikos Katsiaunis (Babylonia journal)

19:30 Planet S.O.S.: Climate Change and Global Poverty
Jason Hickel (anthropologist, university LSE)
Evridiki Bersi (Friends of Nature)
Yavor Tarinski (Babylonia journal, TRISE)

20:30 Digital Commons: Internet as Free Public Space
Peter Sunde (co-founder of The Pirate Bay)
Antonis Brumas (Babylonia journal, TRISE)

Saturday 27 May

18:00 Libertarian Schools: From Fourfoura to Summerhill or to the School of the Community
Evaggelos Vlahakis (filmmaker, optical / literate animator)

18:00 Extractions in Greece & Cyprus and the Answer of the Movements
(against the extractions in Akama, Pendadaktilo and Halkidiki)
Greek Cypriots (Klitos Papastilianou & Maria Hatzimihail from “Syspirosi Atakton”)
Turkish Cypriots (from the group “Dayanisma”)
Members of the Committee for Struggle Megali Panagia, Halkidiki

18:00 Antimilitarism and the Paradigm of Freedom in the Middle East
Uri Gordon (Israel: Anarchists against the Wall, university of Nottingham)
Nodas Skiftoulis (Antiauthoritarian Movement Athens)

19:00 Open Assembly for Coordination between Squats hosting Refugees

19:00 Contemporary Ecological Struggles in Rojava and North Kurdistan
Ercan Ayboga (Rojava, North Kurdistan, Mesopotamian Ecological Movement)
Yannis Papadimitriou (Environmental Initiative of Epirus)
Giorgos Papahristodoulou (Babylonia journal)

20:30 Democracy, Equality, Emancipation in a Changing World
Jacques Ranciere (French philosopher)
Alexandros Schismenos (Babylonia journal)

Sunday 28 May

17:00 Transnational Summit for the protection of Water
(Participants from Europe, America, Middle East)

18:00 Digital Labor: Oligopoly, Labor and Exploitation in the Internet
Nikos Smirneos (assistant professor at the University of Toulouse)
Antonis Brumas (Babylonia journal)

19:00 USA and the Trump Age: Race, Gender and the activity of the movement Black Lives Matter
Melissa Valle (University of New Jersey)
Eliana Kanaveli (PhD of Sociology)
Apostolis Stasinopoulos (Babylonia journal)

20:30 Protecting Water: The Struggle of the movement NODAPL
Aldo Seoane (indigenous from Standing Rock, North Dakota, USA)
Nikos Ioannou (Babylonia journal)